John Williams’s Film Music

Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Return of the Classical Hollywood Music Style

Emilio Audissino, 2014

University of Wisconsin Press, 2014

“Best Special Interest Books”, American Association of School Librarians

“Best Books for General Audiences”, Public Library Reviewers


John Williams is one of the most renowned film composers in history. He has penned unforgettable scores for Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Superman, and countless other films. Fans flock to his many concerts, and with forty-nine Academy Award nominations as of 2014, he is the second-most Oscar-nominated person after Walt Disney. Yet despite such critical acclaim and prestige, this is the first book in English on Williams’s work and career.

Combining accessible writing with thorough scholarship, and rigorous historical accounts with insightful readings, John Williams’s Film Music explores why Williams is so important to the history of film music. Beginning with an overview of music from Hollywood’s Golden Age (1933–58), Emilio Audissino traces the turning points of Williams’s career and articulates how he revived the classical Hollywood musical style. This book charts each landmark of this musical restoration, with special attention to the scores for Jaws and Star Wars, Williams’s work as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and a full film/music analysis of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The result is a precise, enlightening definition of Williams’s “neoclassicism” and a grounded demonstration of his lasting importance, for both his compositions and his historical role in restoring part of the Hollywood tradition.

With Ron Della Chiesa at a book event in Boston, MA, 9 June 2014

Read Audissino’s account of the importance of John Williams on The Epoch Times (26 July 2014)

“A much-needed work that captures the spirit and thinking of John Williams. Audissino is to be applauded for taking on such a large musical figure and for presenting him in the most wide-ranging manner. One gets the impression that he has tracked down every significant fact on Mr. Williams.”

Vincent LoBrutto, author of Sound-On-Film

“Highly recommended. An excellent book, with many, many insights not only into the music of John Williams but also the state of film scoring today—its aesthetics, the reasons film music today is such a departure from film music of the past, not to mention a real appreciation of the craft and art of John Williams and his milieu, who are often reviled by esthetes as being ‘too commercial.’ It is a pleasure to read a book that tries to capture not only the genius of John Williams, but his professionalism as well.”

Conrad Pope, film composer (My Week with Marilyn) and orchestrator (Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

“Emilio Audissino should be commended for his passion and research of such a stellar composer as John Williams.”

Larry Timm, author of The Soul of Cinema: An Appreciation of Film Music

“Filling an important lacuna in film music studies, Emilio Audissino’s John Williams’s Film Music: “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and the Return of the Classical Hollywood Music Style is a compelling, well-researched investigation of John Williams’s role in the Hollywood film music industry. […] While the author does demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of Hollywood’s classic era as well as Williams’s position in New Hollywood over twenty years later, Audissino also reveals a thorough knowledge of music. His discussions of music examples, leitmotifs, and music history are both sensitive and accurate, and the connections he makes between Williams and previous composers and musical styles are astute. In fact, Audissino’s ability to address both film and music scholars in one accessible and engaging text is one of the study’s greatest strengths. With thorough consideration of historical, aesthetic, and theoretical elements, in both film and music, Audissino strikes a successful balance in his study, clearly addressing scholars in each discipline. […] Quoting Alfred Newman’s brother Lionel Newman, Audissino stresses that Williams’s “biggest contribution may have been to make people aware of the importance of music to films” (p. 203). Indeed, Audissino’s text is a testament to this statement, as it successfully informs and celebrates the influence of John Williams not only on Hollywood, but also on the moviegoing public as a whole. He offers a thorough investigation of the film composer’s neoclassic style, while bridging the gap between film and music studies, providing an important step forward in this blossoming field of scholarship.”

Paula Musegades, Notes, September 2015 (pp. 165-68)

“Emilio Audissino has described the “Star Wars” score and others by Williams as “neoclassical,” meaning that they draw on a sumptuously orchestrated style associated with such Central European émigrés as Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. “Neoclassical” is a better label than “neo-Romantic,” since Williams is so steeped in mid-twentieth-century influences: jazz, popular standards, Stravinsky, and Aaron Copland, among others.”

Alex Ross, “The Force Is still Strong with John Williams,” The New Yorker, 21 July 2020

Read Mark Richards’s full review on Film Music Notes

At the Hollywood Bowl gift shop, Los Angeles, CA, September 2019