John Williams was invited to watch a rough cut of Schindler’s List at Steven Spielberg’s home in LA, with the view to Williams working on the soundtrack. Williams got so choked up that he walked around the room for 4 or 5 minutes before he could speak. Williams recounted: “I said to Steven, ‘I really think you need a better composer than I am’”.
As reported by Boston University today, Williams continued to say that Spielberg “very sweetly said, ‘I know, but they’re all dead.’” Williams told the anecdote when Spielberg was in Boston to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. If you’ve seen the movie, or if you’re a John Williams fan, you’ll know that Williams did himself proud.
Schindler’s List is a feature film that tackles the holocaust. In the soundtrack, Williams incorporates themes, tropes and melodies from European Jewish traditions. For many listeners, even listening to the music without the movie brings tears to their eyes. The above video, by the Netherlands’ Orchestra, is doubly poignant on account of the circumstances of the cor anglais player, Davida Scheffers, who won a contest that gave her the opportunity to play with the Dutch orchestra.
Scheffers was a professional orchestra musician until her career was upended by a painful neuromuscular disease. Before winning the contest, she’d given up all hope of playing with an orchestra again. To top it all, the concert coincided with her daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Bravo Davida Scheffers, bravo. In the movie Schindler’s List, Itzhak Perlman, the violin maestro, played the theme. Here is Itzak Perlman at the John Williams Celebration Gala in LA, in 2014, with the LA Philharmonic.
Movie buffs will know that John Williams is widely regarded as the world’s most successful soundtrack composer. 91-year-old Williams has been nominated for an astonishing 53 Academy Awards of which he won 5 (Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Schindler’s list).
Observant readers will have noted that, with the exception of Fiddler on the Roof, the films that earned Williams Oscars are all for soundtracks to Steven Spielberg movies. Williams has also collaborated with such legendary directors as Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, and Robert Altman, to name a few, and he has won 53 Grammy Awards!
In Schindler’s List, violinist Itzhak Perlman plays the heartbreaking theme to a discussion on the importance of the violin to inmates of the Nazi internment camps. Perlman, who contracted polio when he was four, walks with crutches and plays the violin sitting down. This hasn’t hampered the Israeli-American’s career. He is considered one of the very best violinists in the world. Perlman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and he has a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (and 15 regular Grammys). He is 77 years old.