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Williams versus Wagner or an Attempt at Linking Musical Epics

Irena Paulus
International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music
Vol. 31, No. 2 (Dec., 2000), pp. 153-184
DOI: 10.2307/3108403
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3108403
Page Count: 32
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Williams versus Wagner or an Attempt at Linking Musical Epics
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Abstract

The claims of various analysts, and actually of the persons involved in the creation of the music for the old Star Wars trilogy, John Williams and George Lucas, have led the writer of this paper to seek for links between the operas of Richard Wagner and the music of John Williams for the Star Wars sequence. The link between the two composers can be seen at first in the use of the leitmotif. Wagner's idea of the leitmotif, that is of a musical thought that is reiterated throughout the work, linked with some character, concept, object or idea, frequently appears in film music. But since film composers address the leitmotif much more simplistically than Wagner, their running motifs are better referred to as film themes. Nevertheless, John Williams used leitmotifs in the genuine sense of the word. He has come very close to the practice of Wagner in the various procedures in which he varies and transforms his themes, and in using the idea of the thematic image (the arch-theme that is the unifying element of the musical material). However, the similarity of Williams's and Wagner's leitmotifs is greatest in the area of kinship of themes (a series of new themes or motifs derive from a single motif or theme) on the basis of which both of them create a web of mutually related leitmotifs. The closeness of the procedures of the two can also be found in the area of melody, rhythm, form, harmony, instrumentation, and even in the domain of the ratio of the old and the new in their music. The ultimate objective of Richard Wagner was to create the music drama, music for the stage based on the old roots of opera, in which all the musical elements were subordinated to the drama. The ultimate aim of John Williams was to take part in the creation of a film in which his music would serve to define the film's substance and help all the other elements of it to function property.

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