John Williams: Theme from Jurassic Park

Context

Composed for the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park, the theme to the film has remained one of John Williams’ most iconic works. The soundtrack was conducted a month after its composition, with Williams conducting a large proportion of the recording. However, after sustaining a back injury during this time, some of the recordings were conducted by Artie Kane, though he is not formally credited. 

Williams composed and edited the soundtrack in Skywalker Ranch in California, and he took much inspiration from sound designer Gary Rydstrom’s noises for dinosaurs. Williams described these noises as “a rugged, noisy effort – a massive job of symphonic cartooning”. Williams wrote music that matched the “rhythmic gyrations” of the dinosaurs, which in turn helped him to create such effective music. 

As with many film soundtracks, Williams uses a large orchestra throughout the soundtrack, plus a variety of other forces such as a choir, extensive percussion and multiple harps. Williams also uses a selection of much rarer instruments such as baritone horns, synthesizers, a piccolo oboe, celeste and a shakuhachi. 

 

The Music

The original theme to Jurassic Park is heard as the film begins. The melodic content is taken and used throughout the whole soundtrack, making it also one of Williams’ most repetitive scores. 

Opening with an ominous horn call, a solo flute soon joins in with the first theme, accompanied by the wind section. This iconic theme is noted as the “gentle religioso cantilena lines” on the score. Williams described this dotted crotchet-semiquaver theme as an attempt “to capture the awesome beauty and sublimity of the dinosaurs in nature.”

Following the sultry flute solo the two harps play a gentle transition before a warm buzz from the whole string section occurs. The strings play the opening flute melody, this time the texture and timbres are much fuller, with the tempo also starting to move along. The theme builds in the second repetition, with more instruments from the orchestra joining in.

This leads to the iconic Jurassic Park theme which is led by the woodwinds. The theme is deep-rooted within the orchestra which creates these luscious textures that sweep across the instruments. The percussion add drama and magic to the work with crashing cymbals and vibraphone twinkles. 

The orchestra start to converse with one another, with the strings initiating the theme and the woodwind replying. This carries on as the choir enters with their ‘oohs and aahs’. The choir adds an ethereal feel to the music and this flourishes in the next climax where the brass take over the main theme. The theme ends with the music stripping right back to just strings holding a note, and the harps adding one more twinkle of notes before the music ends. 

 

Final Thoughts

John Williams’ theme for Jurassic Park is noble in its presentation, iconic in its entirety and rich in quintessential Williams harmony and structure. The themes used in the opening theme are used in many other scenes, including the opening of the gates to the park itself. The iconic melodic movement has become one of the most well-known pieces of film music and is still performed regularly today. 

 

Happy Reading!

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