John Williams: Theme from Superman

Context

Following on from the successes from some of his other 1970s film scores for films such as Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), John Williams produced another iconic film score for Superman in 1978. At the first recording session of the film, Director Richard Donner could not contain his excitement after hearing the theme that he started shouting ‘Genius! Fantastic!’. 

The theme from Superman has left its mark on filmgoers, especially those who went to see the original film at its release. The iconic theme accompanies the film’s main titles, which fly on and off the screen like Superman himself. This makes the theme and Superman forever bound together, something that Williams has done with many of the films he has composed for.

 

The Music

The theme from Superman consists of three main motifs: the fanfare, the march and the love theme. Each theme is realised in the film, and then further developed within the score for the film.

 

The Fanfare

Opening with a brass fanfare, the noble melody is stated and then harmonised on the big impact at the end of the phrase. Paired with the dramatic timpani roll, the atmosphere is intense, leaving the listener wondering what this epic story has in store. The fanfare is strong and stable due to its reliance on the tonic and dominant notes of the chord. This represents Superman who is the strong hero of the story.

The fanfare is split into four smaller developments that place the emphasis on different places in the music. For example, the opening fanfare aims for the top note of the phrase, whereas the emphasis is on the triplet rhythms in the fourth fanfare. 

 

The March

The march is based around similar movement to the fanfare. Using the tonic, dominant and the fourth, the march melody features the fanfare. The march theme is catchy and perfectly captures the essence of what Superman is about. Led once again by the trumpets, the march is bold and heroic. 

Fluttering winds deocrate the march, as the lower strings begin to take on the theme. The upper parts, tuned percussion and harp add to the shimmering effect of the music. In contrast the brass, lower strings and snare drum keep the march feel moving along.

 

The Love Theme

The love theme is based again around the opening fanfare. Now transposed up into a sweeter key, the love theme is short but full of romance. Led by the upper strings, with pizzicato lower strings accentuating the syncopated counter-rhythm. 

The theme from Superman ends with a heroic reprise of the march. The flourishes from within the orchestra add to the excitement of the music. Led by the brass, the opening fanfare rings out one last time before the epic ending.

 

Final Thoughts

John Williams’ theme to Superman is bold, heroic and full of iconic imagery. The theme is one of Williams’ most popular compositions, with it often being performed in a range of different ensembles. Williams did not compose the scores for the other Superman films, however his iconic theme is what people remember.

 

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… John Williams: Flying from E. T. 

 

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