Biography johnwilliams.jpg (12769 bytes)
John Williams
Oscar award winning composer John Williams was Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993 and is now Laureate Conductor of the Pops as well as Artist-in-Residence at Tanglewood. In the summer of 1998 John Williams was interviewed about Leroy Anderson.

Peter Rosen:

"Is it fair to say that the public at large doesn't know the name Anderson even though they whistle and hum almost ten of these pieces?"

John Williams:

"Well it's true that the public knows this music almost by absorption. It's part of the culture now and many will not know who wrote it, but they will know the tunes as you've pointed out. I think it's fair to say that in the fifties and sixties Leroy Anderson was much better known than he is today. I was living in California as a youngster then and would have Arthur Fiedler records that played Leroy Anderson music but his music was played a lot on radio with Fiedler conducting. You would hear all these bonbons played. Played at night or a radio disc show, so he was something of a household word earlier on in our century. The advent of rock and roll, the changes in the dissemination of popular music in radio and television things have changed so much that you don't hear that anymore as one used to… quite a lot. He was on top of the charts you know, in the fifties. Blue Tango, these things… Leroy Anderson was a popular music force to be reckoned with those years."

Peter Rosen:

"What do you think about the lasting value Leroy's music compared to the modern contemporary music that most people in classical music think is more important?"

John Williams:

"Well I just think it's very hard for any of us to speculate about what will survive how posterity will hold Anderson vis a vis someone who does some very severe, difficult music that would be very difficult for the public to grasp now, but in the future they may be able to embrace it with knowledge and education and familiarity, but I think also—and so I don't think any of us really know what the next fifty years or one hundred years where the public's, which can be very fickle, so where their attentions will probably go. I think what one can say about this is that art can be very elusive. Some things that are done in art full in the pursuit of a higher art they have less art in it than something that's done in a journalistic spirit or the spirit of self –in the case of Anderson, the spirit of levity and of fun. I think the seriousness with which we approach these things doesn't particularly hook up with the value of them. I think the value is something that others can attach to it better than the authors themselves certainly, and I would just say finally there ought to be room for all of it—for light music, serious music—we all have –we all need the same foods throughout the day and even within one meal, so I think variation of all this thing is a healthy thing for music and offers the public an opportunity to make choices for performers to do that also, so I think that in the sense in this kind of art form all of this is fair, but I do think that people like Anderson and very few others who specialize in light music sometimes get a little bit short shrifted from the critical community because of the style and subject matter that it embraces. I would vote for Leroy Anderson as a major American musical figure. Without question in my mind he's a great master of a very difficult genre."

Peter Rosen:

"It's almost like his worst sin was that the public liked him so much…"

John Williams:

"Right. The popularity sometimes can be equated with a lesser value, but something that also can be challenged and we need to be very careful when we assign definitive levels of value to these things that are artistic and also works of art, they are organic, they do change, you look at a piece that you played thirty years ago and it's not the same piece or with the same listener or performer, so always changing always growing and always shifting just as our tastes and all our predilections do with these things. I think I would just repeat I think Leroy has been a very great man in American music and very much underrated and my guess is that in future decades he will be appreciated perhaps more than he is now."


Born in New York, John Williams attended UCLA, studied composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and attended the Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Madame Rosina Lhevinne. He worked as a jazz pianist before beginning his career in the film studios, where he worked with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, and Franz Waxman. He went on to write music for many television programs in the 1960s, winning two Emmy awards for his work.

John Williams has composed the music and served as music director for more than eighty films. He has been awarded five Oscars, one British Academy Award, seventeen Grammys, and three Golden Globes, as well as several gold and platinum records. His score for the film Schindler's List earned him both an Oscar and a Grammy.

In addition to his film music, Mr. Williams has written many concert pieces, including two symphonies, and concertos for bassoon, cello, flute, violin, clarinet, tuba, and trumpet. In addition, Mr. Williams composed the NBC News theme "The Mission," "Liberty Fanfare," composed for the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, and themes for the 1984, 1988, and 1996 Summer Olympic games.

Many of Mr. Williams's film scores have been released as recordings; the soundtrack album to Star Wars, one of the most successful non-pop albums in recording history, has sold more than four million copies.