Mark Richards

The Harmonic Techniques of John Williams’s Action Music

Featuring: Mark Richards with Reuven Herman, Josh Lucan, and Aleph Cervo

We sit down for a detailed exploration of John Williams’ action music with film music scholar and educator, Mark Richards. Through several decades of study and published research Dr. Richards has uncovered an array of harmonic techniques Williams utilizes for his action writing, including the employment of more exotic scales such octatonic, hexatonic, an Hungarian minor as well as dissonant bass notes and polychords. We discuss how Williams crafts specific action chords from these elements, tailoring them for varied cinematic needs – be it general action sequences, moments of emphasis or conveying particular emotional associations.

For a hands-on understanding, our study concentrates on two particular cues from the original Star Wars trilogy: “Attacking a Star Destroyer” from “The Empire Strikes Back” and the Rancor Pit scene from “Return of the Jedi.” Through Mark Richards’ expert guidance, we gain invaluable insights into the meticulous crafting of music that has delighted us as filmgoers but frequently puzzled us as composers and analysts.


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