John Williams in Love

Hey everyone, sorry it's been so long since my last blog post. I finally found a new subject that I thought would be perfect. Also apologies for the lack of formatting. I'm writing this from my phone on a train in Rome. When I get to a laptop I'll clean it up.In this article we're going to examine a device used by John Williams in many of his love themes. In the past I've examined how he uses the harmonic minor to great effect. Here we are going to look at his usage of the melodic minor.The technique again relies on starting with a major chord which feels like a tonic chord but turns out to be a dominant chord. This time we do move to the minor tonic but we make a point of using the melodic minor scale adding a major sixth to the minor triad, either in the harmony or prominently in the melody.For example Princess Leia's Theme uses this technique with the opening harmony going from G to Cm6. The A note is very prominent over the Cm.Similarly Marion's Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark uses this device. Again it works beautifully for that poignant sound.You may also notice James Horner using the same device in his track Jenny from The Rocketeer. Clearly he was being asked to create a love theme in the Williams mould here.A variation on this is Williams' wonderful bittersweet theme Han Solo and the Princess introduced in The Empire Strikes Back (32 years ago - wow it really is 'a long time ago').For this beautiful chromatic theme, we open with the same device going from the V to the i using F# melodic minor but then Williams introduces a new chord derived from the harmonic or natural minor. This is the bVI chord which is D. For the final turnaround, he makes this into an augmented sixth (enharmonically the same as a dominant seventh chord but with different function and voice leading) which leads back to the V chord.C# F#m6 D Daug6 C#So the D is a German sixth which is spelled D F# A B#.Ok so a very quick post today but hopefully useful and enough to spur some interesting discussion. I'm sure there are plenty more examples of this device in the film music and classical world. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
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  • It's on my page in my music, second track.

  • Yes, I would love to listen to it.


  • Thank you Rodney, it's always great to get intelligent feedback and I definitely make mistakes from time to time. The other way to analyse it (as Chris said) is to think of it as a half-diminished chord in third inversion. 

    Incidentally I used this device on my track 'Maiden Voyage' where I really tried to emulate that Golden Age love theme sound. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

  • Thanks for the post. I love talking about the theory that makes music awesome. I enjoyed reading about how this device was found in other pieces also and influenced other film composers such as Horner.

  • Yeah apologies Rodney, you're correct that the chords go from D to Gm(6) however this is the same idea in a different key.

    I guess you could look at it as a borrowed minor iv chord however whichever way you use it I think the importance is in the major sixth sound. I appreciate it's not in the accompanying string figuration however it is a very prominent note in the melody and absolutely crucial to that Golden Age sound he achieves. The fact that the minor chord with the major sixth is prominent in all of the love themes I mention above really ties that together. 

  • We might be talking about different pieces, but are we talking about when the horn comes in? If so I thought the piece was in D major, so where is the opening harmony of G to Cm6? It's D to gm/D or we actually call it a I to iv6/4, and the iv is simply a borrowed chord of the minor and the 6/4 is the inversion. Concerning the added 6, I see it as just part of the melody because it is absent in the harmony and completely absent 2 measures later.  

  • Thanks for the awesome post!  I always thought of Leia as:  I to ii dim with a pedal point of I. 

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