Slade, Wham and Michael Bublé are undisputed classics, but for a curveball choice for one of Christmas’ best musicians, look no further than John Williams. One of the defining figures of musical scores in cinematic history, Williams’ heavily orchestral music is a nostalgic and triumphant blast for many, but where has the festive association come from?
In terms of objective Christmas films, John Williams has composed the score for only two: Home Alone and its sequel, Lost in New York. An absolute box-office juggernaut, Home Alone is widely (and rightly) regarded as one of the great Christmas films: funny, sweet, phenomenally acted by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern and, perhaps most importantly, aurally delightful. Williams’ music evokes an irresistible festive cheer; utilising chimes and xylophones, strings and sleigh bells and a beautiful children’s choir to maintain the looming sense of a Christmas without a family, whilst also spreading seasonal spirit to others. I challenge someone to listen to “Somewhere in my Memory” from the album and not think about snowy landscapes, woollen scarfs and hats and candle-lit carol services. Similarly, watching the final moments of the film, scored by the “Mom Returns and Finale” track, it is hard to not feel a great sense of Christmas cheer and an overpowering sense of family.
But Williams’ association with Christmas also comes from what we can call ‘personal Christmas films.’ Most households have them; these are the films that are not explicitly about Christmas but have something cosy and endearing about them. For some it might be the films set in Middle-earth or Narnia, for others it could be the presence of Paddington Bear or the frosted frames of Frozen. But two popular ones are the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchise, both of which feature John Williams compositions. Scoring the first three Wizarding World films, the opening music (or ‘Hedwig’s Theme’) is effortlessly iconic thanks to the use of the celesta and violins, making it a more instantly identifiable piece of music than the national anthem to millions. The first film, The Philosopher’s Stone, is an absolute winter-warmer of a film. Because of its child cast, sense of wonder and magic and sharing the same director as Home Alone, it is so much in the Christmas spirit that it’s a Wingardium Leviosa-on-a-reindeer away from being a full Christmas film. Take the scene where Ron and Harry wish each other a Merry Christmas (probably Harry’s first that he’s smiling about) and feel your heart warm at Harry’s surprised ‘I’ve got presents?’ remark. Williams’ score for the first three films is brimming with the magic of the stories but also the infectious excitement of children during the December month.
Star Wars is a tougher one to associate with Christmas; its ubiquitous title music was originally heard in the summer when the first six films came out, but since December 2015 Williams’ score has moulded and manifested itself into a strangely Christmassey type of music. The four of the last five Star Wars films had mid-December release dates, tapping into the holiday season much like The Hobbit trilogy did in the years before. For many, The Force Awakens was like waking up on Christmas Day, a feel-good family-friendly film with the usual fantastic music from Williams and a snowy finale for good measure. The enthusiasm for each new film, shared by people all over their schools, workplaces and households, was not unlike the Christmas spirit each year: the coming together of large groups of people for a common cause. But the franchise would be nothing without Williams’ score, constantly reminding us of the familial theme of the saga and making everyone feel the comfortable embrace of nostalgia.
John Williams is a monument in film history; the second most Oscar nominated person of all time and someone who has brought film composition into the mainstream. His scores have grandeur and sweep, but also a wondrous optimism that makes them so catchy for children and adults alike at this time of the year. He brings families together, both in Christmas films and non-Christmas films, generating that hot chocolate-and-blankets atmosphere we all associate with the festive period. You could even play the Jaws theme upon hearing something big coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve and it would be magical. And a final argument for Williams being a classic Christmas musician? He looks like Father Christmas.