Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Schneller, Tom. “Sweet Fulfillment: Allusion and Teleological Genesis in John Williams’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The Musical Quarterly 97 (Spring 2014): 98-131.

The film scores of John Williams are best understood with the concept of teleological genesis, and the score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in particular combines this principle with motivic allusion in order to trigger subconscious associations in the viewer. Teleological genesis, the principle of developing motivic fragments into an extended melodic idea at the culmination of a piece, was first associated with composers such as Mahler and Strauss, but Williams’s film scores operate on essentially the same principle. His score for Close Encounters is an example of this practice with the additional twist of developing two contradictory ideas simultaneously—one of wonder and one of terror—reflecting the ambiguous nature of the aliens. The terror motive alludes to the Dies irae, a common musical symbol of the macabre and (more importantly to the theme of Close Encounters) the apocalypse. However, the Dies irae acts as a musical red herring in Close Encounters, a trick Williams uses again in his score to Home Alone. The wonder motive (“Fate is Kind”) alludes to When You Wish Upon a Star from Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). Williams intended to simply use the original recording from Pinocchio but opted instead to incorporate the tune into a new theme. The allusion is further developed in the revised score for the 1980 Special Edition release of Close Encounters. Williams develops the “Fate is Kind” motive teleologically through the film, merging with the Dies irae theme at key moments to evoke the uncertainty of the final alien encounter. In the end, the score (and film) arrives at the goal and the “Fate is Kind” motive transforms into the famous “Visitors” finale sequence.

Works: John Williams: score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (104-23), score to War of the Worlds (106), score to Home Alone (107-8)

Sources: Attributed to Thomas of Celano: Dies irae (104-8, 112-14); Mykola Leontovych: Carol of the Bells (107-8); Leigh Harline and Ned Washington: When You Wish Upon a Star (108-23)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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