As “Johnny” Williams, John Williams also served a Hollywood apprenticeship as a pianist/conductor. But after much television work, original scoring for lighter fare such as Diamond Head and Gidget Goes to Rome (both 1963) and a disaster cycle including Earthquake and The Towering Inferno (both 1974), Williams became one of the most adulated and analyzed composers in Hollywood history with three major blockbusters: Jaws (1975), Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (both 1977).
While Star Wars is well-known for its retro symphonic mode, Close Encounters posits a more complex musical structure. Music is presented as the key to the communication between humans and benign aliens. A five-note motif serves as this non-verbal link and appears in various guises throughout both plot and score. At times complex Ligeti/Penderecki-influenced sonorities represent the mysterious aspects of the visitors and underscore some of the more threatening moments (such as the eerie abduction of the child). But by the spectacular mothership finale the “alien” atonalities meld into (literally) uplifting lyricism that serves aptly as the climax of one of the most transcendent sequences encountered in films of any period.