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Length: c. 4 minutes

About this Piece

One of the most fruitful relationships in Hollywood history began as something of a blind date when a young Steven Spielberg asked the help of a Universal Studios executive in arranging a lunch meeting with John Williams. The composer, who was in his 40s at the time, would later recall to the Los Angeles Times, “It was like having lunch with a teenager who had never ordered wine before and didn’t quite know what to do with the silver. He was so young, a little older than my children but not a whole lot. However, he seemed to know more about my music than I did.” That last remark betrays Williams’ characteristic humility, and what grew out of that initial lunch was a legendary artistic partnership that continues to this day and has resulted in many of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of all time.

In “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Williams shows his inherent knack for matching the tone and emotional language of Spielberg’s images. As the titular protagonist (Harrison Ford) and his father (Sean Connery) try to escape a gang of motorbike-riding Nazis—while trading a few characteristic quips along the way—Williams invokes the symphonic form of the scherzo (Italian for “joke”) to imbue what otherwise would be a tense escape with a feel of lighthearted adventure and even humor. That humor extends to the title of this concert arrangement, which Williams added to describe “the participation of the unmelodious vehicle” in this sequence in the film.