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Another Side to Film Composer John Williams

John Williams' first wife, actress and singer Barbara Ruick, circa 1956.

John Williams, so famous for his award-winning film scores including Jaws, Star Wars, and Schindler’s List, wrote a violin concerto that transcends the personal story behind it. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

Listen to Violinist James Ehnes talk about John Williams Violin Concerto, the personal story behind it, and how Ehnes approaches classical music written by the superstar film composer.

Radio script:

MUSIC: John Williams, Violin Concerto

Susan Lewis: Williams dedicated his violin concerto to the memory of his wife, musical actress Barbara Ruick, best known for her work in the 1956 film version of Carousel and the 1965 TV version of Cinderella.
She had urged her husband to compose the violin concerto, but died suddenly at age 43 of a cerebral hemorrhage before the piece was finished.

James Ehnes: It’s clearly a very dramatic, intense personal work.

Williams with Barbara Ruick.

SL: Violinist James Ehnes says the concerto can’t be oversimplified by the tragic circumstances of its composition.

JE: It's a bit of an easy way out to say, oh, well his wife had passed so this is sad music. Its not like that. John Williams is a great composer with a world of emotions in this music. It’s certainly a very complex piece, technically, emotionally, it's quite a journey.

SL: Ehnes says performing it is very meaningful to him, but expects that listeners will find their own meanings.

JE: As far as what it means, and if that has any relation to what it means to us, that’s kind of the mystery to the whole thing. That’s something I really enjoy about music — it can be equally affecting to different people, but in very different ways.

SL: John Williams and Barbara Ruick were married from 1956 until her death in March of 1974. He wrote most of the concerto that year.  It was premiered in January of 1981 by Mark Peskanov and the St. Louis Symphony.

Listen to WRTI on Sunday, November 6 at 1 pm to hear a re-broadcast of James Ehnes playing Williams' Violin Concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra. 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.