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Wow, good call. I was just listening to one of his lesser known scores yesterday. And I'm still stunned by the subtle range of his compositions.
Goldsmith was and is, the master. Some film score fans have said that Goldsmith tops all because, he could write like Barry or Williams, but they could never write like Goldsmith.
But Williams is still sublime. As good as his stuff is, there's always a formal, very curt and everything-in-it's-place feel to his music, like every piece is ready for the concert hall. Goldsmith wrote some furious action music that had a ragged, explosive quality no one could match.
Morricone is wonderful too, but his music can have a feeling of musical wallpaper at times. Don't get me wrong, stuff like Once Upon A Time In The West, or Good, The Bad And The Ugly are masterworks. But he is so prolific it seems like he - at times - just slathers music onto the screen.
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Can't choose between the two, to be honest. But of all their scores my favorite, and the one I think aided the film the most, is without doubt Williams' score for Jaws. On my first couple viewings of that movie as a kid just hearing the first chords of the low-end cello sent shivers in anticipation of the shark. Freaking brilliant.
BTW, for years Williams conducted the Boston Pops on the Esplanade in Boston for the grand 4th of July celebration. Not only classical music but he conducted his greatest movie hits as well. I attended something like six in a row and it was always a blast and a great trip through movie memory lane. Once he retired from that gig, it was never the same, not nearly as enjoyable.
I almost forgot to note that Williams composed the theme (and I assumed scored episodes) of one of my favorite TV shows as a kid: Lost In Space. Maybe that puts him over the top for me for nostalgic (selfish) reasons.
My listening preferences since I was 4 have been dominated by Williams. Even over rock, country, rap, hip hop, art music, etc. The way Williams writes music just has an effect on my mind and my soul that few other composers or musicians can touch. It has nothing to do with the way a score fits the film or how groundbreaking/pedestrian it is. I find something significant in seemingly every note the man writes. I don't know if it's because my brain is accustomed to his composing style or if my brain was wired to respond uniquely to his music.
These days, I also think it's just the familiarity that attracts me too. As a lonely only child, I think I struck up a lifelong companionship with music and movies. In the early years, my best friend movie/music 'friend' was STAR WARS. From there, I started branching out to JURASSIC PARK and STAR TREK, which introduced me to the works of Jerry Goldsmith. Nowadays, I probably listen to more Goldsmith because he was so prolific and interesting in his work. Before he died, I wouldn't have said he was as great as Williams. Now that he's gone, I feel an obligation to appreciate his work more and see him as an equal. I listen to both of them about everyday if I can help it, though.
As for Morricone, I'm late to the game. I've only warmed up to his work in the last five years or so. He scored movies that my family didn't watch or movies that never interested me as a kid. Williams and Goldsmith did movies and TV shows throughout their careers that were geared for kids of all ages (like LOST IN SPACE). Morricone's work is good and I listen to it a lot--especially the spaghetti westerns, even the obscure ones--but I just don't think I'll enjoy him as much as Williams or Goldsmith.
"I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called 'Max'."