A brief history of the special relationship between John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra, followed by the full list of musicians who performed on the soundtrack of Superman: The Movie
by Maurizio Caschetto
Thanks to La-La Land Records’ recent release of John Williams’ score for Superman: The Movie (which we discussed at length with producer Mike Matessino in our recent podcasts), listeners and admirers from all over the world can appreciate the incredible musicianship of the players who performed in the recording of this iconic soundtrack. The great restoration work done by Mike Matessino (assisted by Neil S. Bulk) from first-generation session masters reveals all the nuances, details and subtleties of the incredible performance of the London Symphony Orchestra.
The distinguished British orchestra has been essential to the success of several John Williams’ scores from the late 1970s and early 1980s, to the point that it influenced Williams’ own approach to composing for the films. However, the connection between John Williams and the London music scene is pivotal to understand why this orchestra and its special approach to music-making made such a strong impact in the work of the composer.
Between the late 1960s and the early ‘70s, John Williams spent a lot of time working in London, where he wrote and recorded several scores: the film musical Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), the Omnibus TV production of Jane Eyre (1970), the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Broadway hit show Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and the experimental score for Robert Altman’s Images (1972). In London, Williams also wrote and recorded the stage musical Thomas and the King. All these scores were performed by contracted freelance players, but several of them were also members of the London Symphony Orchestra such as Principal Flute Peter Lloyd (1931-2018), who performs exquisite solos in Jane Eyre. This was probably the first seed that gave Williams ideas and inspiration to work further with these fine musicians.
One of the first musical encounters between London’s major orchestra and the composer dates back to the early 70s, a few years after André Previn – a longtime friend of John Williams – was appointed Principal Conductor of the LSO and led the orchestra into what is generally considered their “golden period” (we’ll discuss the profound friendship and artistic kinship between Williams and Previn in a future article). It was indeed Previn who conducted the LSO in the European premiere of John Williams’ First Symphony in 1972 at the Royal Festival Hall. And it was again through André Previn that Williams ended up recording a film score with the LSO—a small sci-fi fantasy film directed by George Lucas called Star Wars. As recounted in a beautiful article on LSO’s official website, there are many different recollections on how the orchestra got involved in recording the soundtrack for Star Wars:
According to the Orchestra’s then-Chairman and oboist Anthony Camden in a story recounted in Richard Morrison’s superb book A Century of Triumph and Turbulence, during a tour in the US with then-Principal Conductor André Previn the Orchestra found itself in Iowa with a spare afternoon. The Orchestra’s chairman and oboist Anthony Camden sat down with Previn to talk business, with the first request being that he should write a film score for the Orchestra to record. Previn, however, said he was far too busy and so the talk turned to other composers who could be approached.
‘His favourite was John Williams,’ he recalls, ‘so I asked André to ring him immediately in Los Angeles. John answered the call, and André passed the phone over to me. He told me that he had just started writing the music for a film, but that it wouldn’t interest the LSO because it was all “up in the universe”. In fact, he said, they were thinking of calling it Star Wars.’
Being the businessman that he was this did not put Camden off, who immediately declared the LSO interested in recording the score. There was the small hurdle of the fact that the sessions needed to start within a month and that the Orchestra would be required for 18 sessions – not an easy block of work to accommodate into the LSO’s busy schedule. But something about the project must have chimed with Camden, for he told Williams that he would ring him back in 24 hours, went away and from a payphone in the American Midwest fixed 18 sessions at Denham Studios, just outside of London. Some started late at night after the Orchestra’s concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. And so in March 1977 the LSO laid down the music that would become its calling card for the next 40 years.
These legendary sessions produced an historic recording in which the London Symphony Orchestra brought John Williams’ stirring score to life. The composer himself acknowledged in several interviews the importance of that seminal moment in his career, together with the exihilaration and excitement to see his music leap off the page performed with reverence and gusto by one of the world’s greatest orchestra.
Another beautiful consequence of the success of this recording was Williams’ impact into the professional life of many LSO musicians. Williams became affectionate to many of these players and, in many cases, wrote solos and specific passages in his film scores with these fine musicians in mind. The first and probably most acknowledged is certainly Maurice Murphy (1935-2010), the Principal Trumpet of the LSO for 30 years. It was indeed Murphy’s splendid trumpet sound that opens the score and also launched his career with the orchestra:
‘I started with the LSO on 5 March 1977. They had sent a work schedule for that month, and I could see a large block of time covered by something called Star Wars. I thought: what on earth is that? I soon found out.’
Another orchestra member who had his career positively impacted by John Williams was LSO’s Principal Horn David Cripps, who performed the beautiful horn solo on “Princess Leia’s Theme”. He would go on performing many other great horn solos in Williams’ scores for Superman, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but he was also encouraged by the composer to pursue a career as soloist and educator in the United States.
Other players that had their career positively impacted by their work with John Williams were the already mentioned Peter Lloyd, for whom Williams wrote extended solos in both Star Wars and Superman (and also performed as soloist on the first recording of Williams’ own Flute Concerto in 1983), oboist and then-LSO Chairman Anthony Camden and keyboardist Laurie Holloway.
As recounted by Mike Matessino on the liner notes for La-La Land’s Superman release, the huge worldwide success of Star Wars and its soundtrack led Williams to pursue more occasions to work in London with the LSO and Superman: The Movie became a project that furtherly cemented the special relationship between the composer and the orchestra. Superman was originally slated to be scored by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith, who already worked with director Richard Donner for The Omen (1976) and won an Academy Award for its terrific score. As the shooting schedule of Superman run longer and longer, Goldsmith found himself busy with other commitments and had to sign out from the film. As Star Wars became a huge hit, both the director and the producers looked at John Williams as the ideal choice for their film and, in summer 1977, the composer signed to score Superman. Producer Ilya Salkind said:
“It was a big deal to have him at that moment. Star Wars had just opened and the music was huge, bigger than Jaws, and I was stunned when he did it again with Superman”
Over late 1977 and early 1978, Williams began dividing his time between Los Angeles and London, working on several different major projects such as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (recorded in Los Angeles) and Brian De Palma’s The Fury (recorded both in Los Angeles for the film sessions and in London with the LSO for the album sessions). After the London sessions for The Fury, Williams conducted the London Symphony in a film-music concert at the Royal Albert Hall in February 1978.
In March, he met with Richard Donner and the producers of Superman to see a rough cut of the film and start preliminary work on the film. Williams flew back to LA to write and record the score for the anticipated sequel Jaws 2 (this time directed by Jeannot Swartz), after which he immediately started to work on Superman. Both production and post-production of the film were unusually long and complicated due to elaborate special and visual effects sequences, but this circumstance gave Williams the opportunity to work on the score for an unusually long amount of time, during which he was able to hone and furtherly develop the musical material. The first group of scoring sessions where held at Anvil Film Studios, Denham in July 1978, where the London Symphony Orchestra gathered with the composer on the podium and virtually the same recording team that worked a year before on the recording of Star Wars, including engineer Eric Tomlinson. A good portion of the score was recorded during this first round of sessions, but further work on the picture and visual effects-driven sequences made impossible to complete the sessions. Williams flew back to America in late July and then returned in London in September to finish work on the score. The post-production was running behind schedule due to complicated visual effects, so the recording sessions were held between September and October.
The decision to record the score in London with the LSO was already taken after the first meetings with Donner and the producers, so it’s a safe bet to assume Williams wrote the score already knowing the players and the type of sound he would have at his disposal. Superman is a score where the orchestra is truly the voice and the soul of the hero. The success of Star Wars led to a true renaissance of the traditional orchestral film score for big Hollywood films and the score for Superman certainly made another big resounding symphonic splash with the audiences worldwide. Williams however didn’t see himself as much responsible for this return. In 2008, he said:
“I didn’t really have a sense that there would be a trend toward orchestral size and any kind of revisitation of earlier symphonic approaches toward doing films. For me, it was a kind of natural evolution from the comedies and the television work I did in the 1960s, to a series of films like the Irwin Allen films and eventually the Star Wars films and the Superman films and Indiana Jones and other I had done that had more heroic aspects… all with the result of, I would say, certainly not a plan on my part to revisit symphonic size in film scores, as anywhere near as much the natural result of good opportunities and the evolution of things that were coming my way and challenges to deal musically […] And the film we’re talking about—Star Wars and its spaceships flying, and Superman and all the things he can do—it’s a perfect subject to take a symphony orchestra and paint with a big move of the brush all the emotions and the great feats that we’re seeing and experiencing”
Superman was however another testament of Williams’ superb instinct in finding the perfect translation of the story and its characters through the style and language of symphonic music. And the role of the London Symphony Orchestra was absolutely crucial in bringing the film score to life and becoming the true voice of the superhero we see on the screen. It also furtherly cemented the special relationship between the composer and the LSO that still continues to the present day.
So, directly from the archives of the London Symphony Orchestra, here’s the full list of real-life music heroes who performed on the score for Superman: The Movie in 1978 under the baton of John Williams.
A very special thanks to Libby Rice, Rodney Newton and Tim Burden for providing this precious information.
Superman: The Movie film soundtrack
Music composed and conducted by John Williams
Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, led by John Georgiadis, Irvine Arditti (6 Oct only), Richard Studt (31 Oct only)
Engineer: Eric Tomlinson
Recorded at Anvil Film Studios, Denham, UK on 6,7,10,11,13, 14 July – 7,9-11 September – 6, 15, 24, 31 October – 4 November, 1978
Players listed in italic were extras
* although these players were listed as extras, many became members of the LSO at a later date or were past members.
Georgiadis, John (Leader)
Studt, Richard (Leader 31 Oct only)
Arditti, Irvine (Leader 6 Oct only)
Smith, Brian *
Good, Timothy *
Ellis, David *
De Saulles, Michael *
Bowie, E *
Smyth, Alan *
Birnbaum, Leo *
Kegg, Paul *
Gethin, Nicholas *
Hetherington, Simon *
McGee, Robin *
Worters, Nic *
Rooke, John *
Johns, Terence *
Archibald, Norman – E
Hall, Malcolm *
Harrild, Patrick *
London Symphony Orchestra official website:
LSO and Film Music:
Caped Wonder Superman Imagery: