Legacy Conversations: Frank Lehman

Music Theorist and Film Musicologist from Tufts University talks about how John Williams’s film scores shaped his interest in music and his path to academia, with a spotlight on his catalogue of the themes and motifs from the Star Wars saga

Hosted by Maurizio Caschetto

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Frank Lehman, Associate Professor of Music at Tufts University (Photo: Alison Bruzek/WBUR)

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John Williams has inspired creative people in many different ways through his music for films. He’s a force that influences people in a wide variety of fields related to music and film. Among them, we must include also people in education and formative fields, including scholars and academics working in prestigious universities and campuses around the world. Music Theorist and Film Musicologist Frank Lehman is  one of the most distinguished scholars who is dedicating a lot of his research and study to John Williams’s music.

Frank Lehman is Associate Professor of Music at Tufts University and holds degrees from Brown University (B.A.) and Harvard University (Ph.D). As a theorist, he studies how music works and what effects it has on its listeners. His research has explored different styles and repertoires, from nineteenth century instrumental compositions to film scores to ambient music, with a specific focus on the works of John Williams and Hans Zimmer. He has given talks on film music structure and psychology at a variety of venues, most recently the Tanglewood Learning Institute. His first book, Hollywood Harmony: Musical Wonder and the Sound of Cinema, was published last year by Oxford University Press, and it examines the way that music in films structures the audience’s experience of both narrative and temporality, focusing on the evocation of the sense of wonder through specific chords and harmonic language.

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Frank Lehman’s book Hollywood Harmony, published in 2018 by Oxford University Press

In 2018, Lehman contributed to Emilio Audissino’s anthology volume John Williams: Music for Films, Television and the Concert Stage with the first thorough and systematic catalogue of the themes and motifs in John Williams’s scores for the Star Wars series, offering also a structural analyisis of all thematic subjects. He continued to update the catalogue online with the new material composed by Williams since then (including the theme for the Disneyland park Galaxy’s Edge, and the thematic material written for Solo: A Star Wars Story). Frank Lehman’s unique work has been noticed not just by the composer’s fans, but also by major music critics and scholars, including The New Yorker‘s famed music critic Alex Ross. He’s now at work on a second monograph, on the topic of style and structure in the music of John Williams, who remains one of Frank’s foremost and most genuine object of study.

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Frank Lehman with John Williams in Tanglewood (2019)

In this wide-ranging conversation, Frank talks about how John Williams’s music accompanied his life since childhood and ended up shaping his own path toward academia. We also talks about the different facets of John Williams’s style and approach to film composition, with a special focus on the catalogue of Star Wars themes and motifs, and a very special close encounter he had last August in Tanglewood.

Very special thanks to Frank for his kindness and generosity.

You can access Frank Lehman’s Complete Catalogue of the musical themes of Star Wars themes here: https://franklehman.com/starwars/

List of musical excerpts featured:

. “March of the Resistance” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
. “The Map Room: Dawn” from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
. “The Plane” from Empire of the Sun (1987)
. “Searching for E.T.” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “Carbon Freeze” from The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
. “Images of Sean” from Minority Report (2002)
. “The Asteroid Field” (Concert Suite) from The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
. “The Forest Battle” (Concert Suite) from Return of the Jedi (1983)
. “Overture” from Guillaime Tell (1829), composed by Gioacchino Rossini (Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, conducted by Erich Kunzel)
. “Powerhouse” (1937), composed by Raymond Scott, performed by The Raymond Scott Quintette
. “The Mine Car Chase” from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
. “On the Conveyor Belt” from Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
. “The Rebellion is Reborn” from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
. Symphony No.2 in D, mvt.4: Allegro Moderato, composed by Jean Sibelius (Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by Leonard Bernstein)
. “Anakin is Free” from Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
. “The Chosen One” from Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
. “The Supremacy” from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
. “Luke Pursues the Captives” from The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
. “The Chase Through Coruscant” from Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
. “Farewell and The Trip” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
. “Princess Leia’s Theme” from Star Wars (1977)
. “The 1960s: The Turbulent Years” from Nixon (1995)
. “The American Process” from Lincoln (2012)
. “Rey’s Theme” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)