John Williams plays Bach - a role model for musical guitar playing

John Williams - guitarist
John Williams - guitarist

Not content with the literature available for Guitar (although he has recorded a good portion of it!) John Williams has vigorously pursued transcriptions and arrangements as a means of allowing guitar to participate in the wider musical community.

"The whole point of Chamber Music is it's accessibility, and any student string player would be able to read a dozen Mozart or Haydn quartets before deciding which one to learn". - JOHN WILLIAMS

Lute Suite No. 1 in E Minor, BVW 996: I. Passaggio - Presto

He has strongly advocated guitarists playing chamber music parts - and just playing the single note string parts of these works in an ensemble.

His recordings of the Bach ideal for students to hear as they contain unaffected and rhythmically accurate but musically virile renderings .

I refer to these Bach recordings as a role model of musical guitar playing.

  • Suite BWV 996, E Minor: I Präludium; Presto
  • Suite BWV 996, E Minor: II Allemande
  • Suite BWV 996, E Minor: III Courante
  • Suite BWV 996, E Minor: IV (Sarabande)
  • Suite BWV 996, E Minor: V Bourrée
  • Suite BWV 996, E Minor: VI (Gigue)
  • Suite BWV 997, A Minor (Orig. C Minor): I Präludium
  • Suite BWV 997, A Minor (Orig. C Minor): II Sarabande
  • Suite BWV 997, A Minor (Orig. C Minor): III Gigue-Double
  • Suite BWV 1006a, E Major: I Präludium
  • Suite BWV 1006a, E Major: II Loure
  • Suite BWV 1006a, E Major: III Gavotte en Rondeau
  • Suite BWV 1006a, E Major: IV Menuetts I and II
  • Suite BWV 1006a, E Major: V Bourée
  • Suite BWV 1006a, E Major: VI Gigue
  • Suite BWV 995, A Minor (Orig. G Minor): I Präludium; Presto
  • Suite BWV 995, A Minor (Orig. G Minor): II Allemande
  • Suite BWV 995, A Minor (Orig. G Minor): III Courante
  • Suite BWV 995, A Minor (Orig. G Minor): IV Sarabande
  • Suite BWV 995, A Minor (Orig. G Minor): V Gavottes I and II
  • Suite BWV 995, A Minor (Orig. G Minor): VI Gigue

Paul Hart Guitar Concerto

My interest in John Williams as a guitarist peaked considerably when I was given his recording with Paul Hart and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

John Williams plays the Paul Hart Concerto with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

The work is in the Jazz-Latin-Fusion genre popularised in the 1980's by Chick Corea.

What amazed me about Williams' performance here was his rendering of the style. He doesn't just get the notes... he nails them. Playing with a drummer in this style of music requires a very specific kind of rhythmic placement and Williams has it.

And despite his protestations to the contrary he even seems to be improvising in a fiery country / bluegrass exchange with fiddle.

Williams has always championed the versatility of Guitar as one of it's main strengths. He says rightly that it can be found in most styles of music and that its repertoire is in fact one of the largest of all instruments once you look beyond the classical repertoire.

Inti-Illimani with John Williams on guitar

Inti Illimani means Sun God in Aymara, a language of the Andean Highlands. Led by Horacio Salinas, Inti Illimani created a blend of Chilean, Classical, Baroque and Flamenco music. The group was exiled by Pinochet's government in 1973 and relocated to Rome. In recent years they have returned to live in Chile.

inti-illimani-poster

Around 1986 Paco Pena and John Williams joined the group for a series of recordings and a world tour. I was lucky enough to see them at the Sydney Opera House and it was a feast of exciting guitar rhythms and styles. As well as guitar, the group features harp, flute, piccolo, saxophones and traditional instruments:

  • pandereta ... drums
  • bombo ... a drum made from a tree trunk
  • kena, zampona, randador ... pipes
  • tiple ... Colombian 12 string guitar
  • charango ... a very small guitar with the soundbox made from an armadillo

John Williams with Inti-Illimani in 1986
John Williams with Inti-Illimani in 1986