Skip to page content

About this Piece


Composed: 1999

Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd = Irish flute, 3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, chimes, cymbals, field drum, orchestral bells, small triangle, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, triangle, vibraphone, xylophone), harp, piano, strings, and 2 narrators

American Journey was created as the musical accompaniment to Steven Spielberg’s film The Unfinished Journey. Commissioned at the request of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton, this unique film, music, and narrative collaboration documents important issues of 20th-century American history in commemoration of the new millennium. It was premiered at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial on New Year’s Eve 1999.

Unlike a traditional film score in which the music is subordinate to the film, American Journey is more like a Williams concert suite, which is aided and enhanced by images and narration. The three segments (of six) presented here – “Immigration and Building,” “Civil Rights and the Women’s Movement,” and “Flight and Technology” – speak a musical language at which Williams has proved quite adept: the grand Americana style pioneered by composers such as Aaron Copland and Howard Hanson.

The multimedia work also features the words of Poets Laureate Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, and Maya Angelou, as well as Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The work presents the 20th century thematically, “with a series of tableaux that could be dealt with individually,” according to Williams. “There is so much for Americans to be proud of, even in some of our misfires and our outright failures. For example, in ‘Civil Rights and the Women’s Movement’, you see the dogs and you hear the hoses and you also hear, combined with the music, the enobling words of Dr. King. It gives us a sense that we have come through some hellish fire together.”

— Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli is the L.A. Philharmonic Publications Assistant, an Emmy-nominated composer, and editor/music copyist of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s LA Variations, among other works.