A wise wizard once said ‘ah music! A magic far beyond what we do here!’ Although this quote from Dumbledore never made it into the movies, it is definitely an apt description of the music composed for the Harry Potter franchise. If this little gem had made it in, no doubt fourth wall breaking would have been required, as the scores for the Harry Potter films in some way go beyond the boundaries of what is possible with filmmaking. It provides a magical reality for our ears when deep within the streets of Diagon Alley or the dungeons of Hogwarts.
Memory is a funny thing, yet the famous tune, composed by John Williams for the first film, ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, is as synonymous with the franchise as Daniel Radcliffe’s face boasting a pair of round glasses and a scar. That music box ditty managed to marry a sense of spookiness with a simple inherent curiosity. From those opening bars, the world of Harry Potter was introduced. Scary maybe, but it was no horror; it was mystery and magic, grounded by a normal boy discovering this curious new world.
Many of us could easily associate John Williams with the Harry Potter world and the first three films, but not many of us could name its three other composers. While the presence of Williams’ theme provided a constant for all of the movies to adhere to in some way, the mantle, or Goblet, passed from Williams to Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Nicholas Hooper (The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince), and finally Alexandre Desplat (The Deathly Hallows, Parts I & II). Despite this lack of continuity, each composer, as with each different director, brought something new to the table, rewarding us with a back catalogue of emotional responses and unique perspectives to one of the most famous series of films in the world.
In fact, diversity was key in a world of ever expanding magic, and the musical scores had to expand and diversify along with them. As Harry grew, and as the wizarding world shifted around him, it was imperative for the music to grow alongside him and react to the developing landscape.
The music provides an immersive experience, from the awe and wonder Harry felt toward the Triwizard Tournament oozing from Doyle’s soaring ‘Harry in Winter’ theme, to Hooper’s ‘Dumbledore’s Farewell’ that managed to perfectly convey the loss and mourning felt by all the staff and students stood below the Astronomy Tower. Hooper also provided playful undercurrents to Umbridge’s despotic tendencies in The Order of the Phoenix, but with the return of the Dark Lord, a growing sense of maturity and soberness overtook the scores. It brought about, at least in Desplat’s work, a more ominous tone, such as in ‘Lily’s Theme’, a lament of a life that was never lived. In all, the oeuvre of work represents a journey as magical and inventive as the films themselves.
Watch ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ being performed live at the BBC Proms below.