Spotlight On: Harry Potter

It is no surprise that the Harry Potter franchise has been so popular around the world.  It is hard to believe that the films have been 10 years in the making and using 4 different composers.  Each brought their own style and magic to the adaptations of the best-selling books by J.K. Rowling.  As the last installment comes to theaters, here’s a look back to the past scores.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Music by John Williams
This score is obviously one of the best in the series.  Williams’ score is just as familiar for so many people around the world.  It all started with the simple melody composed for the first trailer, eventually becoming Hedwig’s Theme used throughout the series.  His contribution to the series has not been topped.  Oscar nominated score.  Just listen to: Harry’s Wonderous World, The Quidditch Match, Leaving Hogwarts, Hedwig’s Theme.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Music by John Williams

Williams returns to Hogwarts along with all the characters, albeit with a little help from William Ross’ adaptations.  The music in this film got darker as the film did.  There are some great themes, including the theme for Fawkes, Dobby, a reoccurrence of the Voldemort motif, and Gilderoy Lockhart’s Last Crusade-esque theme.  Just listen to: Fawkes the Phoenix, The Chamber of Secrets, The Dueling Club, Reunion of Friends.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Music by John Williams

Just when you think John Williams didn’t have to add anything new to the series, he changes as the films switch to director Alfonso Cuaron.  Mainly not using the themes used (and sometimes overused) in the past installments, Williams almost starts fresh.  The standout new material includes the Double Trouble song which is featured throughout the film.  This film includes the somber theme for Harry’s parents and the impressive Patronus music.  This ranks as my favorite score in the series for its connection to the film and the material used.  Also Oscar nominated.  Just listen to: Aunt Marge’s Waltz, Double Trouble, Buckbeak’s Flight, A Window to the Past, Saving Buckbeak.  (Mischief Managed is a fantastic suite of themes from the film.)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Music by Patrick Doyle
As John Williams left the series, Patrick Doyle took over.  Many people gave him flak for abandoning such rich melodies by Williams, but Doyle began to take the score in new directions.  His score manages to be light when it needs to be and also incredibly dark in other sections.  His waltzes and romantic music are perfect for the teen bits of the film.  In Voldemort’s official film visit, Doyle’s theme fits well.  Just listen to: The Quidditch World Cup, Foreign Visitors Arrive, Golden Egg, Harry in Winter, Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Music by Nicholas Hooper

I remember the reaction when the next composer was announced for ‘Phoenix’.  I certainly didn’t know Nicholas Hooper.  His results weren’t as strong as the previous films, but he did compose some great underscoring for the students rebelling against the tyrannical rule at Hogwarts.  One my favorite cues is the new theme for their new headmistress, Dolores Umbridge.  There are some other nice moments, but unfortunately once the movie stops, the music doesn’t stay with you.  Just listen to: Professor Umbridge, The Room of Requirements, The Ministry of Magic, Fireworks.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Music by Nicholas Hooper

Nicholas Hooper returned for the next film, which isn’t as strong as his last.  The highlight of the score is his choral piece called In Noctem.  Its theme appears a few times throughout the score.  The theme for Harry and Ginny is another highlight.  I remember the music for Aragog was moving.  Much of this score is mellow and somber, which do fit the film quite well, but the overall music listening is average.  The important confrontations at the end of the film would have had a more dramatic punch if the music was stronger.  Just listen to: In Noctem, Ginny, Farewell Aragog, Malfoy’s Mission, Dumbledore's Farewell, The Friends.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 (2010)
Music by Alexandre Desplat

Joining the Potter team for parts 1 and 2 was Desplat, whose work typically right on and generally great.  Desplat displays his typical style of unique instrumentation and rhythm in the score.  The film itself is a bit strange with most of the action in part 2.  There are some great moments in the score and some really emotional music.  Desplat has a keen sense of when underscoring could get in the way – which this never does.  His music really stays in the background for most of the film, which is completely fine for this film.  The beginning of the film is where you really notice someone new has stepped in.  We’ll see what he does with part 2.  I hope he ends Harry Potter with the same magic as when it was started.  Just listen to: Obliviate, Sky Battle, Detonators, Godric’s Hollow Graveyard, Farewell to Dobby, The Elder Wand. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 (2011)
Music by Alexandre Desplat

Hard to believe the great series is at its end.  Desplat continues from part 1 and gives an overall solid score.  His score adds dramatic tension, adding booming percussion and churning strings.  The female soloist added an enjoyable texture not really heard in these films.  Desplat really hit the emotional core of several scenes without being over the top, one moment being the highlight of his score for me.  Surprisingly, Neville's theme is one of the most memorable cues Desplat has done for the films.  His action improved since part 1, and this score features the most throwbacks to the original film scores (included is many! repeats of Hedwig's Theme, cues from Chamber of Secrets and Hooper's Dumbledore's Farewell), which don't really appear in the album, except the Hedwig references.  I wish they did include the true film ending on the album, which seemed to end abruptly.  Overall, an effective score and a fine way to end the series.  Just listen to: Lily's Theme, Neville, Broomsticks and Fire, Severus and Lily, Harry's Sacrifice.

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  1. Williams' three scores are great. Sorcerer's Stone and Prisoner of Azkaban are actually two of my all-time favorites from JW. I don't think Azkaban gets the credit it deserves because of its choppy album presentation, but the full score is excellent.

    Doyle's is frustrating because it has a very different sound than Williams, but he maintains the high quality of thematic material and complex action cues.

    Outside of a few nice cues, Hooper's scores are fairly bland and his action writing in particular is very simplistic.

    Although Desplat is an improvement over Hooper, it's more of a technicality. Although his writing is a step above Hooper, it isn't much more effective in the end.

  2. No mention of Knight Bus???? For shame. You know Azkaban is my fav for all time! I wish Pt. 2 score could be better though...and I like Desplat.