“Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!” – Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Unless they’re completely unobservant, any long-time readers of my blog will know by now that I love the Harry Potter books. But the movies? Not so much. One of the few things I do like about them is their music. When I listen to the film scores I fall even more deeply in love with Harry’s world. I feel like a little kid who is experiencing the magic and wonder for the first time. Sometimes the music makes me cry a little; the story alone stirs up so many emotions but the music brings back memories.
If Harry were real, today would be his thirty-third birthday. In celebration of such a momentous event – he’s come of age in the Shire; isn’t nerd knowledge wonderful? – I made a list of my top ten favorite songs from the Harry Potter film scores. You may notice that while I include all four composers, I am rather fond of the later works. This is just my own personal bias. It’s entirely possible that I’m more familiar with them because I developed my current interest in film scores around the time the last movie came out. But without further ado – my list!
Warning: Spoilers ahead – I had to discuss the plot in order to analyze some of the songs!
10. “Procession” from Deathly Hallows, Part II – Alexandre Desplat
I’m sorry to begin with such an unknown song… but it needed a place on the list and this is where I put it. This solemn piece is heard, with a hint of “Hedwig’s Theme”, when Harry “dies” and the triumphant Death Eaters march into Hogwarts. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much on its own but in the film it has a huge impact, creating emotions like: “Merlin’s pants, Harry’s dead and the Wizarding world has gone down the tubes! Noooooooo!”
9. “Severus and Lily / Dumbledore’s Farewell” from Deathly Hallows, Part II – Alexandre Desplat with Nicholas Hooper
I am so frustrated that the second part of this piece is not on the film score’s CD, because it really makes the song. When Severus and Lily become friends the music is slow and quiet, building gradually in volume, tempo, and darkness as Snape’s memories continue. As we see Snape finding Lily dead the piece mirrors our emotions with a crescendo, finishing with a song originally played for Dumbledore’s death in Half-Blood Prince. Before I even realized that the scene wasn’t in the book, the music had already sold me on it.
8. “Hedwig’s Theme” from Sorcerer’s Stone – John Williams
To the non-Potterheads: firstly, I thank you for putting up with my slight obsession by reading this far. Secondly, even you guys should recognize this song; it is the series’ leitmotif, similar to a main theme. Even the composers who basically discarded their predecessors’ work used bits and pieces from it. The piece begins airily, almost shyly or hesitantly, then grows in complexity to arrive at a triumphant conclusion. The later story may be dark but early on Harry’s world had a sense of innocence and wonder I’d never before seen, and “Hedwig’s Theme” captures that perfectly.
7. “In Noctem” from Half-Blood Prince – Nicholas Hooper
With its dark, somber notes and chanting, this song perfectly fits the mood of the sixth installment. What a pity that it wasn’t used in the film proper, but only at the very end of the credits. It comes from a deleted scene with Snape and why I can see why the part was cut – it would’ve revealed too much about the character – I do wish that the song had been kept, as it would have been a lovely, chilling way to begin the film. If you want to see how “In Noctem” works in the deleted scene, you can find it here.
6. “Harry In Winter” from Goblet of Fire – Patrick Doyle
Can I start by saying that I don’t really care about the book/movie this is from? They’re not bad – just perfectly average. I didn’t think about them much until I started listening to the score. This song is dreamlike, the perfect thing to hear as you’re whirling your date around at the Yule Ball. It’s graceful and I wish it had been used for similar wintery scenes in the later films. I wish Patrick Doyle had scored more than one of the films.
5. “Lovegood” from Deathly Hallows, Part I – Alexandre Desplat
One of these things is not like the other! Although four composers worked on the films, many of the songs share the same Potter “feel”. And then there’s this completely bizarre composition. Drums and flutes make up an exotic melody that mirrors the odd personalities of Xenophilius and Luna. It has the same sense of mischief found in the earlier films.
4. “The Epilogue (Leaving Hogwarts)” from Deathly Hallows, Part II – Alexandre Desplat with John Williams
Composers like to torture us – what other explanation is there for this song? Desplat slightly rewrote two pieces by Williams, “Leaving Hogwarts” and “Hedwig’s Theme” (both from the end of Sorcerer’s Stone), and used them to great effect. As the final scene ended and the credits rolled there was muffled sobbing from everyone in the audience who’d grown up with the series, myself included.
3. “Fireworks” from Half-Blood Prince (end credits version) – Nicholas Hooper
The original version is from the previous movie, Order of the Phoenix, but I don’t like it much. For some reason the composer put an ugly electric guitar over an otherwise lovely song. One of the few truly lighthearted pieces from the later films, “Fireworks” is energetic, jaunty, and infectiously cheery. When one has listened to too many sad Harry Potter songs, this is the antidote. That said, I’m not entirely sure why it was used in Half-Blood Prince‘s end credits, when the entire point is that things seem hopeless. Oh, well. Great song all the same.
2. “Lily’s Theme” from Deathly Hallows, Part II – Alexandre Desplat
The most remarkable thing about this song is neither its atmospheric violins nor its haunting vocals. It’s not the amount of sadness captured in less than two and a half minutes. It’s not even the odd sense of peace that one experiences. No, the truly remarkable thing about “Lily’s Theme” is that although it did not appear until the opening scene of the final movie, it is such a wonderful, unearthly song that it was immediately accepted as one of the series’ classics, with a magical feeling akin to the earliest compositions.
1. “Obliviate” from Deathly Hallows, Part I – Alexandre Desplat
Sitting in a darkened theater several winters ago, I heard something that became, to me, the definitive Harry Potter song. While I agree (along with every other fan) that John Williams was great, he simply could not have written the necessary music; his songs are too light and the later story too dark. Enter Desplat with his strings and a solo cello, playing a breathless, foreboding, and desperately sad song that just pulls you along.
Happy birthday, Harry.