By Frank Lehman
In terms of thematic richness, the Harry Potter films are quite comparable to Star Wars, and exceeded perhaps only by Hook. But whereas the signifying-roles of the themes of Hook are quite straightforward, the abundance of wonderful thematic, motivic and cue-based material of the two Harry Potter films is often problematic. In complex scores such as these, it is tempting both to underestimate the degree of thematic unity that the composer intends, and to overestimate the symbolic significance that each recurrent musical idea has. Issues are further complicated in these two scores by the existence of Williams’ sometimes counter-intuitively named concert arrangements, and the largely unknown role that William Ross played in constructing the score to Chamber of Secrets. Therefore, attempting to fully catalogue the library of themes in this series is no small feat. I will try to deal with the most indisputable themes first, and then move on to more ambiguous pieces of music. I may get a little technical at places, so I’ve marked the music theory-heavy areas in red for convenient skippery.
Themes from Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone
“Hedwig’s Theme” (HP I, II): Though the name is a misnomer, no one will deny that this is the main musical theme for the Harry Potter movies, a sort of Magical-World Anthem, instantly recognizable and highly adaptable to many dramatic situations. It accompanies wide landscape and panning shots, as well as shots of magical wonder and anticipation (especially in the first half hour of Sorcerer’s Stone). The theme begins both HP soundtracks with an airy, mysterious celesta statement, and develops through the scores in all kinds of directions – magnificent choral renditions, joyous major variations, and threatening horror and action interpretations. The melodic, and corresponding rhythmic, outline of the theme occurs in two subtly different versions that pop up independently in the context of the score. The first is bouncy, while the second of a more swaying, graceful manner. In its first guise, this theme begins on a pickup on the fifth scale degree, which moves to the tonic, and proceeds up to third scale degree, outlining a minor chord in 2nd inversion. The second guise begins with a pickup on the third, and sways between the fifth and the third of the minor tonic chord. These different variations end the same way however, and one doesn’t seem to suit a certain situation better than the other. Harmonically, Hedwig’s Theme is almost always minor, and highly chromatic. (A highly reduced version of the progression goes something like this: i – Vish – i – biii – bii – iv -bVI Fr aug6 – i. Note the extremely exotic use of the French Augmented sixth to tonic, which, in conjunction with the successive minor chords creates a very magical, off-kilter sound.)
“Harry’s Wondrous World” (HP I, II): Here at least, Williams’ concert title seems fitting. This theme makes up the bulk of the track “Harry’s Wondrous World,” as well as the concert-arrangement of “Family Portrait” and seems to be the character Harry Potter’s Primary Theme. The melody has a typical Williams major-mode song-like quality to it, comprised of a steady, mostly unchanging rhythm of quarter notes, moving around in an upwards motion, and accompanied by relatively simple, but chromatically elaborated, chords (basically I – I (4/3sus) -I, with a little mode mixture tossed in). And let’s not forget the jovial secondary fanfare, highly Home-Alonesque, which is associated with it, given to the winds, and in moments of greater excitement, the brass. Harry’s Theme tends to be heard at exposed, climactic moments when something triumphant happens to our hero at Hogwarts, such as winning Quidditch or the House Cup for Gryffindor (a great, still unreleased snippet, actually), though Williams gives the theme its share of softer, more touching variations. It also gets a good deal of development in Chamber of Secrets, including some nice desperate action-oriented variations.
“Family Theme” (HP I, II): Though most people tend to refer to this piece of music as referring to thoughts about Harry’s family, I think it may be thought of more appropriately just as a Bittersweet Theme or even just Harry’s Second, More Gentle Theme. Its melody is as simple as can be (in major, scale degrees 1-2-3-3-2-1-7-1-2-1-7-6…), but when combined with a warm harmonic backing (something along the lines of I – IMa7 – IV – iv – IV – V7/III – IV – V/VI…) and gentle, occasionally soaring orchestration, it is one of the most beautiful compositions from the series. Though it accompanies many scenes which involve Harry’s family, such as the Mirror of Erised or his family scrapbook, it also plays during moments when Harry simply’s being introspective, such as when he scrawls himself a birthday cake in the dust, or as he sits in contemplation looking out the window on his first night at Hogwarts. The two most stunning variations of the theme of course have little to do with anything else – the first being the sparkling rendition at the core of “Harry’s Wondrous World,” given a shimmering background of descending clusters of major and minor seconds in the high winds and strings, and the second being of typical Williams grandeur during Hedwig’s flight during the cue “A Change of Seasons.” He, or Ross, appears to have expanded the closing of its rendition in “Leaving Hogwarts” for the second movie in the tail end of “A Reunion of Friends” for the inclusion a more brassy, triumphant statement of the second phrase of the melody, quite nicely done, though the sudden entrance of the trumpets is a little too loud.
“Quidditch Fanfare” (HP I, II): The thematic role of this fanfare is quite obvious. In the first movie, it occurs right as the Quidditch match opens and when Harry wins the game. I’m not positive occurs at all in the second movie (aside from a quite cool extended development in the middle of the thematically rich “Harry’s Wondrous World” having carried over from Sorcerer’s Stone)…but if it does, I would be willing to bet it occurs some time during the Quidditch game. The fanfare shows off Williams’ strong skill with the brass section, but is remarkable, I think, for its unusual rhythmic interest more than anything else. Good times.
“Nimbus 2000” (HP I, II): And here’s where things get complicated. Though no one will have any trouble recognizing the theme (in its most common form, such as what dominates the second half of the track “Hedwig’s Theme,” its a kind of mischievously bouncing, minor-mode scherzo, with runs displaying the virtuosity of the celesta and accompanying strings), pinpointing its thematic role is pretty much pointless. William’s own title for the concert arrangement he wrote for it (solely for wind instruments, quite amazing actually), it would seem to represents Harry’s broom, and by extension, flying. And indeed, several scenes, such as the “Longbottom Flies” and Quidditch game cues feature it prominently. However, even in Sorcerer’s Stone, it is used in other contexts having nothing to do with flight, such as Harry’s conversation with the snake at the zoo. In Chamber of Secrets, it is used even less clearly, as in the context of “The Polyjuice Potion” and “Cakes for Crabbe and Goyle,” where it takes on a bumbling, comedic tenor (whenever Williams divides a theme into wide octaves for solo flute and bassoon or tuba, you know he’d going for comedy). Because of the link between several of these scenes and the presence of the Slytherin element (whether it be snakes or Malfoy), some have postulated that the Nimbus 2000 theme is actually a Slytherin Theme. But I think this is a bit of a contrivance, considering how many Slytherin-appropriate scenes were not scored with this theme. And Nimbus 2000, for all its many minor chords, simply isn’t menacing at all. At best, Nimbus 2000 works as a flight theme in the first film, and a comedic theme in the second, but I believe the most realistic interpretation is simply of an all-purpose theme with mischievous overtones.
As for the theme itself, its chord-progression is nearly identical to “Hedwig’s Theme,” only slightly more busy (fewer non-chord tones in the melody – lotsa parallel block chords supporting the melodic line), but sharing the same reliance on biii, bii and aug6 chords. It is more malleable than Hedwig’s theme, and Williams enjoys spinning it through numerous odd modulations. Also, I must not forget that Nimbus 2000 has a swooshing secondary melody and corresponding connective material, which sounds much more perilous and dark. Perhaps it represents the hazards of flying, but it occurs infrequently in the films themselves (in fact, only during “Longbottom Flies” and its recycled form in “Escape from the Dursleys’,” as well as being suggested at through its swirling bass ostinato during the “Quidditch Match”), and so, is not of much thematic consequence.
“Hogwarts Forever” (HP I): Here again we have a theme the use of which in the movie contradicts the title Williams gave to its concert arrangement. While “Hogwart’s Forever” would suggest a theme for the school of witchcraft and wizardry itself, I think most people would agree that this is a theme for Gryffindor House, not Hogwarts. Significant moments (there really aren’t many) occur when Ron and Harry get accepted into Gryffindor by the sorting hat, when the Percy leads his first years to the moving staircases, and when Gryffindor scores goals during the Quidditch match. The theme itself is melodically simple, a somewhat pompous but good-natured march, which is never actually strung out in its full march-regalia. Each time it occurs, Williams gives it a slightly different harmonic backing, especially in the concert arrangement, which features some very strange (but intentional, though Filmtracks would have you believe otherwise) sonorities. In it most straightforward form, it basically consists of a lot of motion between I and IV, and during the most fanfaric rendition during the Quidditch match, with a modulation on the tritone sending it modulating into the key of the lowered mediant.
“Voldemort’s Theme(s)” (HP I, II): This is where things get real nasty. The Dark Lord is definitely represented thematically in the two Potter movies, but the question is not whether he has a theme, but how many really belong to him. In Williams’ concert arrangement for Voldemort, three distinct musical ideas crop up. The first is the simple 3-note motif (though it’s not particularly grounded in any tonal center, think of it as 1-b3-7. Williams finds clever, and appropriately spooky ways to back it up harmonically)that sounds very familiar and very ominous. The second is a longer, quite growling sounding melody. (In this case, beginning on the first scale degree, it would proceed to the 7th below, up to a flatted 2nd, back to the seventh and so forth. Harmonically, it sometimes follows this demonic progression: i – dim v6 – i – vii – bvii – i). The third idea is most recognizable as a self-sufficient theme, the groutesque, slithering melody, twisting up and down the minor scale, with a great deal of emphasis on the diabolical tritone (let’s see…in a minor scale, melodically, it climbs thusly: 5-#4-1-3-#4-5-b6…etc.); rhythmically, it has a similar structure to the second theme in its construction by dotted eighth to sixteenth note figures; and harmonically, its pretty simple, little more than i all the way through, with a bass line shifting between i and V).
To add to the general confusion, all three themes are used in conjunction (and sometimes, simultaneously, with quite brilliant counterpoint by the maestro, might I add) during the climactic moments of Sorcerer’s Stone (and, by extension, Chamber of Secrets). But I don’t think decoding the thematic meaning of these three ideas is impossible. Here goes my attempt.
The first motif is tied strongly enough to the sorcerer’s stone in the first movie (as it appears in Gringott’s, when the heroic trio ventures for the first time onto the 3rd floor containing the entrance to the dungeon which contains the stone, yeah, yeah, yeah). Also, it appears mostly in relation to the stone during the “Face of Voldemort” cue. So, we can safely call it el Sorcerer’s Stone Motif in the first movie, not really a Voldemort’s theme at all. However, its use is greatly expanded in COS, to include all sorts of references to mystery, danger and general spookiness (for example, the fabulous dramatic choral rendition as Harry and crew discover the entrance to the chamber, slightly truncated on album), and therefore, I can only call it the Evil-Omen theme in COS, and probably will function as such in Prisoner of Azbakan as well.
The second and third themes are strongly associated with Voldemort, and often (but not always) occur in conjunction. one of the strongest renditions of the second theme is in Olivander’s Wand Shop, when Harry first learns of the great deeds of his arch-nemesis. Based on strong timing clues from “The Face of Voldemort” cue, and because this theme tends to accompany the suggestion of Voldemort rather than his actual identity, I feel comfortable calling it the “You-Know-Who Theme”. The third, and strongest of the bunch, is quite simply, Voldemort’s theme proper, and occurs most prominently when his face is unmasked in SS, but has significant renditions when Hagrid’s story conjures up a flashback to the Potters’ murder, when Quirrel sabotages Harry’s broom, and when the shrouded Voldemort schwooshes over to attack Harry before being trampled by some random centaur dude.
Themes from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets
“Fawkes The Phoenix” (HP II): Here’s another theme where Williams’ title fits its thematic role. Fawkes’ the Phoenix signifies, quite simply, Fawkes (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets transferred to Buckbeak in POA, in a slightly nobler guise perhaps). The theme’s presence in the movie is minimal, appearing in a gentle form during the brief moment when Harry is introduced to the bird in Dumbledore’s office, in two bold, brassy renditions as the bird drops the sorting hat in the chamber and proceeds to poke out the Basilisk’s eyes, and a third as it soars away with Harry and crew at the end of the scene. But, Williams, wonderful man as he is, blessed the listener with a gorgeous, fully developed concert arrangement for the little theme (even with its own subthemes and dramatic development!). The melody is long and gliding, with the occasional downward three-note figure which has led some to make a very superficial comparison with Across the Stars. Harmonically, it is a lovely, mostly diatonic melody (I (pedal) – V/V- IV – I – vi – iii – vi – IV – vi – IV6 – iii6 – IV – I). The use of V/V is a typically bright, flighty chord that Williams uses often in such roles, such as the theme from ET.
“The Chamber of Secrets” (HP II): This is a simply amazing theme, a gloriously evil and dark return to the classic Williams gothic style, redolent of the sturm und drang ofDracula, The Fury, and all that good stuff. And, just like Fawkes (come to think of it, just like all of the new themes from COS) it gets criminally underused in the actual score. This is what I’ve come to call “Luke and Leia” syndrome. Williams writes a gorgeous, fully-fledged concert arrangement for a theme that barely gets ten seconds in the movie itself. But no matter, the concert arrangement is about all a Williams fan could ever ask for. To be fair, the theme does appear in several key places in the movie, all having to do with the mystery surrounding the Chamber of Secrets, but appearances are quite subdued (including a fabulous solo flute rendition that occurs without any annoying sound effects over one of the DVD menus), and never approaches the sinister heights achieved in its titular track. The main minor theme is built out of a simple cell (in minor, 5-5-3-1-6-#4; notice Williams’ fondness of melodic use of tritone in Harry Potter, here and elsewhere), and a simple i-pedal, but gets all kinds of weird, wonderful developments over the course of the piece. A closely related secondary theme (which is actually the only non-concert-arrangement hint of this composition on the album, briefly hinted in the middle of “Cakes for Crabbe and Goyle”) consists of a similarly simple melody constructed for the most part of downward arpeggios, alternating between i and bvi…a trusty progression for depicting evil: think Imperial March). Also, there’s another thematic curiosity within this concert arrangement that I’ll deal with at the very end. Bwahaha…
“Gilderoy Lockhart” (HP II): There is little thematic ambiguity surrounding this theme… It accompanies the scene where Indy tosses a Nazi from the window of the Zeppi…wait, wrong movie. No, despite its blatantly obvious similarities to “No Ticket” from Indy III, this theme represents everyone’s favorite Dark Arts Professor, Magical-Me, Gilderoy Lockhart. It is a self-consciously arrogant, jilting little piece of music, full of silly ornaments and odd pauses, almost completely monophonic (just melody line), assigned to low strings, bassoon, and to great effect, the harpsichord. (My best shot at the harmonic implications of the melodic lines would be some kind of alternation between i and V). Its silliness has something of a Hookish tone to it. The theme is heard in scenes featuring Lockhart prominently, including his encounter with Harry at the bookstore, his two classes (one of which is a deleted scene) and the Dueling Club. Actually, its curious secondary theme, played on oboe, also, gets time in the movie, during the duel. Good times, for sure.
“The Spiders” (HP II): While Gilderoy Lockhart’s theme wasn’t exactly the most original thing the maestro ever wrote, this motif/theme is something quite new from him. Because it occurs in at least four scenes that feature arachnids prominently, the theme is aptly called the Spiders. It consists of a prolonged series of chromatically descending, creeping notes (an example Bb-E-Bb-E-E-F#-E-F#). Yes, and all the phrases are exactly eight notes long, one note for each segmented leg. The theme is terrifically effective, thanks to its eerie orchestration (high winds over harp, with lots of tremolo string interjections), and the highly dissonant harmonic backing. There is one great really moment for this theme; it’s quite short, but very prominent, scored for muted brass contending with squirming, chaotic string dissonance, and it occurs during the “Meeting Tom Riddle” cue, as a sprightly young Aragog bursts out of Hagrid’s container. Tremendous. As you can tell, I really dig this theme.
“Dobby The House Elf” (HP II): While Dobby’s theme also falls victim to Luke and Leia syndrome, the dearth of the scenes he is in makes that excusable (Fawkes too). The impish but benevolent melody occurs to a very limited extent during the first and third scenes that Dobby is in (I think), but doesn’t exactly carry those scenes by itself. The house elf’s melody is given a standard colorful Williamsesque-concertization, with gradually building volume and constantly shifting orchestration, a few nice subthemes thrown in for good measure. The basic melody (In major, 3-5-b6-#4. Notice the use of bVI to tritone, which occurs in the Chamber theme as well…good thing this theme is in a major mode, or that would sound very evil) is jumpy and sweet, and the harmonic background is as well (an unusual I – bVIish – I – bVIish – I 2/3sus – bIII 64 – IV – V – I). If they ever get to book four and beyond, expect more from this theme, perhaps a more pathos filled rendition or two, if that is possible.
“Moaning Myrtle“(HP II): The groaning ghost of the girl’s bathroom also appears to get a theme, which logically enough, occurs when she is on screen. Might as well call itMyrtle’s Lament, oh why not. It’s a childish minor mode melody that skirts around a bit, but is not particularly remarkable in its thematic significance or compositional merit, so I won’t dwell too much on it. Also, accompanied by a rising choral figure similar to that which occurs when ghosts are on screen.
“Lucius Malfoy’s Theme“(HP II): This one was surprising. The Death-Eatin’ Malfoy patriarch most definitely has a distinct bit of thematic material play whenever he is on screen, which, as it is heard in the lower depths of the orchestra, sounds quite threatening and conspiring. one might even call it a “Conspiracy Theme“, which is appropriate, because it is practically identical to the “Conspiracy Theme” from Attack of the Clones. I mean, honestly, almost note for note, and harmonically as well. I don’t know what Williams was thinking (probably the same thing as he wrote the music for the COS Quidditch match as Harry and Draco zip through the stadium rafters…hmmm). Because no one knows how much William Ross was responsible for this score, here is one theme that I’d rather deny Williams’ authorship.
Errol’s Theme: (HP II): To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen Chamber of Secrets enough times to be able to pick this fella out, though other people have suggested the hapless owl has some thematic material of his own, and I am sure it is a possibility. Some outside input would be well appreciated on this one.
“But it occurs in both movies!” Themes
“Dark Forest Theme” (HP I, II): I could call this a theme, if I were feeling generous. It is a distinct musical idea that does occur in recurrent situations (three guesses where), but it undergoes no development, and is most likely just a cue-based idea in SS which got adapted for similar use in COS. It is terrifically grim and atmospheric (one of the reasons I was clamoring for a full release of the HP I score before the COS album came out), trudging through minor chords as if it were stalking someone (i (x3) – ii – i (x3) – vii – i (x3) –ii – #iv – iv – iii – biii – ii). Very nice.
“Christmas at Hogwarts” (HP I, II): Another sorta-theme. Occurs when it’s Snowing out at Hogwarts. Sounds like Home Alone. Three separate melodies, actually. First one is bouncy and major, with plenty of jingle bells, second one is vaguely minor, with the ghostly whispering of “Merry Christmas” by a bunch of spirits (given an unreleased rendition on solo bells of some sort), and third one also bouncy and major (follows this progression, if you were wondering – I – V/V – IV – I…). Jingle-jingle, tra-la-la.
“Feasting at Hogwarts” (HP I, II): Similar idea. A very Prokoviev-styled little piece, occurs during the first meals in the great hall for both movies. I hesitate to call it a theme because it is neither distinct nor developed.
“Weasley’s Theme” (HP I, II): Here’s another questionable theme. It is heard when Ron goes up to be fitted with the sorting hat in SS, as well as when the Weasleys arrive in their flying car at Harry’s window in COS. Maybe elsewhere, I’m not positive. It’s got a somewhat awkward gate to it, played on middle range woodwinds, and is quite squarely in the Aeolian mode if I’m not mistaken. Again, it’s unlikely this was really intended as a legitimate theme for anyone, just a catchy melody that happens to relate loosely to Ron.
“Sneaking Around Theme” (HP I, II): This one’s really a stretch. A distinct minor melody on celesta that occurs at the very beginning of “The Arrival of Baby Harry” as Dumbledore is sneaking around. Also occurs elsewhere, both in the body of SS and COS, while characters are sneaking around in some fashion or another. Hence,Sneaking Around Theme. You’ll know it when you hear it.
“The Chess Game” (HP I, II): Not a theme at all. I’m just anticipating the possible argument because it occurs for, like, 3 seconds as Harry runs to Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets, that constitutes development. No, it doesn’t. Great music, nonetheless, that thundering 5/4 ostinato, and a major highlight from the first movie, including the short amount of unreleased music following it.
“Flying Things” (HP I, II): You may have thought it was a stand alone cue in the first movie, accompanying the scene with the flying keys which Harry chases after…and then it ends up in COS as well, in a slightly enlarged version for the Cornish Pixie scene. However, this can’t be called a theme because a) it was obviously rearranged from the first movie, and b) it has no theme! It’s chaotic, jumbled, unmelodic orchestral zaniness, with no distinct ideas that could be adapted to other situations (well, I’m sure Williams could if he wanted to).
“Magical Wonder Theme” (HP I): I think a real argument could be made for this being a legitimate theme. Its prominent absence was one of the great injustices of the SSalbum. It is the instantly recognizable theme from both the Diagon Alley scene and the first years’ entrance into the dining hall. I am guessing that the cue was originally intended for the dining hall (it synchs up more perfectly there), and only later replaced the quirky recorder (?) jig which is titled Diagon Alley on the soundtrack for that scene (and more subtly injected into the second movie for the same location, a quasi-source music theme in itself). It is a wonderful composition, full of wonder and excitement (thus, Magical Wonder Theme…hey, I make ‘em up). It is an energetic, chromatically active major mode melody, glisteningly orchestrated (the precise progression is: I pedal – I – II – III (repeat) – vi – V – IV- V- I – V – IV – V/III – I). Real shame it didn’t make the album in its full form, a true highlight from the score. However, a less obvious variation (which constitutes development) does occur on the first soundtrack, as the new years approach Hogwarts for the first time on their boats. Still, nothing beats the real thing. Oh well…
“Strange Connections” (HP I, II): As anyone who has seen both SS and heard its album would notice, the wonderful music from Olivander’s Wand shop is nowhere to be found on CD. The musical cue begins with a mysterious, alluring bell melody as Olivander picks the Phoenix-feather wand, moves into a very mystical seven note melody, first in chorus, then orchestra, followed by the alluring melody in oboe, pausing briefly, and continuing with the first statement of the “You-Know-Who-Theme.” What interests me the most is that mystical choral theme that we hear as Harry picks up his wand for the first time (melody, in g minor, sounds familiar enough, because it starts off, like so many other dark themes, mirroring the Dies Irae mass. This melody itself occurs in parallel thirds, as D-C-D-Bb-C-A-Bb, over a minor pedal). It lasts for such a short duration that I hardly noticed it the first time. But after hearing the Chamber of Secrets score, it left a deep impression. You see, it bears an unmistakable identity to a melody I heard in that score, specifically, on the Chamber of Secrets track itself, beginning at around 1:21. The connection is there – both musical ideas deal with the darker side of Harry’s identity, his potential for greatness and evil. It may even occur in other places, I don’t know the scores by heart. So call me crazy. But you have to admit… Curious, very curious.