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Ludwig

Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter - An Analysis

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What gives Hedwig's Theme the sound of magic and mystery? I offer my analysis in the last of 6 posts (for now!) on John Williams themes:




As always, your thoughts are welcome. (And I'm all ears for any suggestions for future posts too.)

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Great analaysis, although the instrument here is a synth celeste - played by Randy Kerber - not a real one.

How “Randy’s Celeste” came into being: “I was asked to create a sound that would capture the magical personality of Hedwig, the Owl in Harry Potter. First, I called up an initialized voice patch on the DX-7 synthesizer to embody the soft character of the celeste. Next, I combined a sample of an actual celeste. After some manipulation of these two instruments, I was able to arrive at the unique sound you hear today.”

http://cinesamples.com/products/randys-celeste/

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Great analaysis, although the instrument here is a synth celeste - played by Randy Kerber - not a real one.

How “Randy’s Celeste” came into being: “I was asked to create a sound that would capture the magical personality of Hedwig, the Owl in Harry Potter. First, I called up an initialized voice patch on the DX-7 synthesizer to embody the soft character of the celeste. Next, I combined a sample of an actual celeste. After some manipulation of these two instruments, I was able to arrive at the unique sound you hear today.”

http://cinesamples.com/products/randys-celeste/

It's been updated. Thanks, Prometheus. I was looking at the Signature Series edition, where he simply calls for celeste. But the Prologue cue calls for synth celeste. Interesting that the two differ.

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Probably because in live concert settings, a real celeste is used.

Oh, no doubt. I'm just wondering why a synthesizer wouldn't be used in concert. Maybe it's that there seems to be something kind of taboo about having synthesizers mix with acoustic instruments in symphony orchestra concerts.

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That's just something the signature editions do. Always remove the synthesizers, 4th (or more) wind parts, 5-8th horn parts, second harp and anything else out of reach for a standard symphony orchestra to have.

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Thanks, Dylan. I could understand about not having 8 horn players or more than 4 winds, etc. But it still seems weird to me to omit the synth for the same reason. I once saw Mozart's Magic Flute produced by a company with plenty of cash, and for Papageno's magic bells, which are usually played by a celeste, they used a synth instead because they didn't have a celeste! Maybe that was a special case, but it seems that synths would be easier and cheaper than a real celeste. You're probably right, though, that the idea is that the real celeste is more standardized.

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I think it's also because most orchestras don't know how to or want to hire somebody to program a synthesizer, and not all patches will be compatible with every system. I think it's just to keep things simpler, most symphonies have their own Celeste. The local symphony here in Anchorage, Alaska has one!

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I was searching around the web for other analyses of Hedwig's Theme and came across a thread in a music theory forum. Someone was asking about the penultimate chord of the A theme (the F#7), saying that was the only one that didn't fit a traditional analysis. It got a response from the moderator there which seemed apropos here. I'm not absolutely certain, but if my hunch is right, this respondent is one of the big names in the pedagogy of music theory today. Anyway, the comment is worth reproducing here. In this light, should we talk about chords in the traditional way in this piece? My own analysis implies that we can but that there are several distortions of traditional progressions. Have your say...

This is not a Common Practice piece, so analyzing it with Common Practice concepts and terminology might not be all that illuminating.

There are two far crazier chords here - the Gm and Fm (in 2nd inversion no less) what did you call them?

The goal of analysis is to look at music and determine if there are similarities and differences. The reason we use roman numerals is so we can take pieces in various keys, and "genericize" them so we can see any patterns.

This is very useful when music follows a very typical (and predictable) set of characteristics. Common Practice Music does just this - that's one of the reasons it's so studied.

But when music doesn't follow these conventions, the analysis needs to be adapted - so analyzing them like a CPP piece is in some cases, useless.

One of the biggest problems now is that so much music does share characteristics with CPP music, but the same piece can contain completely foreign elements. Sometimes it's useful to analyze the CPP-like aspects in CPP terms, and simply note the "exceptions". But, in cases like this, the surface similarities seem pretty obvious, but actually, a CPP-based analysis of this piece doesn't really tell us much. There is a "center" of Em. There are "identifiable chords". The notion of a "traditional" key is gone so it seems chords are being chosen for some other reason - any informative analysis would tell us where these chords are coming from (can we ask John?).

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In a broad sense, I think he's absolutely right. It shows the main peculiarity of film music: it's written to serve another medium. With this in mind, we have to understand that the composer faces problems and questions that mainly derive from the necessities of the medium it is serving, so the musical thought is inevitably subordinate to that. Of course this doesn't mean that the composer can break any substantial musical rules, but he probably has more freedom in terms of use of chords, harmonies, general structure and so forth than if he or she is composing a piece of "absolute" music (or CMM, as he calls it). The choices in the end are dependent to the film's needs. I remember an interview with Williams (can't remember which one, sorry) where he basically said that film music is comparatively quicker to write than a piece for concert-hall because it doesn't ask for that strong musical conventions.

What I like about JW's film music is that, even though has more freedom in those departments, it still has a very strong musical backbone that stands up to an insightful analysis (as Ludwig's several blog posts brilliantly point out).

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@Ludwig maybe it's obvious, but I didn't find a mention of it in your article: 

The A section resembles an owl's call, just like Tchaikovsky's music in the Swan Lake resembles swans. Especially the three last bars of each phrase.

The most beautiful owl call in Harry Potter can be heard clearly here:

 

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2 hours ago, Disco Stu said:

What owl sounds like that?

The most famous owl call is the hoot of great horned owl, consisting of two short calls and one long.

 

Now imagine it on french horns. And then Williams toys with it. That it is played on a celeste first is of no importance. The intro has been selected by Williams after the main theme was composed.

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