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John Williams Falls Short of Wizardry

‘Harry Potter’ Soundtrack Enjoyable, But Nothing New

By Suki Dorfman

Ever since my mom brought home a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve been an avid fan of the book. On the very day that Goblet of Fire was released, we received it in the mail from Amazon. I’ve raved about J.K. Rowling’s books to my peers, fighting off skeptics. Naturally, I leapt at the chance to hear the soundtrack for the upcoming movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

John Williams, composer of the unforgettable themes from Star Wars, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, and Jurassic Park, was probably the most obvious choice to write the score. His sound has become the epitome of the modern movie theme. With all the fame and attention Harry Potter is receiving, one only expects to see big Hollywood names turn out to add their skills. Williams is only one of a number of such behind-the-scenes stars.

The music sounds appropriately mysterious and magical, and fits its subject well. “Entry into the Great Hall” starts with medieval castle fanfares and choral awe to paint the scale of the inside of Hogwarts, in Harry’s first view of the Hall. “Diagon Alley” invokes an image of a street from a fairy tale, complete with cute smoking chimneys poking out of thatched store roofs. Williams incorporates chimes and whistles reminiscent of trains in “Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters.”

Slightly disturbing ghostly singing changes the mood in “Christmas at Hogwarts,” reminding us this isn’t the ordinary cozy Christmas hearth-it’s a wizard school. “The Quidditch Match” opens with a strongly military tone as the opposing teams must be getting ready for their broomstick battle. This is followed by music that could fit the pomp of opening ceremonies, and then with tense flying chase music for the game itself.

“Leaving Hogwarts,” mostly constructed of a slower version of the theme, portrays a happy ending beautifully while keeping Harry’s sadness at leaving clear.

“Hogwarts Forever” is particularly interesting to anyone familiar with Harry Potter in book form. Rowling tells us that, when it came time to sing the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry alma mater, it was entirely disorganized. Everyone sang the lyrics with whatever rhythm and pitch they wished to sing. The result was a mess with some finishing the song long after others. John Williams’ grand brassy rendition of the theme gives us little hint to how the movie deals with this scene.

Best of all is the main melodic motif, the recurring “Hedwig’s Theme.” It rings in quietly at the start to create a misty “Once upon a time ...” beginning, right out of any fairy tale. Other instruments take up the line as the music builds. The violins mimic Hedwig the owl’s flight. Brass accents seem to highlight Hedwig’s tight turns in her flying. Throughout the soundtrack, this melody recurs, tying the scenes together.

Unfortunately, the music Williams has written for Harry Potter is strongly reminiscent of his other works. The themes from Hook and ET were stuck in my head after listening to the typically John Williams orchestral swells.

In particular, the sentimental-sounding “Leaving Hogwarts” seems directly parallel to Williams’ background to the scene when Peter Pan and his children are flying home in Hook. Although pleasant, fun, and well-written as most of Williams’ work, this score is just not as memorable as his other masterpieces. The feel of the opening theme resounded of Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas theme. Both are darkly dreamlike to describe fairy-tale worlds, so both use similar instrumentation and harmony.

Listening to music created for Harry Potter intensifies one’s interest in watching the movie. However, the book and the story are more captivating than the soundtrack ever could be. When I go to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it won’t be because of John Williams; it will be all J.K. Rowling’s fault.