It’s almost winter here in Australia, which means it’s time for my annual Harry Potter-athon. I’ve been following a personal tradition for the last ten or so years, wherein every winter I reread all of the Harry Potter books, watch the movies, listen to the soundtracks, play the video games- basically, have a complete Harry Potter nerd fest.
The best way to start my Harry Potter marathon is naturally to start with the first film soundtrack, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Legendary composer, John Williams (who has served as the composer on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park as well several other notable works) was chosen to score the film, which tells the story of eleven-year-old Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Prologue opens the disc. A flurry of violins, piano and flutes make up this beautiful piece, and the music is just as magical and wonderful as the movie is. Harry’s Wondrous World follows, and borrows some of the themes from the Prologue, before blending into a heavily orchestrated track, resplendent with sweeping violins and whimsical flutes. Again, the light-hearted, childlike nature of the films is easily transported into the music and Williams and his orchestra do a perfect job of translating the feeling of the movie into the soundtrack.
Diagon Alley/Gringotts Vault has a charming, Celtic sound to it, likely due to the pan flute and violin heard throughout. A fiddle is even introduced in one movement, and this sounds exactly like the kind of street music you’d imagine hearing as you walk down the streets of the Wizarding World’s main shopping village. The second half of the piece is a bit darker, with eerie violin and a ghostly choir perfectly complementing this scene of the spooky dungeons in Gringotts bank. Thankfully, Platform 9 and 3/4 returns to the happy orchestration with more cheerful string work, a collection of chimes, and a few bells ringing, creating a pleasant sound.
One of the other commonly heard themes throughout the films comes from Entry Into The Great Hall/Banquet. The majestic brass and chimes create what almost sounds like a march, and all of it is upbeat and fun- you can feel the excitement in the scene (as Harry walks into the main dining area of Hogwarts, which is truly spectacular) just by listening to the music. The choir returns, though this time they sound saintly and angelic, adding to the overall beauty of the track. The second half of the piece is slowed down a bit, with quieter strings, though some of the marching theme is still played underneath. Another brass-heavy track is The Norwegian Ridgeback; A Change of Season. The sassy-sounding horn in the first half of the piece is jovial and lovely, but like many of the pieces on the soundtrack, the music quickly becomes ominous with a harsh string interlude. However, by A Change of Season, the orchestration becomes lush and filled with piano and strings.
The Quidditch Match is a loud piece, appropriately used for the music during the popular Wizarding sport, Quidditch. Powerful drums and a heralding trumpet make up most of the instrumentation on this upbeat and exciting track. One of my favourite pieces on the soundtrack is Christmas At Hogwarts. There’s no traditional Christmas music here; instead, Williams uses his earlier themes (some of the same movements from Harry’s Wondrous World reappear) and a fanciful journey of soaring strings and piano to compose the track. There’s also a brief interlude of the “Hogwarts Ghosts” singing their own ghastly Christmas carol (mainly just consisting of them singing “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, ring the Hogwarts bells!”) which just adds to the fun.
Fluffy’s Harp is indeed composed with a harp, creating a beautifully elegant sound. The harp is plucked quietly, but sounds exquisite as it floats through the hushed track. The quiet music is instantly juxtaposed with the frantic cello/horn duo heard in In The Devil’s Snare/Flying Keys. The chaotic sound is laid to rest after a few minutes, when the piano and a swell of strings return, creating a more playful sound which goes along nicely with the flying key scene in the film. The quick pace of the strings perfectly depict the way Harry races along on his broomstick in this scene. Meanwhile, the galloping drums and angry horns used in The Chess Game create perfect tension for this action-packed piece. The end of the song is the best, however, as the strings work themselves up into a frenzy and there’s nothing more exciting than the way they race along until the end of the song.
The Face of Voldemort starts off mysteriously with a hint of violins and a sparse piano melody. The orchestration slowly builds up throughout (with some of the earlier Prologue themes thrown in), finally leading to the big reveal of the evil Lord Voldemort’s face, and the orchestration takes a raucous turn as a cacophony of piano, strings and drums take precedence. The tone has quieted down with Leaving Hogwarts, an aptly melancholy tune, with a slowed-down interpolation of the Prologue theme played throughout. The lavish strings which end the track are absolutely stunning, and this number is one of my absolute favorites in the entire franchise.
The disc ends with Hedwig’s Theme, which begins as a simple variation of the first track, Prologue. However, this track is three minutes longer, and contains more movements. The extended melody adds in more string sections and more of the trumpet line which was briefly introduced earlier on. This piece is essentially what is thought of as the “theme music” for the films and has been used several times over in the soundtracks, even appearing in later scores by composers Patrick Doyle (Goblet of Fire), Nicholas Hooper (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince) and Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hallows Part 1 & Part 2) . The varied composition of strings, horns, piano and drums are every bit as epic as the film it accompanies and makes for a stunning finale to the soundtrack.
As the first soundtrack in the series (there are a total of eight film soundtracks, which accompany the eight Harry Potter films) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a brilliant collection of pieces that beautifully illustrate the magic and wonder of the film. John Williams was the best choice for the composer; he does a perfect job of using instruments to create the beautiful themes heard throughout the soundtrack. Because of Williams’ composition, we have Hedwig’s Theme, the most important and most well-known theme in the series, and one of the best movie themes in pop culture.
2. Harry’s Wondrous World
3. The Arrival of Baby Harry
4. Visit to the Zoo and Letters from Hogwarts
5. Diagon Alley and The Gringotts Vault
6. Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters and the Journey to Hogwarts
7. Entry into the Great Hall and The Banquet
8. Mr. Longbottom Flies
9. Hogwarts Forever! and The Moving Stairs
10. The Norwegian Ridgeback and A Change of Season
11. The Quidditch Match
12. Christmas at Hogwarts
13. The Invisibility Cloak and The Library Scene
14. Fluffy’s Harp
15. In the Devil’s Snare and The Flying Keys
16. The Chess Game
17. The Face of Voldemort
18. Leaving Hogwarts
19. Hedwig’s Theme