So it’s official, Border’s wants to bankrupt me. I wandered into another Border’s store, and they had all the Harry Potter scores marked with the magical red sticker. At 40% off, I couldn’t help but pick up the five CDs, especially with movie 6 coming out this summer.
So far I’ve only gotten through the John Williams scores for films 1-3, so that is what I shall discuss right now. Originally, I had a much different post planned for this weekend, but I need to do some more viewing/research before I write it. C’est la vie.
John Williams is a composer who, as an academic, I have some problems with. Mainly because, even though I wholly believe in the worth of popular culture, John Williams is so damn popular. If anything, Williams is part of the reason I love music and film music so much. I loved the Star Wars scores, I even used to imagine conducting the ‘Imperial March’ when I was in Sixth Grade. I could hear the music so clearly in my head that I wouldn’t even need to listen to the CD while doing it!
But as a scholar, I feel the need to find more obscure things, more profound revelations, etc. The curse of the Ivory Tower.
But screw it, I love Star Wars and Superman and Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark and I won’t frakkin’ apologize for it!
Anyway, on to Harry Potter. As many know, Williams only fully scored films 1 and 3, and even though he substantially scored 2, parts of it were left to William Ross to adapt and orchestra for the film due to time concerns, and it really does show in many way, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
First I want to contrast briefly Sorcerer’s Stone and Prisoner of Azkaban, because they really aurally depict that vast differences in the directorial styles of the film (Chris Columbus vs. Alfonso Cuaron). Film 1 is pure children’s John Williams, same type of music you might have heard from his Home Alone score (also directed by Columbus). It has some “creepy/scary” elements to it, but on the whole it is a children’s adventure score. The creepiest part, I feel, is ‘Hedwig’s Theme,’ but that is due to the celesta, which just sounds creepy to me. (Which is caused by the end of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, first movement…he uses the celesta in such a way…creepiest moment ever!) But that is what the film is, a children’s adventure movie, and that is how Columbus directs it and its follow up.
But When Cuaron comes on board for Prisoner, he changes the visual style to one that is more realistic. The kids dress how kids might when they are forced into uniforms, the film itself has more grit to it, and on the whole, the film looks darker and busier. Williams, showing just how versatile he can be when he wants to, changes up his own style to match. Most noticeably he introduces medieval/renaissance musical timbres into the ensemble. In some ways, it feels like they should of been there the entire time, it fits the magical tone of the seriesso well. The wood flutes, period reeds and brass instruments, fit in seamlessly (for a good example, go to track 11 on your CDs, “Hagrid the Proffesor”). And of course, this cue is based on the song that introduced us to this new musical sound, Williams’ setting of the classic Shakespeare quote “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble,” plus other lyrics that all come from MacBeth. This one song, performed in the movie by Hogwarts students, signals a shift in musical timbre, plus solidifying the darker turn of this and the subsequent films (the ominous lyrics “Something wicked this way comes,” which comes from Act IV of MacBeth).
In many ways, this score as a whole might be one of Williams best of recent years.
This is in complete contrast to Chamber of Secrets, which reflects, in a bad way, just how rushed Mr. Williams was when writing it. I won’t harp too much on the Chamber score except to point out what might just be one of the saddest moments of musical borrowing from yourself that I’ve come across.
One of the “new” themes for the film was for Gilderoy Lockhart, the unfortunate new teacher for the students. Lockhart is a fraud, a phony, and a vain man. He is a caricature for so many celebrities that the fact that Williams, or Ross, I’m not sure who, blatantly stole from an earlier score is either cheap or a brilliant piece of meta-criticism. Listening to the score, I immediately recognized the tune as something from an earlier score…I could see Nazis running around, so I was pretty sure it was from an Indiana Jones films…just listen…in this scene, it starts when Snape ascends the stairs…
I was fairly sure that it was from a Jones movie, but it took Wikipedia to point me in the direction of the correct scene…the classic “No Ticket!”
Different keys, but the resemblance is uncanny.
It’s unfortunate that such a great performance by Kenneth Branagh is undercut by this recycling of music. But as I asked earlie, is it cheap re-using or meta-criticism? I’ll let you decide.
In the end, though, it’s strange that of the three scores, Chamber “sounds” the most like a John Williams score. Perhaps because it borrows so freely from other material he had done in the 15 or so years prior. Look at the Wikipedia page for the score for even more examples.
I don’t have much else to say. I’ll post a bit more on the next two scores when I’ve had a chance to listen to them.