Ask any ardent Harry Potter fan to tell you the first sound that plays in their head when the series is mentioned, And without exception, they will hum the same tune. The tune is "Hedwig's Theme", composed for the first Harry Potter film by legendary American composer John Williams. It is the most recognizable leitmotif of the Harry Potter film franchise.
Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon. The books and their film adaptations have enjoyed enduring adoration and form a nostalgic safety blanket for an entire generation.
So, the HBO Max "Return To Hogwarts" reunion special was a highly-anticipated event.
As soon as the special fades in with a quote from Dumbledore about time, a version of the immortal tune begins.
Throughout the film, as members of the cast and crew reminisce and enter the Great Hall, an orchestra (conducted by Williams himself) plays the themes in the film. And the music, even without the grandiose visuals, is sufficient to transport one to the wizarding world.
How John Williams added a pinch of his own magic to the world of Harry Potter
Williams, the man with 52 Grammy nods (only second to Walt Disney), has been behind some of the most enduring film scores in history, from Star Wars and Home Alone to Jaws and Jurassic Park.
But Harry Potter holds a special place in his legacy, as the score he laid on the first three films has been repurposed and re-interpreted by composers who would follow him for the next five films.
The John Williams Method
John Williams is known for his opulent orchestral arrangements. He gives every section a chance to shine, and then lets the music swell to a rousing crescendo.
A peculiar component of his Harry Potter score is the use of tinkling bells as a motif. The bells are used throughout the eight films.
Many of the themes Williams dreamed up in the first film are heard throughout the entire series, notably “Harry’s Wondrous World,” “Nimbus 2000,” and “Leaving Hogwarts.” And as a special tug at the heartstrings, the final tune is only used at the end of the first and the eighth films.
Williams' score gently lures us into the fantasy world and guides the way we feel. It introduces us to many iconic characters, like Gilderoy Lockhart, Fawkes the Phoenix, Dobby the House Elf.
Then, as re-emphasized in the reunion, Prisoner Of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter film, featured a much darker tone than the first two films. It involved a coming-of-age to the morbid realities of the world.
Williams' score plays an equal part to director Alfonso Cuaron's dark visuals in making the fear, urgency, eventual clarity and freedom of the third film crystal-clear ("Buckbeak's Flight" is one of the most underrated pieces in the series).
By the end of the third film, the sound of the Wizarding World had been fleshed out fully.
The Composers Who Followed
While Williams was an icon, due credit must be given to Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat, who incorporated new elements into the films and later introduced characters such as Professor Umbridge with evil aplomb.
Desplat, in particular, added an emotional depth to the final two films, which was reminiscent of a haunting farewell.
John Williams has made an indelible stamp on the Harry Potter atmosphere. He has made a historic legacy, and the Harry Potter reunion special was a reminder of the timelessness of his work.
Note: The article presents the writer's personal views.