John Williams is one of the most talented composers out there at the moment, and by far his best series of scores (yes you heard it right, his best!) were the ones he composed for Harry Potter. Watch this space, this is going to be a series.
Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s, for the non-British readers) is a pretty amazing movie. It kick-started an incredibly successful franchise that is still spawning films to this day, and that success was in part due to John Williams’ simply sublime score to the series. The Harry Potter theme is one of those especially rare compositions that defines its films (like Star Wars, James Bond etc.) and even people who have no interest whatsoever in film scores would be able to recall the theme pretty much immediately if asked. To say that the theme for Harry Potter is iconic is an understatement, as it is so much more. It contributed heavily to the simply magical atmosphere of the first film as well as setting the tone for all of the sequels. The Harry Potter movies are pretty good on their own, but it was John Williams’ music that raised them high up into their currently legendary status.
The album opens with Prologue, and the first thing Williams hits you with is that iconic Harry Potter theme. It starts out simply, playing through the theme in its entirety once before cycling around again for another rendition, this time backed by accompanying strings. The orchestra builds and the music gets louder and more dramatic until the theme has been fairly fleshed out. The secondary main theme of the score then plays in a similarly simple and short manner to the first, and the track then ends. Prologue works wonderfully as an opening cue as it showcases the main themes, and sets a high bar for the rest of the album.
Harry’s Wondrous World more than meets the bar. In fact, it soars so high above that it became the standout cue almost immediately after I listened to it. The track opens with a strings-based rendition of the main theme before settling into a slow and frankly beautiful introduction of the tertiary main theme (yes, another one). This theme is very upbeat and child-like, but that doesn’t stop it from easily being one of the best compositions for the entire franchise. It gets a wonderful two minute playthrough here before Williams then moves on to the more action-based Quidditch music. This also gets a good introduction here (though a shorter one than the tertiary theme) and it is simply a joy to listen to. The tertiary theme then returns towards the end for a final reprise before the track closes out. All in, Harry’s Wondrous World is absolutely fantastic, and my only criticism would be how oddly it is placed on the album. It is the end credits suite for the film and yet is the second track on the score, so it is slightly jarring to hear all these themes in their swansong before they have actually been fleshed out or even heard in some cases.
The Arrival Of Baby Harry starts out with a very mysterious tone, using percussion initially before introducing choirs a minute or so into the track. The orchestra does a great job here of providing backing strings and overall just making the musical sound magical. To close out we are then treated to a simply sublime vocal rendition of the main Harry Potter theme. Williams makes great use of several different themes throughout this and the sequel scores, the most notable of which up next is the introduction of Voldemort’s theme in Diagon Alley. This piece makes excellent use of choirs to give off a very mysterious and ominous mood, as well as being rather dark and villain-sounding overall. This theme appears again in the score to the sequel film Chamber Of Secrets, and sounds just as creepy there as it does here.
The more actiony Quidditch music makes its second and much more prominent appearance in Mr. Longbottom Flies. It also introduces a very heroic and fast-paced theme that I can only assume is meant to represent Harry in victorious Quidditch moments. It only appears once in the film, which is a shame as the theme is one of the better compositions on the album. I felt however despite it being short lived that the piece was definitely worth a mention in this review, so here it is at 2:42:
The Quidditch music then continues in the aptly named The Quidditch Match, in which we are treated to eight minutes of glorious Williams action music. The style of action used here harks back to Indiana Jones and Star Wars as it bears the composer’s signature style of orchestra all the way through. If not for Harry’s Wondrous World, this track would have been the standout cue of this review. The fast-paced strings and loud brass make for wonderful listening, and John Williams’ action music in general is always an absolute joy to listen to. The Quidditch Match is no exception.
The mysterious tone returns significantly for the back half of the score, starting in The Invisibility Cloak. Ominous sounding strings do most of the work in the first minute of this piece before brass and percussion then start to kick in. The strings then play out a slow and very dramatic rendition of the main Harry Potter theme before the music switches down from mystery to a much sadder and gentler style. Percussion takes the forefront for this unfortunately short section, and then the track ends. The darker tone however is continued through several tracks and into The Chess Game, a heavily brass and drum based action piece that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat. This pace is kept throughout the track’s four minute runtime until it’s very dramatic end, at which point the darker tone is then continued in The Face Of Voldemort. Voldemort’s theme features heavily here, and for six minutes we get some very signature and highly enjoyable John Williams climactic brass-based battle music.
The track ends with a softer piano rendition of Voldemort’s theme, which slows the pace right back down for a more emotional finale to the score. Leaving Hogwarts is a particularly heart-wrenching track, but it provides some fantastic closing moments to the album and is considered to be not only one of the finest compositions for the film but one of the best for the franchise. It’s use in the last minutes of the eighth and final Harry Potter film attest to this. Leaving Hogwarts also leads quite nicely into Hedwig’s Theme, the second part of the end credits music to the film (the first being Harry’s Wondrous World). The main Harry Potter theme and Quidditch music feature prominently here, and this combined with the other track make for an amazing suite and ending for the film.
Overall, John Williams’ score to Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s?) Stone is utterly fantastic and breathtakingly beautiful. Every single one of the tracks on the album is magical, and Williams does an incredible job of essentially defining an entire franchise in music. His main, secondary and tertiary themes are beyond iconic and are well known long after the film series ended, to such an extent that the main theme was used to advertise the first Fantastic Beasts movie (despite having very little to do with Harry Potter) simply because the marketers knew it would gain much more attention by using it. It goes without saying that this album gets a Perfect Score rating on this site, because of course it does.
John Williams is a miracle maker. Plain and simple.
Standout Cue: 2. Harry’s Wondrous World