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16 November 2021, 15:43
From ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ to the music soundtracking the Quidditch World Cup, we present the very best musical themes heard in Harry Potter – in official order.
The Harry Potter film franchise has been gifted with having four great composers at the helm of its soundtracks.
The first three films – The Philosopher’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban – were scored by the legendary John Williams, with Patrick Doyle (The Goblet of Fire), Nicholas Hooper (The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince) and Alexandre Desplat (The Deathly Hallows) adapting some of Williams’ themes while writing new, original motifs for the following films.
Every piece of music brings the action on screen to life truly magically. But there are a few themes in Harry Potter that really stick out – so much so that they have become beloved with audiences and fans around the world as standalone pieces.
Here’s our definitive ranking of the best and most magical of these Harry Potter themes.
John Williams composed a corker of the theme for the moment Buckbeak takes flight with Harry Potter sitting on his back in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Buckbeak is a hippogriff, a mythical creature who is half eagle, half horse, and Harry first flies with him, nestled between those powerful wings, during a Care of Magical Creatures lessons with Hagrid.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we meet whiny ghost Myrtle. Chromatic scale-based, winding motifs by film music genius John Williams bring to life her slippery, translucent texture, and illustrate her eternal pain at being murdered mercilessly in the girl’s bathroom that she haunts relentlessly.
British composer and guitarist Nicholas Hooper received a Grammy nomination for his Harry Potter music. He composed the theme for scenes in the Room of Requirement – a room that has a welcome habit of offering itself to an inhabitant in need at that moment – in The Order of the Phoenix. The music is characterised by graceful glockenspiel twinkles and awe-inspiring string chords.
A more understated theme, Williams’ ‘A Window to the Past’ is a yearning melody, played on a wooden flute. It’s deployed in the Prisoner of Azkaban during moments of reflection for Harry. He’s learning more than ever about his family, and how he may be connected to a supposedly dangerous man, on the run from the fearsome Azkaban jail.
When Harry attends the Quidditch World Cup – a once in every four-years’ experience – with the Weasley family in The Goblet of Fire, composer Patrick Doyle is at once tasked with creating music as thrilling, large and spectacular as the cup itself. The Quidditch World Cup theme – or rather collection of themes to represent the Ireland and Bulgaria teams that compete in the 1994 final of the cup – is suitably dramatic, rhythmic and exhilarating.
Award-winning French film composer Alexandre Desplat composed the score for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts one and two. When loyal house elf Dobby sadly dies in part one, Desplat calls on a mournful, flute-led theme, backed by deep strings, which enhances the deep pathos of the moment.
This majestic theme feels like the glue holding together the more reflective moments of the Harry Potter scores Williams wrote. It’s a striking and dramatic three-note melody that pierces through at dark or revelatory moments that are key drivers in the plot – for example, at the climax of Harry’s discovering Gringotts Bank for the first time, when Hagrid’s ‘grubby little package’, the Philosopher’s Stone, is first seen.
The theme for majestic phoenix, Fawkes, is beautiful and sweeping, much like the bird’s own grace in flight. Fawkes is a phoenix, a bird that lives a very long life due to its cyclical ability to be born again from fire and ashes, who protects and belongs to Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.
When Harry watches Diagon Ally appear *literally* by magic in front of his eyes in The Philosopher’s Stone, the music is equally magical. The spritely theme accompanies the sight of bustling witches, wizards and their helpful owls going about their daily business.
‘Lily’s Theme’ is a haunting piece, permeated by a single voice which improvises over a steady drone in the double basses. It appears in Deathly Hallows Part 2 and was written by Alexandre Desplat, who said that the theme “ghosts the film all along and [is] the music thread that takes us from the beginning to the end of the film”.
Scottish film composer Patrick Doyle’s ‘Potter Waltz’ is delightfully tuneful, lilting and light, and as uplifting as any of the Harry Potter themes. It is heard when Harry opens the Yule Ball with dance partner Parvati Patil, in the fourth film in the franchise, The Goblet of Fire.
Doyle’s ‘Hogwarts Hymn’ is equally uplifting, but this time stately and noble. It evokes the grandeur of Hogwarts’ castle and grounds, emotively illustrating the feelings students, teachers and visiting witches and wizards experience visiting the place, considering its vast history and awe-inspiring influence throughout the wizarding world.
‘Leaving Hogwarts’ is the mournful, yet hopeful and peaceful tune we hear when Harry has completed his first year at the hallowed school, putting so much behind him and stepping away from his new family – but with so much to look forward to when he returns to Hogwarts for his next year of magical adventures.
Another sublime melody from Patrick Doyle, and The Goblet of Fire here. The soaring strings theme evokes hope tinged with sadness, as young hero Harry navigates another tumultuous year at Hogwarts.
‘Nimbus 2000’ is the lively theme for the brand new broom that everybody wants. Box-fresh at the time of the first movie, the 2000 model of the Nimbus is ultra fast and light, and the melody of Williams’ spritely theme matches: it’s fast, and flits up, down and around without hesitation – like any good broom should!
‘Harry’s Wondrous World’ by John Williams is the awe-inspiring, noble theme that seems responsible for glueing the world of Harry Potter together on screen, from the start of the film franchise’s launch. Williams enlists lyrical strings, fluttery flutes, powerful percussion and big brass in memorable phrases and inspiring melodies that do most of the heavy lifting in whisking us straight to Hogwarts in our imaginations. We thank you, maestro Williams.
An instant, magical classic, ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ by John Williams is *the* definitive Harry Potter theme. Even though it’s named after Harry’s elegant snowy owl, Hedwig, the theme doesn’t just accompany her on-screen moments and instead represents the whole wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter throughout the eight films.