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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    

 

Williams, John (1932-) - Symphonic Suite from the film “Harry Potter”

Music - with its magical power to create moods, set scenes, and simply entertain - has always played a big part in plays. Even top-notch concert composers are drawn by the smell of grease-paint, turning their hands to theatrical incidental music: think of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Grieg’s for Peer Gynt, or even Beethoven’s for Egmont

When “Kinema” first came along, pianists improvised musical accompaniments. With the arrival of “talkies” around 1930, film makers just “shoe-horned” existing music into their sound-tracks. They soon realised that this wasn’t good enough: music to fit the action had to be specially written. But whereas incidental music had been a sideline for a fast buck, composers found that film music was a far tougher proposition. It wasn’t just a matter of covering scene changes and such-like, they had to underpin the action, creating on demand the right effect timed to the split second. To write like that, the footage had to be “in the can”, so very fast work was called for! 

Apart from being good at their jobs, film composers had to be thick-skinned, because other composers would snottily regard them as “mere tradesmen”. Not any more. The achievements of John Williams, America’s answer to England’s Malcolm Arnold, have done much to restore film composing to respectability. His output is astonishing, ranging from Goodbye, Mr. Chips to Valley of the Dolls, from Jurassic Park through Jaws to ET and beyond! This brings in another important skill, the ability to adopt any style, from pub piano vamps to something to underline the End of the Universe. Williams does this brilliantly, yet his main tool is not the “any sound you can imagine” digital synthesiser but the symphony orchestra. That bears thinking about. 

However, often you can’t simply “lift” music from the film into the concert hall. By its nature, it mostly comes in snippets. If the music is to stand (or at least wobble) on its own two feet, somebody has to weld the bits into a “whole”, to provide some musical form, that skeleton which stops the flesh of the music becoming a messy puddle on the floor. This “symphonic suite” was put together by Jerry Brubaker. I’ll let you decide if he lavished enough “TLC” on the job. 

The music runs continuously, but falls into seven distinct sections:
 

1. Flight and Travel. A lilting theme on celeste, joined by woodwind and strings, is used throughout the film - notably when the owls arrive at Harry's home to summon him to Hogwarts School. 
 

2. Broomstick Practice. Three trumpets mock the chums’ first efforts, where Neville Longbottom (the clumsy school-pal) ends up dangling from the roof top - the first of his many mishaps.
 

3. Hogwarts Forever! This majestic tune characterises the turreted school, the moving staircases, and the banquet.
 

4. Diagon Alley. Flutes and percussion portray the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley, and a quirky violin solo the grotesque clerks of Gringotts Bank.
 

5. Voldemort. Horns and bassoons utter a ghastly motif, evoking the terror of Voldemort whenever he appears.
 

6. Anyone for Quidditch?! A brilliant fanfare-like theme on brass accompanies the bristling excitement of the game.
 

7. Harry’s Parents. Blossoming from strings to full orchestra, this typical Williams melody is the “big tune” (every film must have one!). This always underpins Harry’s recollections of his beloved deceased parents.
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© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


 

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