This is the tenth and final article in a ten-part retrospective of the Harry Potter soundtracks. You may wish to refer to the previous entries in the series for more information.
Eight soundtracks. Four composers. A ten-year cycle of music and magic. And now, my list of the eight soundtracks, in order of preference:
- Goblet of Fire by Patrick Doyle — After the three soundtracks from John Williams, the franchise was ready for a change, and they got it with Doyle. Incorporating consistent themes throughout the soundtrack, he was able to create an entirely new character using the music, and if a few tracks didn’t really fit the rest of the album, as a piece of art it was, to my mind, the best of them. Favorite tracks: “The Story Continues”, “Foreign Visitors Arrive”
- Deathly Hallows, Part 2 by Alexandre Desplat — I actually think this soundtrack had better composition than Goblet, but Goblet is still my favorite. Still, DH2 is a close second thanks mostly to Desplat’s use of cycles in addition to themes. Favorite Tracks: “Lily’s Theme”, “Courtyard Apocalypse”
- Prisoner of Azkaban by John Williams — Potter finally gets mature and serious with Williams’s third and final soundtrack, and although the middle of the album feels a little muddled, the finale makes up for it in spades. Favorite Tracks: “Buckbeak’s Flight”, “Finale”
- Sorcerer’s Stone by John Williams — I’m surprised at myself for not ranking this soundtrack more highly, especially since it introduced “Hedwig’s Theme” (the musical theme most associated with Harry Potter), but it just didn’t resonate with me the same way the first three on the list did. It was too light in tone, I think. Favorite Tracks: “Hedwig’s Theme”, “The Quidditch Match”
- Deathly Hallows, Part 1 by Alexandre Desplat — Excellent uses of themes and a great battle sequence overcame a rather annoying tendency to score fugues, sustains, and accents over the main body of the music. Favorite Tracks: “Obliviate”, “Polyjuice Potion”
- Half-Blood Prince by Nicholas Hooper — Hooper really redeemed himself with this after what I felt was a lackluster effort in Phoenix, and I certainly enjoyed the soundtrack. It’s just that the others were even better. I also don’t think Hooper had a lot to work with in what is probably the worst of the Potter films. Favorite Tracks: “Opening”, “Dumbledore’s Farewell”
- Chamber of Secrets by John Williams — While the general tone of the soundtrack was less juvenile than Stone, the film itself was too slapstick-y in too many places to really justify a truly dark soundtrack. Williams did the best with what he had. Favorite Tracks: “The Dueling Club”, “Reunion of Friends”
- Order of the Phoenix by Nicholas Hooper — No real cohesive theme, a jumbled bunch of cues, a soundtrack out-of-order from the film, and far too much repetitiveness overshadowed Hooper’s clear talent at creating memorable musical phrases. Favorite Tracks: “Flight of the Order of the Phoenix”, “The Ministry of Magic”
And, finally, my favorite track out of all eight Harry Potter soundtracks:
“Flight of the Order of the Phoenix” by Nicholas Hooper. As I said above, Hooper definitely knows how to write music that you’ll remember and enjoy. He just swung and missed with the Order of the Phoenix soundtrack as a whole. Tell me you can click that link and not remember the flight through night-time London and I’ll… well, I don’t know. I’ll do something, I guess.
I think it’s really hard to do a soundtrack that completely misses the mark. I can’t remember a single one I’ve listened to that actually pulled that off. However, in re-listening to these eight soundtracks, I’ve come to the conclusion that a good soundtrack needs a few cohesive themes, not too much crazy orchestration, and the ability to make listeners re-enact the film’s scenes in their heads if they’re not actually watching the movie. Most of the Potter soundtracks do all three of those things — they all do at least two. I count that as a rousing success for the studio, the films, and the composers.
And now, as your reward for making it this far, here’s a little bonus: three of my favorite Wizard Rock songs, in video form, all by Ministry of Magic:
Thanks for indulging my little jaunt into Pottermania. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to plug in my headphones and start listening to them again.