- Composed by Alexandre Desplat
- WaterTower Music / 2011 / 68m
Ten years after the first film appeared, with its eager little cast and bright, busy direction from Chris Columbus, the Harry Potter series ended in cinemas in late 2011 in grand style, Potter finally facing his nemesis in The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, David Yates’s fine conclusion to the series based on J.K. Rowling’s astonishingly popular books. With a total global box office take of an eye-watering $7.7bn, the film series was a spectacular success – some of the films were considerably better than others, but Yates grew into them as he went through the final four, with the last two being probably the best.
Returning from the first part of the finale was composer Alexandre Desplat, whose first score offered much promise. The more epic sweep to the second part allowed him to paint on a more expansive canvas, extending a few ideas from his first score but providing plenty of scope for new ones. While it’s a shame that John Williams didn’t work on the series throughout, having established such a memorable base for it on the first three films, Desplat was able to do a very fine job himself on these last two films that comes far closer to providing consistency with Williams’s sound than either Patrick Doyle or Nicholas Hooper’s scores for the instalments in between.
The score’s emotional centrepiece is “Lily’s Theme”, a lovely, lilting melody representing Harry Potter’s mother and her importance to the story. It’s a very fine piece, sweet and lovely, heard through many of the film’s more pivotal moments, frequently with wordless female vocal adding an ethereal quality to it. In “Dragon Flight”, the theme gets an extraordinarily rousing workout – it’s a brief track, but will be many people’s favourite on the album. Its use in “Snape’s Demise” is wonderful – after a dark opening, Desplat reveals the theme in a glassy, sombre arrangement, tragedy at the fore. In “Severus and Lily”, the true nature of Snape’s story is finally revealed to Harry (and to the viewer), and Desplat uses “Lily’s Theme” again as the basis for the early part of the cue before a fresh melody takes over, awash with emotion, particularly anguish. Perhaps the finest version of all comes in the brilliant “The Resurrection Stone”, with the vocal taking on what can only be described as a heavenly quality, accompanied by the most lilting accompaniment from harp and violins. “Lily’s Theme” gives the score an outstanding emotional core and “The Resurrection Stone” is the most emotional performance of all.
“A New Headmaster” brings with it a sense of tragedy that approaches the epic, with a beautiful dark arrangement of “Hedwig’s Theme” by John Williams in the score’s middle section before Desplat introduces this score’s second major theme, the “Defence Theme”. It is expanded fully in the wonderful “Statues”, gradually revealing itself over a rhythmic bed of drums, first through the higher strings, then they fall away to leave just celli, and finally the drums disappear and the melody is left hanging just with the strings and choir. It’s an heroic, noble piece, quite wonderful. “Battlefield” is one of the most epic cues in the score, the “Defence Theme” at its core as Desplat raises the dramatic stakes considerably. “Courtyard Apocalypse” is as epic as its name suggests, rousing and epic in nature.
“Neville” provides a reprise of the children’s theme from Desplat’s first Potter score, a noble and very attractive piece used in this film to tie together the character’s transformation into an unlikely action hero; and there’s a brief airing too in “Battlefield”. The theme returns in the grandstand finale to “Neville the Hero”, which stands as a spectacular moment of light amongst the general darkness pervading the latter parts of the film and score. Returning too from the first Desplat score is the “Obliviate” theme, heard in the strained, tragic “Harry’s Sacrifice”, one of the most emotionally devastating pieces in the score; reprised slightly later in the brief “Harry Surrenders”.
There’s some excellent action music here, starting as early as the second track, “The Tunnel”, which twists and weaves around. It’s a dark piece, with some frantic low-end strings and brass, and what’s interesting is that as well as sounding like an entirely natural part of the score, Desplat managed to give an appropriate nod to John Williams by writing in a style which isn’t far removed from the veteran’s modern-day action sound (heard in the Star Wars prequels and so forth). This happens several times through the score – it isn’t just the couple of appearances of “Hedwig’s Theme” which attempt to bring musical closure to the series. I’m impressed by how well the composer has managed to do this. “Underworld” has a dark, nasty opening, then some more thunderous action material – the fluttering winds around timpani, the desperate bursts from the horns and trombones between swirling string figures – this is all familiar to fans of the modern John Williams style, yet it’s done in such a way that makes it sound like a musical tip of the hat, staying entirely consistent within Alexandre Desplat’s own distinctive style.
“Gringotts” is a darkly mysterious piece, a dulcimer of some kind bringing a slightly otherworldly sound, the underlying orchestral core gradually becoming more urgent. “Panic Inside Hogwarts” begins with some orchestral calamity before a choir is used by Desplat, with a grand trumpet solo acompaniment, to restore some calm. “The Grey Lady” is a thunderous piece, rumbling timpani providing the momentum through most of the piece, with a brief stop for a reference to the “Defence Theme” in the middle. “In the Chamber of Secrets” contains the most overt “Williamsism” of all, a brassy outburst about a minute in that could be from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
“The Diadem” is a wonderful cue, a sweeping melody giving way to some very dark action music, with Desplat bringing hints of dissonance for the first time in the score. The bone-shaking “Broomsticks and Fire” which follows brings an heroic sweep with it, also some wonderfully dark, twisted trombone trills. It’s a short piece, but a particularly exciting one. “Procession” is a macabre piece subtly featuring “Lily’s Theme” and “Hedwig’s Theme” in the bass registers, twisted deep choir accompanying Voldemort’s arrival with the apparently-deceased Harry at Hogwarts. The spectacular finale, “Showdown” and “Voldemort’s End”, sees Desplat parading all of his major thematic material for a spectacular seven-minute action extravaganza, full of not just spectacle but also emotion. “A New Beginning” is a sweet, lovely conclusion to the score. In the film we hear John Williams at the end – that material, reprised from the very first score, and indeed some of the other moments in the film which featured new recordings of music by Williams, and even a tracked-in piece by Nicholas Hooper, are absent from the album. That proved to be a slightly controversial decision amongst those people eager for the album to provide them with an authentic musical souvenir of the film, but I’m pleased that Desplat chose instead to present a self-contained album with an incredible dramatic and emotional flow of its own.
Indeed, it’s that emotional intelligence that really makes this score so wonderful. Desplat doesn’t just underscore the action, he provides the film with a musical backdrop that heightens all the key emotional moments of the film in a way that only a really fine film score can. His melodic core is memorable and moving, the key moments are given the kind of significance that the finale to an eight-part film series really deserves. Given the almost clinical reserve which occupies so many of his scores, I must admit to being somewhat surprised at just how well he pulled his two Potter scores off; the second one is so good, it must be considered to be one of his very finest scores so far. Let’s hope he gets another chance to work on this kind of epic canvas.