Score Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (Alexandre Desplat)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

Alexandre Desplat

Rating: ***** out of *****

The disappointing thing about Desplat’s score to Part One of the Deathly Hallows was the fact that there was no musical cohesion. Nothing particularly drew the score together under one theme or idea. There are motifs that are drawn out for us in individual cues, but there is no real or consistent overlap.

All of this is a thing of the past for Part Two. Desplat, who was also disappointed by the lack of material in Part One that allowed him to flex his musical prowess, has reversed course in Part Two and delivers a fast-paced run of sheer emotional intensity and power. For those who have been disappointed by the overall lack of musical cohesion in the Potter film franchise, the wait is certainly over. Desplat gives us a score worthy of John Williams himself, and incorporates not only Williams’ rightly famous “Hedwig’s Theme,” but makes reference to every other Potter score except for Doyle’s Goblet of Fire. At times it sounds like Desplat is channeling Williams himself, producing many cues that ring with Williams-esque tones and orchestration. The wind section, particularly ascending and descending flutes over heavy brass in cues like “Underworld” and “Dragon Flight” particularly allude to Williams here.

The score does not immediately burst into Hedwig’s theme, however, beginning in a darker tone utterly absent any reference to the main Potter theme at all. Small fragments of Williams’ main theme can be heard moldering in the underscore of the first few cues, often in only one or two note tastes, before bursting triumphantly into a full orchestral performance in “Dragon Flight,” accompanied by a new flying theme by Desplat that absolutely soars for the rest of the cue, one of the many highlights on the album. The Hedwig theme then makes a darker reappearance in “A New Headmaster,” turning up in mysterious celesta tones at the beginning of “In the Chamber of Secrets,” as well as in “The Diadem.”  As Harry goes to his death in “Harry Surrenders,” the cue ends with another shattered fragment of the Hedwig theme, its fragmentation here an obvious reference to the shattered state of the story at this moment and Harry’s own disillusionment. In “Procession,” when the heroes of Hogwarts believe Harry to be dead, Hedwig’s theme appears in mournful brass. During “Showdown,” Hedwig’s theme bursts into the forefront of the orchestra as the central action motif in the cue’s second half. Further references to Williams’ music abounds in the score, most directly recognizable in the fully Williams-esque orchestral panic in the final third of “In the Chamber of Secrets,” a clear allusion back to Williams’ own “Dueling the Basilisk” from Chamber of Secrets. Likewise the bell-and-choir progression at the conclusion of “Panic Inside Hogwarts” is a softer allusion back to the more dramatic and powerful bell-and-choir music from “Dueling the Basilisk” in Chamber of Secrets. Though they are not included on the album, Desplat also makes reference in the music appearing on the film to Nicholas Hooper’s “The Kiss” from Order of the Phoenix while Ron and Hermione are in the Chamber.

Desplat also references some of his own material from Part One, as well as introduce us to some new themes that make up the core of this score. Firstly, the “Obliviate” theme from Part One turns up in several places, making its most dramatic statement as Harry emerges into the clearing where Voldemort waits in “Harry Surrenders,” making for a nice reference to the meaning; the obliviate spell is used to erase and modify memories, and Desplat’s use of it here is asking us to consider that Harry is not merely journeying to death where all memories are erased, but also foreshadowing the fact that Harry’s knowledge and memories are about to be modified in his coming postmortem revelation with Dumbledore. Additionally, Desplat features the reappearance of the “At the Burrow” theme from Part One in the brass section for Neville’s unexpected arrival in the aptly named “Neville.” The Horcrux theme that makes such an evil and terrifying appearance in “Destroying the Locket” from Part One also reappears several times in Part Two, including in “Gringotts” and “The Diadem,” though in more restrained tones. A driving, darkly frantic action cue is to be found in “Broomsticks and Fire,” while more battle music is to be heard at the open and the close of “The Grey Lady,” as Harry rushes to unravel the mystery of the final horcrux while the rest of the school valiantly and desperately holds off Voldemort’s forces. This cue also features about the only solid performance of what we might call the “Hogwarts assault” theme, depicting the gathering Death Eater forces with driving percussion and deep, rumbling, blasting brass.

Arguably the second major theme in the score, the Hogwarts defense theme bursts into heroic performance in strings, brass and thundering rhythmic percussion in “Statues,” and is reprised in a more frantic, tragic form in “Courtyard Apocalypse,” making a few more varied and subtle appearances in “The Grey Lady” and “Battlefield,” mostly understated unless you’re hunting for them. Before the statues are even sent out to defend the castle from Voldemort’s rampaging Death Eaters, the castle protection theme gets a full statement in the beginning of “A New Headmaster,” ironically declaring that Snape is a protector of Hogwarts long before we even know this in the film, right at the moment when the heroes drive him from the castle he is protecting, believing him to be an enemy. Finally, the Hogwarts defense theme makes a last, dramatic appearance in the “Showdown” cue as Harry and Voldemort, locked in battle and flight, careen around the outside of the castle.

But the true highlight of the score is “Lily’s Theme,” an absolutely gorgeous and haunting melody heard as the album’s opening cue. The track’s first half is dominated by a solo female voice and low strings that give the whole score a feeling of the drawing close of destiny, and then breaks into sorrowfully swelling strings in a very moving and satisfying rendition. While this is Lily’s theme, it is played in the film over top of Snape looking out over Hogwarts, making it essentially Snape’s theme of unrequited love as well as a theme about Lily’s love and sacrifice.

The theme, after the brief intro in “Lily’s Theme,” vanishes from the score until “Snape’s Demise,” when it is played in context over top of Snape’s death and again links the two characters. From there it clearly dominates the second half of the album, appearing as the central theme of “The Resurrection Stone,” the heartrending moment when Harry’s dead parents and friends appear to him in the forest just before his death, and Desplat – clearly grasping the implication of this moment – conveys musically that it is Lily’s love and sacrifice that makes Harry’s possible, and also makes possible the promise of resurrection on death’s far side. The theme also appears in “Voldemort’s End” as, struck by the rebounding curse from his own wand, Voldemort dissolves into nothing, thus suggesting that it was Lily’s sacrifice that made Harry’s survival and victory possible, as well as the reality that it was Voldemort’s failure to understand the power of love that resulted in his demise. A very nice choice. The gorgeous and heartbreaking cue, “Snape and Lily,” features a theme for young Snape’s love for Lily that works its way through the whole orchestra and gradually building intensity to a glorious finish, but this theme, played on flute over swirling strings and wind instruments, is organically related to Lily’s theme itself, and may be partly based on it.

From there, the final cue, “A New Beginning,” is rather lightweight and brief for the conclusion of a eight-film, seven-book, multi-year, decade-long franchise, ending rather lamely without the restatement of any of the great themes from the saga, and tapers off without any real sense of conclusion. Given that the album is only 68 minutes long, it would have been well worth it for them to have included the music Desplat scored for the film’s epilogue, 19 years later, where Desplat rewrites the original music from the conclusion of Sorcerer’s Stone, and the end credits suite of the original “Harry’s Wonderous World” theme, also rewritten by Desplat and interweaving themes from both himself and Williams. As it is, the score just stops abruptly, leaving the listener with whiplash and a sense of incompletion. Yet this is about the only mistake actually made in the production of the score, and overall, Desplat’s composition is a worthy send-off to a decade-long Potter franchise. Highly recommended.

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