“King’s Cross” - The Music of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II”

by Brian | Sep 28, 2011

It’s all come down to this, the finale of one of the most ambitious film projects ever produced. What David Haymen and his crew of talented collaborators have contributed to cinema is undeniable. I’m a bit sad to see Harry and his friends go, but in the end, they’ll always live on in Rowling’s books and the eight films that have been immortalized on celluloid.

When Alexandre Desplat took up the baton from Nicholas Hooper, he didn’t have big shoes to fill. In fact, the only shoes that needed filling were those of John Williams. Up until The Deathly Hallows, Williams’ score for The Prisoner of Azkaban had been the high point in terms of fantastic underscore coupled with heavy thematic ideas carried from the first two films. It was the score to beat. Desplat’s score for The Deathly Hallows – Part I was a breath of fresh air when stacked against Hooper’s contributions. Which again, were not horrible, just a little too freshman for a series such as this. The composer need to be more mature, and Desplat delivered that. While no thematic ideas was taken from the other six scores aside from the slight use of Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme,” Desplat did give the score that sense of growing up in a very big way and I was very excited to hear how he would close the series.

The score for Part II needed to be a lot of things: big, epic, and memorable. Both the film and score needed to be at their finest. I felt his work in Part I suggested that he had a plan and that it was simply the build up to something more grand and epic for Part II. What Desplat delivers is a beautiful final bookend. An understated and delicate score packed to the brim with emotion.

Interestingly, Desplat doesn’t carry over a lot of his ideas from Part I save for the motif heard in “Polyjuice Potion” and a very light reference to his “Oblivate” theme in “Harry’s Sacrifice.” A lot of the themes here are their own original work and really capture the essence of what’s on screen. Kicking off with the first cue, “Lilly’s Theme” glues the score together. This tender theme is performed on light strings with solo vocalist Mai Fujisawa completing the sound. The tragic cue serves a multifunctional backbone that ties in different cues throughout the score. Referencing Harry, Snape, and the tragic end of Lilly and James, this theme plays its role with gut wrenching precision. The theme appears again in altered orchestrations and performances in “Snape’s Demise,” “The Resurrection Stone” and finally rounding out “Voldermort’s End.”

Another of the standout new motifs is first heard in the “Statues” cue. Performed with driving strings, brass and drums, this action cue ramps up the excitement as the forces of Voldermort advance on Hogwarts. The theme is further expanded upon in the “Courtyard Apocalypse” cue and finally comes to a grand driving finale with Williams’ like driving strings and brass in “Showdown” and “Voldermort’s End.” It’s one of the best moments in the film. A lot of the action set pieces contain his newest material. Williams fans will appreciate Desplat’s orchestration in the action pieces. In fact, the score as a whole sounds a lot like a Williams’ score. Desplat has professed his admiration for the series original maestro and its themes. Orchestrating his two scores using that “William’s Sound” pays homage and carries a lot of weight for this score, and Part I as well.

Speaking of John WIlliams, Desplat is the only one to really capture that “Williams’ Sound” and also works “Hedwig’s Theme” in a lot. His writing in cues “The Tunnel,” “Underworld,” “Dragon Fight,” “Panic Inside Hogwarts,” and “Battlefield” to name a few, not only go from the action to the tender, but nail down a finality and homage to John Williams. It’s nice to hear bits and pieces the Williams’ Sound throughout the score, it gives it a strong forceful ending that I think fans will really enjoy. In terms of “Hedwig’s Theme” it pops up in numerous cues. Including two cues not heard on the CD where it is performed almost verbatim from The Sorcerer’s Stone.

The action cues for Part II are second to none some fantastic string and brass writing. A lot of these cues hit in the top and middle of the score, while the end is more of the softer moments with the exception of a few towards the end. If you take “Sky Battle” from as a frame of reference, he only escalates that style of writing. Lots of frenetic strings brass and woodwinds. A few cues in the beginning play as one big set piece. From “The Tunnel” to “Dragon Flight,” Desplat is at his best. Using all the talents of the LSO to create a powerful set of cues that are a throwback to good old fashioned action writing. He even works in Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” to grand and mature effect. The two finale cues, “Showdown” and “Voldermort’s End” bring the score to a powerful and epic close. Finally, Neville gets a theme with a heroic beat in “Neville The Hero.” The unsung hero finally his own theme, complete with slow building strings and brass from the get go, the theme evolves into a grand performance with heavy brass and light choral backing.

The score has its share of heart string cues too. These cues are sprinkled throughout the score and offer some balance to the onscreen action with “Lilly’s Theme” gluing them all together in some form. Her haunting melody symbolizes that love transcends all boundaries, even death. As the story begins to finally close, we learn a great more back story between James, Lilly, Snape, Harry, Dumbeldore and the roles that everyone played in the grand scheme of this story. Cues like “Lilly’s Theme,” “A New Headmaster,” “Snape’s Demise,” “Servus and Lilly,” “Harry’s Sacrifice,” “The Resurrection Stone,” Harry Surrenders,” and “Possession” all offer light expressions from brass, strings, woodwinds, chimes and choir. While the emotion of the cues run deep, the orchestral expression conveys a sense of great sadness. The players play with great sensibility and that transitions through the music and makes what’s on screen that more powerful.

In the end, The Deathly Hallows – Part II delivers something really wonderful. The music, while very Williams’ like is able to cast it’s own spell on the listener and transport them emotionally to the final battle at Hogwarts. As much as I have yearned for some type of thematic cohesion for years, one never came, but in the end, it was not needed for these final films. That’s because the series finally got a composer who was talented enough to deliver music on a deeper level. And in all honesty, that’s what the series needed for the later films. While Williams’ themes are fantastic in their own right, they worked for the early films, but I think even if Williams has stayed on, his music for the later end would have been much different. Like John Williams and Patrick Doyle, Alexandre Desplat gave the series what it deserved. In this case, a grand and emotional send off that reflected the story and its characters. Exactly what this kind of score should do!

Rating: 4.5 / 5
Favorite Cues: 1, 9, 15 and 23

Brian Costa is a contributor to MovieMusic.com and is a Ravenclaw. Special Thanks to JJ Hinrichs and Alex Bornstein.