As 2018 came to a close, La La Land Records announced the release of a massive collection of music from John William’s work on the Harry Potter film series in a limited edition set of 5000 copies. Featuring almost 8 hours of music, the new set intended to present a more complete presentation of Williams’ music from this beloved series. Though he would only work on the first three films, his primary theme would be linked through the series. There is no denying the power this music has with its indelible linking to this popular literary character. This reviewer once witnessed an entire theater of children fall completely silent for the entire length of “Hedwig’s Theme” when it was played as part of the piped in music. In concerts, that same sense of wonder captivates audiences of all ages. One can perhaps give thanks then for those of us of the Star Wars or Superman generation having our children captivated by the music of composer we also hold dear. Somehow it is hard to believe that this music is already nearly two decades old.
La-La Land’s package includes a slipcase with three interior sets of multi-disc packs, one for each film. There is a general booklet that includes all the track titles with each score also getting its own booklet of information filled with nice details about the process and development of the music. As one might expect, each score has a host of bonuses included. These feature trailer music (one of which introduced the world to that little celesta theme!) and similar promotional ad versions that provide some interest and are great little extras. Film versions are identified with plenty of alternates for each score given as addendum to the regular presentation.
The release though also gives us a chance to reflect on each of these scores whose primary releases were certainly enjoyable listens on their own. To that end the first and third scores seem to be the strongest of the lot. There is no denying the excellent thematic ideas that Williams hit on for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They indelibly linked characters and events for anyone watching the film and certainly made it a far better picture than the otherwise seemingly underwhelming story itself—though once one has waded through the whole series, there is a bit more to what we are introduced to in the first film. William Ross was on hand to help provide assistance for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. On the original soundtrack album, the extent of what this means was lost a bit. There strong music for the chamber itself and interesting writing for the spider sequence worked quite well. Of course, “Fawkes the Phoenix” is just another of Williams’ brilliant soaring ideas that has an excellent emotional punch that connects to the story. However, when one listens through to the score on its own as presented here, it seems to tire itself out with a lot of references to the earlier score and overall ends up being less interesting. (In some respects, it reminded this reviewer of Superman IV—though that bears more original score by Alexander Courage). It is still worth noting William Ross’ expert work on this score as both arranger and conductor as the music is still very much Williams. These impressions though are more likely due to the overwhelming accomplishment of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which seems to have really inspired Williams with some of his most interesting work that includes another gorgeous flying theme (for Buckbeak), a seriously off-kilter standout cue for “The Knight Bus” (a sort of update to “Cantina Band” on a larger scale), and more of the Renaissance-like music (“Double Trouble”) adding a unique color. Of course, there is also the delightful “Aunt Marge’s Waltz” to kick things off early on. This particular score really becomes the jewel of this set as we get a chance to hear how the darker qualities of the story are supported by Williams in ways that parallel his colder, gray music of AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002). It is the latter which seem to cast its own shadow across the third score of this Williams trilogy.
One of the other fun little extras is a disc devoted to the Children’s Suite which is a collection of themes from the first film; in some respects, it is like a modernized Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with different instrumental sections being used to depict the different characters. The pieces in the suite are similar to what was published in the piano score collection of “Music from” at the time. Williams also had put together a concert work that included a narrator and was premiered in Boston in 2008 with Lynn Redgrave. There is was listed as a “Grand Suite” and incorporated music from across all three of his scores. That has yet to make it to a commercial recording.
Picking up this collection is a bit of an investment, but one that is certainly worth it for Williams fans and those who love the music from this series. The sound quality is stellar and the way the albums have been sequenced works very well. The notes help point out some of the key adjustments made along the way. The result is an at times overwhelming collection of some of the composer’s finest music. One might also say it is also an opportunity to hear how the shift from wall-to-wall scoring that overwhelms the first film has morphed into a score that becomes a part of the fabric of the third film while still retaining the composer’s own individual trademarks. It is a gorgeous and marvelous accomplishment.