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John Williams Themes, Part 6 of 6: Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter — 32 Comments

  1. Hi, Mark. I’m a very enthusiastic on film scores and found your blog reading the Brazilian “Revista Cultura” magazine. Scores are not the most popular kind of music in anywhere, you know, but I love it and texts so great as yours are difficult to find. Congratulations for your work!

    Felipe Essy

    • Thanks, Felipe. You’re right it is hard to find analytical work on this music. I’m doing what I can to try and change that. 🙂 BTW, a more extended analysis of Williams’ Superman March is now posted here – it draws on the points I gave in the Brazilian article but takes them further. Cheers.

  2. Hi Mark,
    Great analysis. Did you notice that the A and B melodies have 1 note in each which shifted in the repeat? Just when I thought I nailed the melody in my head, when after listening to it again I heard the off-notes in the second version!
    I wonder why he did that.

    • Thanks, KL. I had noticed the note in the A section that was changed (a D# becomes D natural), but I had not noticed the note in the B section, where a B is subtly chnaged to C. So thank you! As to the reason, I don’t know for sure, but Williams is a master of variation technique. But usually this variation occurs within the confines of a rather short 8-bar theme, like the A or B sections of Hedwig’s Theme, which are great examples. But when Williams restates the whole 8 bars of a theme, he usually keeps the notes the same, so this is unusual that way. Even so, I would attribute it to his tendency to vary his ideas.

  3. Yeah, the B section’s second version (C instead of B) is really hard to nail down when singing it out, cos it’s just so unnatural!(not that unnatural is bad…) Thanks for letting me feel good about myself for having spotted it, hah… 😉

  4. Hi Mark,

    I just found this analysis and commentary. Great stuff! Thanks for this.

    Have you noticed that Hedwig’s theme was altered starting with the fourth film? (John Williams scored the first three films, but not the later ones.)

    From the fourth film on, the F natural in the sixth measure was changed to an F-sharp, which spoils the melody for me.

    • Hi Em. Thanks for the kind words. You’re right that the theme is changed in the fourth film and has the normal scale-degree 2 rather than the flat version Williams wrote. And I agree this is not nearly as good as the original.

      After listening to it, I notice that there are a couple of other small note changes. The fifth note of the theme is now the raised 4th of the scale rather than the normal version, which adds a bit of that mystery I talk about in the post with the sharp-4 degree.

      Also, what was Ab in the original theme now becomes the equivalent of A-natural, again rendering it the normal note found in the scale, so a bit less strange and mysterious. But that’s because of the harmony Patrick Doyle is using – the new note now fits with the new chord, so it makes sense that way.

      Finally, the third last note in the original is A#, an appropriately quirky note that again suggests mystery (raised 4 of the scale). But in Doyle’s version, it’s changed to a more normal scale-degree 5 (a semitone up). And again, this is motivated by the harmony, the new note being part of the new chord.

      So in a sense, it seems that Doyle is thinking more harmonically when arranging the theme whereas Williams was thinking more melodically and thwarting our expectations for “normal” notes of the scale at points where they would seem inevitable.

  5. Hi Mark,
    I was trying to analyse this theme by myself. Then ı wondered if anyone else did this kind of thing and here we go!
    I am happy to read such a good analysis.

    Burak

  6. Hey, I just wanted to thank you for all the great analysis of these works. As many others said, its hard to find such texts on the internet. Thanks a lot! Greetings from Argentina

    • Many of Williams concert versions of his scores are available in the Signature Series offered by Hal Leonard. Hedwig’s Theme is among these.

  7. Hi!
    It will be nice you add the name of chords under the note. English is not my nativ language and in this way it will be easier for me to put the chord on the right place.

  8. Thank you for your excellent commentary. I appreciate the clearly-set examples, also. I look forward to reading the rest of your analyses. mb

  9. I find the opening of the melody strongly reminds me of another piece, but can’t put my finger on what that is. Any ideas?

    Your analysis was fascinating, thank you.

  10. Pingback: John Williams & The Philosopher’s Prisoner of Secrets – Peter's Site!

  11. Interesting that AMC is playing secret of the blue moon this evening and the end song during the credits is the harry potter theme…although the former film was released in 1933…love to see your analysis and then it begs the question is John Williams just rehashing the precursor and took it to the bank? Methinks so. Curiouser and curiouser…

    • Hi BJ,

      Glad you enjoyed the analysis. You mean Secret of the Blue Room. That end credits piece is the big theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Personally, I have a hard time hearing Williams’ Harry Potter theme is a rehash of Swan Lake. To me they sound entirely different and I wouldn’t say they are in any way connected. For an excellent demythification of criticisms of Williams’ film music, particularly with regard to what others hear as plagiarism, see chapter 8 of Emilio Audissino’s John Williams’s Film Music, a great read all the way through as well.

      But I do think it’s interesting that the Tchaikovsky is appropriated for the Secret of the Blue Room. As you point out, the film is from 1933, which was just a few years after the introduction of sound film, or the “talkie”. In the years leading up to the talkie, music for movies was often played from anthologies full of cues composed for various emotions and images. What’s interesting is that the demand became so high for anthology music from a publisher named Belwin that, as one composer employed for the company colourfully wrote, ““in desperation [Belwin] turned to crime. We began to dismember the great masters. We began to murder ruthlessly the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg, J.S. Bach, Verdi, Bizet, Tschaikovsky and Wagner — everything that wasn’t protected from our pilfering by copyright.”

      So the Tchaikovsky in Blue Room is likely a kind of sustaining of an earlier standard at a time when that standard was in flux and over the next few years to turn confidently towards the original score.

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