Music in Harry Potter

Throughout history, music has been occupying a pretty important place in every area of people’s lives. As music has a function to express people’s emotions and feelings, it has found its mission in movies as well. As an accompaniment to human’s deep feelings, music not only provides support to the movie’s plot or scene but also performs a role of an “arrow” that leads spectator’s mood and attention to the expected place. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone belongs to one of the most exciting films accompanied with even more gripping music written by an American composer, pianist, and conductor John Williams. The background music in the film has an entirely gentle and tender sounding and perfectly fits to the chain of scenes. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has become popular not only because of the wonderful actors’ play, decorations, director’s work, and the plot. Its merit was strongly determined by positive reviews regarding the composer (Algoe and Haidt 121). The music in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone focuses on the main character every time underlining feelings of the protagonist, which makes it easier to perceive the flow of events. Such success of the music accompaniment was also achieved by the combination of the leitmotiv and the character-based themes expressed in compositions. John Williams has provided sounds to all the represented emotions, including positive and negative, happy and sad. The paper focuses on analyzing “Hedwig Theme” in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and its influence on viewers’ emotional response.

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There is a film theory that usually relates to a diegesis, an imaginary fictional narrative. On the other hand, non-diegesis concerns a real-world scene where the story is not described in a fantastic manner but is shown in the light of real events. As the music remains an acoustic vibration, it is considered to be an integral part of non-diegesis, thus representing the world of physical reality. The way in which an individual perceives music in the movie is explained by the work of brain operations: by connections with already learned information and information gained through innate grouping principles. These two ways of operations have a direct affiliation with the notions of association and congruence. Cohen presents experiments with music in films of several movie directors, but one of the most interesting studies appears with the capacity-limited congruence-association framework, which may give better understanding of music influence on emotions (259). The framework comprises three vertical parallel channels, each of which represents a particularly important domain of a movie, specifically the speech, the visual information, and the music: A and B levels are bottom-up ones, the C is the level of short-term memory and conscious attention, and the D level is the top-down level (see figure1). The figure does not include the environmental sounds as they bring smaller effect than the music. It can be seen that the processing starts with the A-level, when physical features are analyzed from the form of visual, speech, and musical plane perspective to the lines, phonemes, and frequencies correspondingly.

The B-level proceeds the analysis of the summary of features to semantic and structural information. From the musical perspective, it means that the information is converted to the combination of temporal structures and categorization of cues. As the result, on the level B there occurs a possibility of cross-modal congruence appearance. For better understanding, it should be clarified what the cross-modal congruence is. It is a concept, which states that the simultaneous presentation of visual and sound effects (particularly, the movie and the music) automatically provokes bottom-up principles that lead to the perceptual grouping in visual and auditory domains. When both types of information are congruent, the visual one becomes the focus of attention.

Figure 1

Congruence-association framework for understanding of film-music communication (LTM, long-term memory; STM, short-term memory)

Source: Cohen, Annabel J. “Music as a Source of Emotion in Film.” In Patrik N. Juslin & John Sloboda (eds.), 

Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications, edited by Patrik N. Juslin and John Sloboda. Oxford University Press, 2011.

At the level of short-term memory, the information from the level B with the priority of visual information and music information in the grey oval is transferred to the level C. Here the musical influence on emotions is direct and is thus useful while identifying the meaning of the visual happening. At this level, the connection between emotions and musical accompaniment is already demonstrated. Finally, at the level D, the information from all levels is united, and therefore starts to construct the narrative of the film (Cohen 260-263).  

The idea of associative themes and relation to its score unity conception is crucial in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In the movie, the composer presents such musical themes which occur in episodes with either Harry or Lord Voldemort throughout different scenes. In order to show the contrast of the protagonist’s development, the composer uses various thematic statements as well as changes texture, dynamics, instrumentation, and other aspects. An important thing to notice is that the themes in different scenes are interrelated, which brings an impression of their unity. The first music theme that appears is “Hedwig’s Theme,” which is compared to all the following themes and is considered to be their prototype. Analyzing the development of musical themes, one can observe obvious similarities with the growth of the main character. That process goes along with the associative range of emotions and is seen as a constant fight between the good and the evil: as the main plot proceeds around the battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort, the music in specific parts is straightly related to the mood of the scenes. For instance, the first part of the movie consists of “Hedwig Theme” plays. As it is an introductory part to Harry Potter’s life and is mainly devoted to his acquaintance with the magic world, the theme that appears here perfectly suites the moving episodes from his childhood (Morgan).

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“Hedwig’s Theme” consists of two pairs of consequent and antecedent phases, which form two interrupted periods. The Theme is primarily rhythmic as it refers to an owl named Hedwig. The melodic contour and the rhythm do not have any owl-like qualities, but the durational strong-beat accents and the frequency of brisk tempo evoke an association with the owl’s flight in the air. The current theme is not closely associated with the protagonist. Several times when the music appears in the film, it introduces Harry’s current life and Harry’s new life in the wizard world. The first mention of the Theme occurs at the very beginning of the film as the background of the Warner Brothers logo and leads to Dumbledore who brings Harry to Dursley’s house. The sound lasts until Harry arrives, which is considered to be one more evidence of the connection of the Theme with the main character. The sound itself includes hints of mystery to create a specific mood for the silent entry of the plot. The sound becomes more dynamic when Dumbledore and Hagrid start a dialogue about Harry’s arrival. In this scene, the sound underlines the importance of the boy being transported and concerns the significance of his life in general. In addition to aforementioned effects, the tense of the sound arises when the boy’s face is shown for the first time at the basket in front of the Dursley’s house: the scar on the Potter’s forehead becomes “shining” with rays and his face is surrounded with the wind blow. The sound at this moment becomes of utmost importance as it puts emphasis on the boy. Everything in the scene – sound effects, dialogues, camera shots, and the musical support – is used to bring the attention to Harry and to the main focus of the movie (Morgan).   

“Hedwig’s Theme” has more connection with Harry himself rather than with Hedwig. The owl instead can be accepted as a symbolic image and Harry’s close friend. It is typical for John Williams to put a thematic association into the film score (Boltz et al. 593). Moreover, this theme focuses on a person who becomes something more. It also represents idealism as a view on the main character and the plot. Here it also refers to the magic motive of the movie. The magic was not introduced to the viewers with the help of words; instead it was shown in a few movements and underlined with the music accompaniment. The music progresses in subsequent scenes when Harry starts to realize that he is a wizard. The first visual appearance of the magic topic is represented in the scene with Dumbledore who gathers light from the street lights, Professor McGonagall who arises from the grey cat, and Hagrid who arrives on the flying motorbike from the sky. All those movements in the movie are supported and highlighted by particular sounds (Webster).

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The next several scenes show how Harry discovers his wizard talent. He receives a letter with an invitation to the school of wizardry, but he is not allowed to read the letter because of being under pressure of his family. After this, the school sends more owls with more letters so that the house ends up all filled with those letters. Harry’s uncle decides to move to an unknown island so that the owls won’t find them. To reach Harry, Hagrid comes along and gives him a letter in person. All those scenes are also maintained with specific sounds of the Theme and are aimed to represent a magic line. “Hedwig’s Theme” changes into drama when Harry is reading his letter. At that moment, owls that are so far perceived as a magic symbol gather together in the yard and the music on the background doubles the effect of mystery (Morgan).

In conclusion, music plays a significant role in the movie development. It highlights important scenes of the movie and accents an action. After analyses based upon the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie, it is obvious thatthe musical accompaniment appears in almost every scene, in particular “Hedwig’s Theme,” which is closely related to Harry Potter’s life and the whole movie in general. The Theme develops together with the main character’s destiny, which can be assumed from the arising dynamics of the music as well as the plot. It was shown that the boy’s life and the most important scenes related to him are accompanied with Hedwig’s Theme and the owl itself is reflected as a symbol of the boy. In addition to that, it was discovered that both owls and “Hedwig’s Theme” are symbolic in relation to a magic line. The Theme resembles significant events of the boy’s life and its tempo and sounding expresses boy’s feelings throughout the whole movie.

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