Darker. Deeper. Emotionally fraught and filled with musical brilliance.
Nicholas Hooper's score to `Harry Potter and the half-blood Prince' comprises some of the true gems of the music of the series. Fresh from composing the score to `Order of the Phoenix', Hooper was reunited again with director David Yates to score the sixth movie. Having received varying reviews on his previous score, Hooper seems to have taken this criticism to heart. Whereas `Order of the Phoenix's' score was more experimental - track listing did not follow a direct line of progression, overbearing and lengthy passages of minor moods and perhaps over-tensed phrases - the score to `Half-Blood Prince' follows a more direct line in terms of track listing, doesn't travel into overlong pieces and contains the most haunting piece of the entire series to date.
`Opening' is the aptly titled first piece in the score. Scored to the stunning first scene in the film, it contains an ethereal sounding choral melody that grows, played alongside the images of Michael Gambon's Dumbledore steering young Daniel Radcliffe's Potter away from wizarding paparazzi, following the events at the close of the last film. It is a minor introduction to the film, yet it is merely the first of two themes in the piece, the second theme rising as the clouds gather over muggle-London and the Death Eaters descend. As the Dark Mark appears in the sky, a drum beat, simple and pounding off the beat, enters, combined with runs in the strings as the dark wizards zoom through the air, which the camera follows at sickening angles, through the Leaky Cauldron into Diagon Alley. It is a doom-laden piece that captures the mood of a world that knows Lord Voldemort has not only returned, but is consolidating his hold over it.
`In Noctem' is, ironically, not in the final cut of the film. However, it is the principal theme of the major players on the Order's side.
Carry my soul into the night
May the stars guide my way
I glory in the sight
As darkness takes the day.
There are a few interpretations of these lyrics. Sung in the high registers, it is a spine-tingling opening. *SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T READ BOOK 7* Dumbledore, Snape, Malfoy - the main names in the film with the most emotional arcs. The celesta, the instrument most famous for playing the original theme of the series, `Hedwig's Theme' by John Williams, plays a simple repeating passage in the background of this piece, well placed to counterpoint the characters that may have darker stories than Mr. Potter. Draco Malfoy is a tragic character because he is marked to fail - failure means death. Lyrically, the piece may reflect his arc. However, the scene that the piece was written for, cut from the film, centres on Severus Snape - faced with the final act of a promise that can't be broken. A huge shame that the scene was cut; it was thankfully put on the Blu-Ray as a deleted scene. As the choir sings the final verse -
Sing a song, a song of life
Made without regret
Tell the ones, the ones I loved
I never will forget
Never will forget -
Snape's face is hidden in shadow as his darkest day approaches. The pieces ends - burned into the score by a hugely talented hand. This isn't, thankfully the only time it appears.
`The Story begins' opens as Harry spies Dumbledore standing, waiting for him, across the train tracks. It is a wonderful piece - at once enigmatic, hopeful and driving. Beginning with a string movement playing an oscillating motif. It very much suggests a starting point so, even as Dumbledore and Harry stand on the platform, it is clear they're not staying. And of course, they don't. The music moves up into a higher key, major now, waving around as Harry makes his way to the Burrow - it takes the menace of the first couple of pieces and lifts it as the strings are joined again by the celesta and the woodwind.
`Ginny' is the romantic theme of the film, underscoring the blossoming love between Harry and Bonnie Wright's Ginny Weasley. It contains Williams' `Hedwig's Theme' but augments it, playing a melody in the brass that expands the theme, yet creates its own new path - something Hooper succeeds in doing through the score as a whole.
`Snape and the Unbreakable Vow' is a desperate piece, high strings with a sustained low note, sealing Severus into his deal with the devil. Helen McRory's Narcissa Malfoy, acting to save her son, dooms Snape with a low roll on the timpani. The piece mocks the character, suggesting a move to major as the vow is made - yet that slow, stately passage in the low strings compounds the fate that he must now endure.
`Wizard Wheezes' is another piece that didn't make the final cut, a huge shame because it is fun, upbeat and uproarious - something the film definitely lacks as a whole. The scene for which it is written was instead scored with Hooper's earlier composition, `Fireworks', from the `Order of the Phoenix' which I feel was a mistake, given that the two contain the same characters but not the same theme. `Wizard Wheezes' is jazzy - piano, brass and drums combining to a fast-dance, perfectly describing the characters of Fred and George Weasley.
`Dumbledore's Speech' marks the return of `In Noctem' (the first time we hear it in the film). It contains the `Possession' theme from `Order...' `Possession' was written to underscore Harry's battle with Voldemort, in his own head. Here, Voldemort is very much attacking every man, woman and child on the side of good. In the speech, Dumbledore speaks of a gifted student, one who was destined for greatness - Tom Riddle. A ripple runs around the great hall. Voldemort's real name is as powerful as his presence. This combination of themes highlights the menace. `Possession' is the more overbearing of the two - it doesn't seep in, it kicks in, strong in the strings. The pieces fade out together, `Possession' on the timpani, `Dumbledore's Speech' on the celesta, with the celesta lasting slightly longer. A portent of things to come?
`Living Death' is a playful theme, reminiscent of `Professor Umbridge' from the previous film. This then suggests that it has become the school theme for Hooper - that dancing high string, repeated notes and a slightly annoying feel. Not at all like real school, of course, which could never be annoying. Timpani roll the piece out as, unbelievably, Harry beats Hermione in a lesson.
`Into the Pensieve' introduces the synthesiser into the score, creating disturbing sounds for the trip into Riddle's past. `Possession' is again stated, this time without `In Noctem' to protect the listener. The scene, disturbing as it was in the film (thanks, primarily, to Hero Fiennes-Tiffin's acting as a young Tom Riddle), has the over-bearing sense of menace. From the opening bar, the piece clearly presents itself as entirely minor. A sustained wavering note, just before the `Possession' theme begins, howls the mystery of the character. The synthesised voices may be the screams of Voldemort's victims, or the rent and torn nature of Tom Riddle's soul.
`The Book' opens with a flute playing little runs, joined by another. It is a ponderous opening - as if the orchestra were asking, `What's this then?' about the book, containing its helping hands for Harry. Pizzicato strings continue this feeling, never really beginning to go anywhere and never really finishing. This piece simply is, much like the miraculous book.
`Ron's Victory' brings the welcome return of Quidditch to the series, missing since that horrible cutting of the World Cup in `Goblet of Fire'. The action cue is a rephrasing of John Williams' theme from `Prisoner of Azkaban' - `Quidditch, Third Year!' Hooper makes the theme grander by using the simple trick of making it deeper and, I believe, a little slower. `...Third Year!' was used to underscore not only the match but the terror and destruction that the Dementors rained down on Harry. `Ron's Victory' underscores a different event, an upbeat one - it is, after six years, Ron's turn to bask in the limelight.
`Harry & Hermione' is another of the love themes. This one, however, is a minor theme. The celesta rings in the piece and is joined, beautifully, by the harp. It is the instrument primarily in the foreground of this piece. It is not a theme about love - it's about unrequited love and the pain that it delivers. Hermione knows Harry's true feelings and asks, as she dissolves in tears, how it feels when he sees Ginny kissing someone else. As the harp continues to pluck, one could be forgiven for thinking that even the harpist is crying. `It feels like this,' he answers.
`School!' is exactly what it says on the tin - it is a little tune about school life, day to day. A clarinet plays along plucked strings, giving a very much `I'm getting on with it' feel to the piece. A little breath of air in the score.
Which, of course, is stuffed back. `Malfoy's Mission' is, perhaps, the most upsetting cue of the whole score. The mission is murder, given to a man who doesn't want to commit it. Low, sustained notes in the strings suggest resolution by the boy, but the unfinished passages in the piano and the desperation in the flutes belie this. The death eater theme, stated previously in `Opening' returns, but is quickly pushed aside by Malfoy's theme, akin to his darker thoughts pushed to the background by his true nature. As the piece closes, there is a heightened sense of doom for the doomed man.
`The Slug Party' is, like `Wizard Wheezes' and upbeat piece, very much designed for background music. It is like muzak - no real theme, no real reason other than to simply create sound in the background of a party. Read more ›