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Carry my soul into the night
on 7 June 2011
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. It's fun and leaves no real taste in the listeners' mouth that it's ever been there which, of course, the point is.
`Into the Rushes' accompanies one of the more controversial scenes from Yates' take on the `Half-Blood Prince'. As Yates had already started gearing up for the `Deathly Hallows' movies, there was a fear that inserting the battle seen at the end of the sixth book could damage the excitement for the huge battle that would see out the series in `Deathly Hallows, Part 2'. So, a scene was added to `Half-Blood Prince', centred on the Weasley family. In the scene, even before the music begins, the characters can sense that something is wrong. High woodwind and low brass introduce the piece, very like the start of a piece that has been prepared for. Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback lead an assault on the Burrow, igniting the fields around it in an effort to draw Harry from the house. The death eater theme returns, building in intensity, layering, not to display huge action, but the hurt and the evil caused by a simple malicious attack on the peaceful family. In the film, all credit for the power of this scene must go to Julie Walters, who's silent but devastated Mrs. Weasley stands outside her burning house, beaten already by the evil around her family. It is a powerful scene, despite not coming from the novels. Hooper's score catches the scene beautifully, one of those rare moments in the series where the filmmakers and the composer created an entirely new scene that looked like it belonged there in the first place.
`Farewell Aragog' is a bittersweet dirge for the giant spider, first introduced in `Chamber of Secrets'. Hagrid, Harry and Professor Slughorn conduct a funeral for the fallen arachnid, accompanied by an Irish fiddle, creating an oddly moving and stirring epitaph. As there is not much time for remembrance in either the score or the film, it is well placed to give a lighter, more touching obituary.
`Dumbledore's Foreboding' again states the `In Noctem' theme, with very little difference from `Dumbledore's Speech'. `Possession' again returns.
`Of Love & War', another unused cue, again states Williams' theme for Quidditch, originally designed for use during the tryout scene. However, in the film, the tryout scene was scored with Hooper's earlier piece, `Dumbledore's Army' from `Order.'
`When Ginny kissed Harry' has a slightly medieval feel to the piece. A mandolin plucks the love theme as Harry and Ginny finally steal a kiss in the hidden room of lost things. Though there are orchestral flurries in the piece, it is very much based on that simple, plucked and repeating rhythm, displaying the longing that Harry feels for a normal relationship with Ginny, stated clearly in the moving passage. The high strings fade the piece out as the scene ends on a touching note.
`Slughorn's Confession' begins on the flute and waves up and down, before stating a little passage of grieved memory. The character can barely contain the guilt he feels, choosing to remember a self-made lie, rather than the truth. As Harry speaks to Slughorn about his mother's sacrifice, Hooper holds the strings in the fore - still using that flute, the tool for the forlorn heart of Slughorn, before a more stately horn enters, perhaps suggesting that there is more to Slughorn's heart than grief and melancholy. This suggestion is rewarded, as, after the tiniest reference to `Possession' and the return of the flute; he breaks, giving Harry the memory he so desperately needs. This piece fades as Slughorn finds a certain peace within himself.
`Journey to the Cave' or `The Beginning of the end'. Dumbledore stands at the top of the tower, surveying the grounds of Hogwarts. The strings, already paying tribute to the great wizard, accompany him as he waits, taking his breaths of air. They fade with the horns before changing form, beginning a march to war. One, two, three, one one. The shape that they take, as the high strings play repeated notes and take a sudden jump to the high register as the two men apparate is a stunning build of tension. The rise as the picture changes to the two of them appearing on the rock by the coast fills the listener with spirit - it is desperate, but with a purpose. A brief restating of `Into the Pensieve' closes the piece.
`The Drink of Despair' combines the synthesized screams of many victims first heard in `Into the Pensieve' with the `Possession' theme. Dumbledore drinks the potion, lost is his own memories as Harry must force him to continue. The scene is heartbreaking, frightening and genuinely unsettling - the `Possession' theme is an adequate tool to finish the scene as, after six years, Voldemort has begun to succeed in driving these two men apart. However, it is Harry's brighter, higher version of the theme that takes over. He succeeds in keeping Dumbledore alive to finish the potion and keeps him, more or less, sane. The high rise in tension falls into silence. The Inferi are coming.
`Inferi in the firestorm' is a horrific piece. Legions of corpses, animated by dark magic, clamber toward Harry and try to drag him to his death. Rapid oscillating strings, backed by middle to high voices in a choir suggest the hopelessness of the situation. A rising theme builds from the strings though as Dumbledore saves Harry, creating the churning fire that drives the dead away and secures their escape from the cave.
`The Killing of Dumbledore' is a poignant piece. Malfoy stands before the man, armed with his shaking wand and his terror. At the top of the tower, it is evident that there is no escape for Dumbledore. However, there never was to be any. A final countdown begins in the strings as Snape takes Malfoy's place before him, staring his headmaster in the eye. `Please,' says Dumbledore peacefully. Without hesitation, Snape aims. `Avada Kedavra.' The music is simple and understated. It grows only when Dumbledore himself, already dead, falls from the tower. Snape and the death eaters leave, but not before he confesses to Harry the truth - Snape was the Half-Blood Prince all along. The piece ends as they disapparate.
`Dumbledore's Farewell' is scored as a counterpoint to `Possession.' Certainly, it contains the same shape as the earlier theme. However, there is a feeling in it, something wildly hopeful, despite the murder of the great man that is a wonderful opposite to Voldemort's theme. The crowd of mourners around the body lift their wands to dissipate the Dark Mark as the violins play opposite the double basses, each at the end of their range, then incorporating the choir as a solo cello brings it all together. This builds as the scene builds, creating a passing theme for the great man, killed by his servant. There is a moment in the scene, a simple one, when a single tear falls from Luna Lovegood's eye. It is the sadness that is felt by this fountain of optimism that truly conveys the loss felt by all in attendance. The piece fades out as the darkness fades away.
`The Friends' is the closing piece of the film. The decision is made - Harry will not be returning to Hogwarts the following year. But that is not the point - the point is that he won't be alone. Hermione and Ron are going to go with him. The music is embracing. The orchestra presents its theme, and then builds on it. The point being, of course, that they will search and every lesson they learn will build from the previous. Each time the theme repeats, it builds. As the piece closes, again using the string/horn combination, it fades out.
`The Weasley Stomp' is the closing piece of the soundtrack. It is a cheerful, upbeat piece. Along a similar vein to `Order of the Phoenix's' `Fireworks', it closes the film on a cheerful note, bouncing from timpani to running strings - stating whirling themes that don't really say anything grand. Much like youth, as depicted around the central three characters. It is repetitive and enjoyable, closing on a definite end, closing the film.
Like it or love it, `Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' is a triumph, not least due to its beautiful score by Nicholas Hooper. Building from themes and ideas introduced in `Order of the Phoenix', this score is a deeper and more developed body of work. Though the signature piece `In Noctem' failed to make the final cut in its entirety, it exists, woven throughout the score, in the other pieces that encompass it. `Possession', a cue from the previous film, is reworked, rebuilt and rereleased in this score, yet now so powerful as it entwines itself with the other themes and ideas. `Hedwig's theme' and `Quidditch, Third Year' are the two John Williams themes that return though, in my opinion, the score doesn't suffer at all from a lack of other Williams themes - Hooper has constructed his own stamp on the series, so much so that it was the most successfully performing soundtrack in the US Billboard chart to that point. Hooper created a beautiful world for the fifth and sixth films of the Harry Potter franchise, now completed by the hand of Alexandre Desplat. Though Hooper shall be marked as the composer who killed Dumbledore, he will also be remembered for a beautiful gift, a wonderful addition and a thorough depiction of the life of a school of wizardry, as fantastic as it is mundane and as touching as it is devastating. `Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' will forever live in the design of Hooper. We can only hope he left something like a book of instructions behind for the next student to open, and to use, to create this beautiful world. A word of caution...don't trust everything you read.