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HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS – John Williams and William Ross

November 15, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

harrypotterchamberofsecretsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s funny how John Williams always manages to get himself attached to supremely successful movie franchises: whether through skill and good judgement, or simply because of his vast reputation, the man still regarded as Hollywood’s premier composer has lucked out in being involved with the Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones and now Harry Potter, the series of movies based on J.K. Rowling’s enormously popular tales of witchcraft and wizardry. The Chamber of Secrets is the second in the series of films, following Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and is, in every conceivable way, both in terms of movie AND music, a more pleasing experience.

Whereas The Philosopher’s Stone was rather light and childish in tone, The Chamber of Secrets is a darker, deeper, and more adventurous movie all round. Once again directed by Chris Columbus, the film follows the exploits of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) during their second term at Hogwart’s School. Following an unexpected visit from Dobby, a house-elf, warning him not to go back to school, Harry finds himself drawn into a dangerous mystery where staff and pupils are being petrified by an unknown entity which roams the school in the dead of night. Fingers of guilt point at school caretaker Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), nefarious pureblood wizard Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), self-absorbed new teacher Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), and even Harry himself… and soon it falls to Harry and friends to solve the puzzle himself. With the spectacular supporting cast (Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman etc.) returning from The Philosopher’s Stone, and a much-improved ambience, The Chamber of Secrets is superb family fare, with less exposition and more action, including several exceptional set pieces.

In much the same way, The Chamber of Secrets is a much more satisfying score than its predecessor, combining the best parts of The Philosopher’s Stone with several excellent new themes, resulting in an overall notion of having “the best of both worlds”. In many ways, The Chamber of Secrets is a classic, archetypal Williams score, free of the abstract and modernistic tones that have dominated his other recent works, and concentrating instead on good, old-fashioned orchestral bombast and thematic brilliance. One could almost say that it’s a throwback to the early 1980s, when Williams was at the height of his success, and reminds me in parts of scores as varied as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and, on occasion, Hook.

The most popular main theme is undoubtedly the one for ‘Fawkes the Phoenix’, Professor Dumbledore’s fiery feathered friend. Noble, grand, yet free-spirited, it receives a full concert performance in the second CD track (actually the second part of the end credits suite – tracks 20, 2 and 3), and in leitmotivic fashion in ‘Fawkes is Reborn’ and the wonderfully vibrant action track ‘Duelling the Basilisk’. The Chamber itself is depicted by a swelling 3-note motif that plays like a “theme of discovery”, and receives its most vibrant performances in ‘Meeting Tom Riddle’ and at the end of the otherwise slow and comical ‘Cakes for Crabbe and Goyle’.

The other new melody is for Kenneth Branagh’s character ‘Gilderoy Lockhart’, a comical, preening, staccato march with a prominent harpsichord part and shades of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It reappears at the beginning of ‘The Duelling Club’, before emerging as a fast-paced action track, replete with racing woodwinds and dramatic bursts of brass. And then there are other, smaller motifs and clever musical interludes which play to specific instances: notably the bouncy march in ‘Introducing Colin’, which for some reason reminds me of Summon the Heroes; the amusing Ewok-ish motif for ‘Dobby the House Elf’; and the lovely, icy, cooing chorus for ‘Moaning Myrtle’.

In action terms, the score is a mix of old and new; cues such as ‘The Flying Car’ and ‘Duelling the Basilisk’ are sweeping in an old-fashioned way, relying on clever instrumental interplay and impressive bursts of thematic material, whereas others briefly interweave Williams’s new modernistic style, with shades of A.I. Artificial Intelligence and even Attack of the Clones working their way into ‘Cornish Pixies’ and massive ‘The Spiders’. This latter cue is probably the most impressive set-piece of the score, beginning as a creepy, undulating mood-setter before exploding into a throbbing chase cue, built upon a vibrant percussion underbelly.

And then, of course, there are the themes from the first movie: Hedwig’s Theme, with its now-famous celeste melody, appears in the opening and closing credits; the gloriously romantic Hogwart’s theme, which works its way into ‘The Flying Car’, and receives the full-on lush treatment in ‘Reunion of Friends’.

One final thing about The Chamber of Secrets is the unusual credit of “music adapted and conducted by William Ross”. Ross is, of course, a talented composer in his own right, having provided music for films such as Tin Cup, My Dog Skip and Tuck Everlasting, as well as undertaking orchestration duties for Williams on many occasions. However, his contribution to The Chamber of Secrets is a little unclear: did he write any original music himself, or did he simply take Williams’ sketches and flesh them out? If he did write original music, which parts? They are certainly well ingrained into the underscore, because it’s impossible to tell where Williams end and Ross begins. Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers to these questions, but it’s an interesting topic.

The net evaluation: it’s a top notch, enjoyable score, and rare for being even better than its predecessor. If you like John Williams, sweeping themes, intense action and a hint of magic, I strongly recommend Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and I look forward to the upcoming Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (unless, of course, new director Alfonso Cuaron maintains his composer relationship with Patrick Doyle… hmm a Doyle Harry Potter score… that could be really interesting!)

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Prologue: Book II and the Escape from the Dursleys (3:31)
  • Fawkes the Phoenix (3:45)
  • The Chamber of Secrets (3:49)
  • Gilderoy Lockhart (2:05)
  • The Flying Car (4:08)
  • Knockturn Alley (1:47)
  • Introducing Colin (1:49)
  • The Duelling Club (4:08)
  • Dobby the House Elf (3:27)
  • The Spiders (4:32)
  • Moaning Myrtle (2:05)
  • Meeting Aragog (3:18)
  • Fawkes is Reborn (3:19)
  • Meeting Tom Riddle (3:38)
  • Cornish Pixies (2:13)
  • Polyjuice Potion (3:52)
  • Cakes for Crabbe and Goyle (3:30)
  • Duelling the Basilisk (5:02)
  • Reunion of Friends (5:08)
  • Harry’s Wondrous World (5:03)

Running Time: 70 minutes 08 seconds

Warner 7567-93159-5 (2002)

Music composed by John Williams. Adapted and conducted by William Ross. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices. Orchestrations by John Neufeld. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Peter Myles and Jim Harrison. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan-Fourstar. Album produced by John Williams.

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  1. Drew C.
    September 1, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    “hmm a Doyle Harry Potter score… that could be really interesting!”

    If you had only known! πŸ˜€

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