John Williams: Hedwig’s Theme


By the year 2001, John Williams was already one of the most sought after film composers in the world. With a wealth of awards and nominations behind him, he had already composed the iconic music to films like Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and Jaws. While they were trying to find the right composer for the Harry Potter franchise, Warner Bros and Director Christopher Columbus tested composer’s before hiring someone. This also applied to Williams, who was asked to write some promotional material for the film. 

Williams presented the first drafts of what we now know as the iconic Hedwig’s Theme. This leitmotif is now perhaps the most recognisable theme to ever come from the Harry Potter films. The theme is used in all eight films, plus spinoff production Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Director Christopher Columbus commented on the first time he heard Hedwig’s Theme: “I remember first hearing Hedwig’s Theme, it was so clear that this was it. It felt so appropriate, sufficiently majestic and magical.”


The Music

Opening with the magical theme played by a lone celesta, the bell-like effect that comes from this melody shines through. Already a magical atmosphere has been created by Williams, so when a flurry of violins enter with their woodwind counter-parts, the music begins to get ready for lift off. 

The opening theme is then passed to the horns as the swirling upper winds and strings accompany in the background. The melody grows more prominent and grandiose each time it is repeated, which is really effective and certainly makes you listen to the music properly. A short and spritely segue section ensues, primarily led by the woodwind and brass. This theme is also adapted in the film soundtrack as part of other themes, which just proves how deeply ingrained this theme is throughout the saga.

A celesta interlude brings magic back to the forefront of the piece. Swirling strings begin to play with the celestra, each teasing each other before an explosion of sound is heard. The charismatic theme, led by the brass, is then repeated in full tutti glory before the next section begins to build up. A newly developed theme, led by the strings, offers a mystical and highly exciting segue into one of the big climaxes of the piece. 

As fizzing strings build into the wholly romantic-sounding theme, the brass support with a sheer wall of sound. All the themes are then played out once more until the opening theme is passed around the orchestra. Starting with horns, then the trumpets and then the strings, the bouncy theme becomes more pompous each time it is played. The glissandos from the harps add to the magical atmosphere created by the rest of the orchestra, creating a mystical and wonderful timbre. 

Hedwig’s Theme concludes after a rapturous build-up of themes that end on a big “final” note. The piece is not yet done, however as the strings and harp begin to build again before the real end to this iconic theme. 


Final Thoughts

Each member of the orchestra has an important role to play in Hedwig’s Theme as each section represents a different side to the magic. From the swirling strings to the dream-like celesta solos, Hedwig’s Theme is instantly recognisable as music from the Harry Potter saga. Originally used as the opening and closing themes in the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the themes are threaded throughout all of the films in a creative selection of ways – see how many times you can hear the leitmotif!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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