Sunday, April 8, 2018

Composing Greatness: #38. John Williams - "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001)

Scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore)*winner
-A Beautiful Mind (James Horner)
-A.I. Artificial Intelligence (John Williams)
-Monsters, Inc. (Randy Newman)

Additional Information
This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 41
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Prologue"
2. "Harry's Wondrous World"
3. "The Arrival of Baby Harry"
4. "Visit to the Zoo and Letters from Hogwarts"
5. "Diagon Alley and the Gringotts Vault"
6. "Platform Nine and Three Quarters"
7. "Entry Into the Great Hall and the Banquet"
8. "Mr. Longbottom Flies"
9. "Hogwarts Forever! and the Moving Stairs"
10. "The Norwegian Ridgeback and a Change of Season"
11. "The Quidditch Match"
12. "Christmas at Hogwarts"
13. "The Invisibility Cloak and the Library Scene"
14. "Fluffy's Harp"
15. "In the Devil's Snare and the Flying Keys"
16. "The Chess Game"
17. "The Face of Voldemort"
18. "Leaving Hogwarts"
19. "Hedwig's Theme"

Note: Listen to here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:

The moment is here where John Williams makes his first iconic 21st century motif. Even if you don't know the film by heart, you'll know those whimsical notes that play like a small trinket being blared into an orchestra. It's beautiful, simple, and captures the wonder of a film franchise that will spawn almost a dozen films to date and a few theme parks. The music captures the imagination with the best of Williams, such as Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and more. It may at times feel like it's recalling all of the hits stylistically, but it's still Williams doing it better than anyone else. This is a melody that will outlive everyone who listens to it. In a hundred years, people will know this melody - and that's why Williams is considered the greatest film composer in history.

Interesting Standout:
"Diagon Alley and the Gringotts Vault"

The production of this score is big, and it's difficult to put just one piece down as a standout. So instead, I'll focus on the one track that has a bit of a different approach. It is oriented with wind and string instruments, giving Diagon Alley its own distinct vibe within the wizarding world. It isn't a deceit to the rest of the score, but it stands out as something magical, curious, and full of things to discover. The strings alone are an ingenious choice in that it gives a sense of an old country where things have long been rooted in their ways. The wonder isn't gone, but the familiarity is finally starting to sink in.

Best Moment:
"Mr. Longbottom Flies"

Besides the main theme, the one featured prominently here is arguably one of John Williams' most recognizable works. It has a trumpeting impact as it crosses into an adventurous melody. It takes the listener into the stratosphere as they explore the hijinks of a world that's still full of wonder. This may not be the only point where the motif shows up, but it's the one where it feels best used. One could imagine flying through the air and dodging oncoming debris as this melody plays. It's one of the funnest tracks that Williams has made in quite some time. Most of all, it proves how strong this score is by blending a chaotic sound with something elegant in a way that doesn't feel rushed.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

The main theme alone would warrant giving this score a nomination. As much as this score feels borrowed from John Williams' other work, there's no denying that he knows how to manipulate a note. He captures the whimsical emotion of a fantasy franchise before the characters have even been introduced. While one could argue that he's made great music since Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, this may be his best work since those films by virtue of the music still being used in marketing, playing on soundtracks, and inspiring kids to buy soundtracks. There's so much that proves why Williams is the greatest within this score. It may not be his best, but it definitely sets up a world of whimsy in a way that feels immediately iconic and likely to outlive everyone who falls in love with it.

Up Next: Catch Me If You Can (2002) for Best Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" - Schindler's List (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Superman (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Prologue" - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
10. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
11. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
12. "Cybertronics" - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
13. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
14. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
15. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
16. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
17. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
18. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
19. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
20. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
21. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
22. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
23. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
24. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
25. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
26. "The Patriot" - The Patriot (2000)
27. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
28. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
29. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
30. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
31. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
32. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
33. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
34. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
35. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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