Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Owls Sending Admission Letters, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

Upon hearing the first few notes of the scene, one can easily identify to whose movie this track belongs. “Hedwig’s Theme,” the renown piece of composer John Williams, has become the signature score of the one of the most popular fantasy franchises, Harry Potter. Through the use of pathos, ethos, and logos, a short analysis on how the track first appears in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone gives us insights into why viewers automatically associate this score with the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

In the movie series, the track marks its entrance when the owls were delivering admission letters into Hogwarts to Harry Potter. John William’s first few notes immediately create a mix of excitement and wonderment. The short yet high pitched note of the celesta immediately stirs up a sudden feeling of suspense. The background instruments resemble the sound of bells in the typical Christmas carols. Since Harry Potter mainly appeals to children and early teenagers, Christmas themed background music effectively evokes a sense of excitement and awe. The music, in this way, appeals in the use of pathos, by delivering certain emotions of wonder and surprise to the viewers.

When Potter picked up the letter, the violin component intensifies drastically in pitch, pace, and volume. The suddenly rush music resembles the “swooshing” sound of air, and through the lens of Harry Potter, viewers can stare into those letters, and better, into his imagination where exists a harmonious symphony of sounds, from the “swoosh” soaring broomstick to the flapping wings of the descending owls.

John Williams interestingly ends the piece with a note that is one of the lowest pitched in the chord. That ingenious note allows him to, again, introduce one or two notes using the celesta, creating a perfect “loop” for the next suspense. This type of "looping" in the music fulfills the logical appeals (logos) to the audience by hinting to us the emotions experienced by the characters in the movie.

When Uncle Vernon Dursley found out that Potter received a mail, the tempo escalates; the bass becomes louder and more forceful, and certain instruments with a softer tone like violin or celesta are no longer used. The music then gives off the mixed emotions: of fear, danger, and surprise, those that the Dursleys may be experiencing at the time. In this instance, music serves as a mirror reflecting the characters' "internal emotions" to the viewers ("Sound" handout).

As soon as an owl was in visible sight for the second time, “Hedwig’s Theme” begins again. In this case, the repetition functions as a cue, signaling to the audience that whenever an owl drops off a letter to a young wizard, the journey to magic begins. At the end of the scene, the music intensifies at an unprecedentedly fast pace and high pitch, especially when the owls dropped off a blizzard of admission letters at the front doorsteps. That scene bears striking resemblance to the Annunciation in the New Testament when Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Due to the significance of the announcement to Potter, “Hedwig’s Theme” symbolizes the beginning of Harry Potter’s journey as a wizard, and partly explains the song’s enduring relevance in the franchise even when the series ended.

In my opinion, John Williams’ music-box in Harry Potter is one of the most convincing scores. This composition certainly lives up to his name and matches the quality of his previous works such as Jaws, the Jurassic Park, and Star Wars. His branding (ethos) also contributes to convincing Warner Bro to use his composition as the background music for such an iconic moment as in the scene. This piece, however, deviates from his other previous hit scores. It does not assign the music to any single specific character (such as Star Wars’ “the Imperial March” that is associated to Darth Vader and the Empire), but instead, paints an impression of a magical world of mystery. Features of the Christmas carols, the unique sound of the celeste, accompanied by the appearance cue of the delivery owls explain the childlike sense of wonder, strangeness, and mystery that have endured throughout the series. 

Score: 5/5

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