Interview and Video of Composer Alexandre Desplat, Discusses “Lily’s Theme” and “Hedwig’s Theme” in “Deathly Hallows: Part 2”

Jul 06, 2011

Posted by: Mel


Thanks to Warner Bros. we have a transcript of a new, lengthy interview with Alexandre Desplat where he discusses what went into making the soundtrack for “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” what theme is his favorite, and how he utilized John Williams’s famous “Hedwig’s Theme.” We also have a video of Desplat conducting his orchestra here or below the interview.

The soundtrack to “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” will be released July 12th.

Here’s the interview for you to enjoy and anticipate the music that will come with the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”:

Did you compose the soundtrack
for Part 2 as a follow up for Part 1 or
did you treat them as separate projects?

When I first was asked to write
Part 1
, it was not yet signed that I would write Part 2,
so, unfortunately, I could not write thinking of the two episodes at
the same time. However, there are still some themes of Part 1
which continue in Part 2 like what I call the “Band of Brothers”
theme when all the friends reunite at the beginning of Part 1.
We hear this theme again in Part 2 and also some of the themes
and motifs of “Obliviate’ the thing that opens Part 2, that
comes back also in Part 2, so there is some continuity.

Did you get to see the first
half of the final film with your score added to it, and how did you
feel about seeing everything put together?

I saw Part 1 finished a long
time again, and it was great. I think the essence of what it portrayed’the
sense of loneliness and a loss of childhood’were very strong, and
I think it was a great first part.

Deathly Hallows ’ Part 2 was filmed way before it normally would be,
did you got more time to score the film, and if so, did that affect
your scoring process at all?

I think I had a lot of time to write,
a very comfortable amount of time to write, because all together writing
it and composing took about three and a half to four months for each
episode. When you’re filming on set, you can decide on shooting all
the scenes that belong to this set and then you can still change them.
It’s very different with the score. I had to wait until I saw
Part 2
edited to be able to start putting ideas together and try
to find a sense of an arc and a dramatic sense for the film. There was
enough time, and it was hard work for many months but also still very

When you wrote the score for
the film, did you find that your ideas came to you very quickly in short
bursts, or did they take a long time to develop?

You know these films are such huge
machines’there’s such a huge expectation and so much pressure from
the past because its the biggest series of the last 10 years’that
you have to be very careful and double-check, triple-check that every
note you write is accurate and fine, and you want to challenge yourself
to be, if not as good, to approach the talent of the master that John
Williams is, so it requires a little bit of attention. You can’t
write a score of that kind in a short amount of time so you need to
really try things over and over again. Also on these big machines now,
the editing keeps changing and you have to adapt to that, so you need
that time to be able to write properly and accurately.

There are quite a few deaths
in this film. Which was the most difficult to write, for and were there
any that hit you harder than the others?

Death is very present in the Harry
Potter story from the beginning because it starts with an orphan who
lost his parents, and, actually, the theme of death is very present
in this episode, since Lily, Harry’s mother, is the lead character of
this episode. We start the film with hearing Lily’s theme, which will
kind of ghost the film all along and be the music thread that will take
us from the beginning to the end of the film. So that’s one element
of death, the people that you miss, the people that you long for, the
sorrow, and the question about death and the resurrection stone and
how you cope with the death of the people you love. That’s very
present in the themes that are used and you see it when you see the
film and hear the soundtrack that I’ve tried to be very sensitive
and emotional on these matters. The other side of death is, of
course, also the battles, the duels, the final battle between Harry
and Voldemort, and they are both fighting for death, and there’s no
mercy. So I wrote some epic and lyrical pieces for these battle

Given the nature with the backstory
of Lily Potter, what was your inspiration for creating Lily’s theme,
and what kind of emotion did you hope to convey with that bit?

I think the goal was to find something
as gentle, as sweet, and as kind as a lullaby with a guilty touch to
it. It’s a very simple melody that anyone can hum, child or adult,
and we found this incredible singer, Mai, who has a very pure voice,
almost like liquid gold. So it will haunt the film and Harry all
along the last episode.

Did you find it challenging
to write for large battle scenes or was that something that was fun?

It is fun and challenging because
there have been many movies with battles and action scenes in the past,
so you have to find your own path and your own voice through that. It
is a different approach than an intimate scene, but I like having a
big orchestra rolling, and I’m going to say that in many places, we
alternate from action cues to very lyrical memento, more operatic to
counterbalance the action. It’s a real balance between emotion and
action. Sometimes it’s good to feel the adrenaline of the battle,
and sometimes it’s good to take it from a bird’s eye view and have
more of a distant look to it. With this bird’s eye view, you
can sometimes create a deeper emotion. We played a lot with balancing
these moments with David Yates.

Will any references to the
previous soundtracks and score be making an appearance in this final

Well, we all know there’s one theme,
which has become iconic’”Hedwig’s Theme” from John Williams.
This theme is crucial to the success of the story, and it would have
been disrespectful and stupid for me not to use it at the crucial moments
where we need to refer to these ten years of friendships that we’ve
all had with these characters and kids, so “Hedwig’s Theme” does
reoccur a lot more in Part 1
where loss of innocence was the main theme of the film and where “Hedwig’s
Theme” was referring to childhood and Hogwarts. Now we’re back
in Hogwarts where the battle takes place, and all the friends are there
so it made sense to have it there. Also, at the end of the film when
we say goodbye to these three kids who are becoming adults and are looking
towards a new life, the John William’s theme is present. It’s
one of the most wonderful themes ever written for films, so it’s a
delight to work with it.

Do you have a favorite piece
from the upcoming film?

Yes, I think Lily’s theme, which
opens the film, might be the one I like the most because it has the
kindness and mysteriousness that we need to feel when the movie starts
even though everything isn’t explained yet about how Lily influenced
Harry and other characters’ destinies in the film, so its the theme
that I think I like the most and cherish a lot.

What characteristic of Ron
and his growth to the series and through Deathly Hallows inspired the
orchestration of his theme?

Ron has difficulty showing his emotions
because he’s a bit clumsy, shy and goofy at times, but I felt that the
music should show that he has a big heart and great sensitivity. I think
that’s what drove our choice in the melody and the type of orchestration
that we used in his theme. It does come back in Part 2’I
use it again at one point when Hermione and Ron are reunited.

Which moment of the film was
the most difficult to transcribe into music?

That’s a tough one. It’s a
tough one because with this film being the final one, there are so many
crucial moments that everyone has been waiting for throughout the course
of ten years. Maybe one of the most difficult ones was the final
battle between Voldemort and Harry because it’s a long moment of battle
and dueling, and it was hard to find the rich balance between danger,
action and to keep emotion in there without being too repetitive to
previous duels. So I guess the final moment that brings Harry victory.
I don’t think I’m giving it away.

Which Brazilian instruments
were used, and in which tracks were they used in Part 2?

I always use Brazilian elements in
my scores because I played a lot of Bossa Nova. I had a band in my teens
where we were playing all the tunes by Vinicius (de Moraes), Tom Jobim,
Gilberto (Gil) and Chico Buarque. I’ve always used rhythms or
instruments that come from Brazil. I used some tamborin and pandeiro
in Part 1, and I think I used them again in Part 2.
They were interwoven with some other drums like snare drums and djembes,
but I did use some of the typical Brazilian percussion instruments.

Out of the entire score, which
was the piece you were most personally connected to?

I think the “Obliviate” cue of
Part 1
. It’s one of the themes I’d be able to listen to again,
while usually I don’t listen to my music. I can’t stand hearing it,
and I tend to think it sucks! So, I think the “Obliviate” cue is
a cue that I would be happy to hear again, and, as I said before, the
Lily theme in its opening title form would be okay for me to hear again.
The rest I’m very cautious about, and I try to be very distant from
my work and keep it in a computer or iPod that I don’t listen to for
years because I get very frustrated, and I feel like everything is wrong.

How is
director David Yates involved in the process of making the score?

David is very involved. I would see
him in my office every day in London, and I would play him my themes
and demos. I write electronic demos, which are very, very precise
that sound like the final product and just need an orchestra to sound
really good. You can really tell against the picture which part
goes where, and the director can really react to it, so we spent a lot
of time tweaking things at the studio. Then, we spent a lot of
time when recording with the orchestra tweaking again, trying to focus
and make it more accurate. So, yes, David is very involved in every
aspect of his film: the special effects, the sound, and the music.

Were you a fan of the series
before you were asked to score the films?

Yes, of course. One of my daughters
has been a big fan since she was a kid. I followed all the films and
read the books because I had to be able to have a connection to her
passion for Harry Potter. If I didn’t read the books, I would
have been a bad dad! So I had to go through that, and it was a
pleasure because these books are very smartly and creatively written.
I think J.K. Rowling is a genius writer, and of course I saw all the
films, and, mainly, above everything, since I was a John Williams fan
for many years, I would always buy the scores from the beginning. When
they came out, I would jump on it, so I’ve always been a big Harry Potter

How hard was it coming into
this project, when it was essentially handed down from Williams and

Well, when you come after such a
genius composer as John Williams and when you have to use his themes,
you have to be respectful and challenge yourself and try to find good
ideas. When the theme is good, it’s easy. If “Hedwig’s Theme”
was bad theme, it would have been painful, but it’s such a genius
theme that it was just a matter of time and inspiration. It was really
fabulous to work around his theme.

When you’re first seeing the
film and figuring out what to compose, do you base that on the substance
of the scene or how the scene is shot and looks like on the screen?

Writing the music for a film is a
global experience. You have to feel the overall flow of the film and
the overall emotion of the film in order to deliver something that is
connected to every sequence. I like to write horizontally more
than vertically, which means I prefer to think about the overall rather
than sequence by sequence. I think when you work sequence by sequence,
you lose the thread, the continuity. I always try to have a concept
of what the score will be overall.

Conrad Pope was the first person
to reveal when the score had been finished with you and the London Symphony.
He’s been working on these for a very long time. Was it kind of an emotional
moment in the studio when everything was said and done? What was
it like when it was all finished?

Conrad is certainly, of all of us,
the most involved of the music team. He was the one who was involved
from the beginning. I was more relieved that it was the end of
the job because it was a very hard job, and I was happy to know that
very soon I’d be on holiday. Conrad Pope is a genius, he knows everything
about music’everything you can think of he knows it’he’s worked
with John Williams a lot. But he knows music from the past, contemporary
music, jazz’he knows everything. He knows it all and working close
to such a great musician was really fabulous for me, really beautiful,
because I learned a lot everyday working on the orchestrations with
him to create sounds that belong only to the very scores that we were
creating. Conrad is a fabulous musician.

Did you find more inspiration
from the original book or watching aspects of the film productions?

I chose to be a film composer because
I like to watch. I’m inspired by the visual, so I guess I could certainly
write music from reading a book but what really turns me on are the

Where did you begin in the
score writing process when you first got the job on these films?

On Part 1, I had such a big
task in front of me because it was my first Harry Potter score,
and I was under a lot of pressure trying to take over the many years
of composers working on the series. I didn’t know David Yates,
and it was a bit of a challenge. With Part 2, I knew the
team already, so the challenge came with it being the final episode.
So there were two different kinds of heavyweight tasks to deal with.
On Part 1, it was to find a tone that would still have an echo
of the past scores, especially the John Williams scores, which I think
you understand that I cherish, and still have my own voice. And
on Part 2, it was to find this balance between emotion and epic
drama that we need to build together. And also again, keeping
my musical integrity and having everyone hear my music and say, “Oh,
yes, it’s Desplat, not John Williams.”

What was the first piece of
music you wrote for the film and how did the rest follow from that?

I think the first piece I wrote was
Lily’s theme. I played it on the piano for the producers, and then for
weeks, I tweaked it and improved it. They loved it, and we came
up with this beautiful idea of this voice as the thread. That’s
the theme that started everything.

Will we hear any themes inspired
by Patrick Doyle or Nicholas Hooper?

I don’t think you’ll hear a theme
from Patrick Doyle. With, Nicholas Hooper, you might, but that’s a surprise.

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.