There is only one word to describe the soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and that is MAGIC! John Williams' superlative score captures the wonder and adventure of J. K. Rowling's first book about the young wizard, transporting the listener straight into that amazing fantasy world. The striking thing about this score is that it is simply brim full of mystical wonder, youthful exuberance and sheer joy. Of course there is evil to be fought, but the dark side of this force stands little chance of success when up against Harry Potter and his chums. The Star Wars analogy is quite apt musically, because Williams treats The Quidditch Match (a game played in the air on flying broomsticks) something like a battle between X-Wing and Tie fighters. The Norwegian Ridgeback baby dragon theme could be for a small alien or robot, and the Jedi March becomes the off-colour pomp of the old Hogwart's school anthem. But this is exactly what we want from Williams and he delivers it all with gusto.
These similarities are simply in tempo and style, and there any many "novel" elements in this soundtrack. The Prologue introduces us to "Hedwig's Theme", Hedwig being the name of Harry's owl. With the strong bond between the two characters, the theme appears quite frequently during the film and could almost be thought of as the main "Harry's Theme". The theme is introduced on a celeste-like synth evoking the feeling of magic and wonder, and is then blended seemlessly with William's orchestral colours. Williams is also very fond of using Harp, both in its traditional role of punctuating musical phrases with upward runs, but also adding to the magical tones in its own right. One particular track is "Fluffy's Harp" where a harp on screen is under a spell making it play by itself to keep Fluffy the three-headed guard-dog asleep. Another "on screen" role for William's music is the tune played on whistle by Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. These are exceptions though, most of the music staying firmly in the background where it supports the film wonderfully.
The Prologue first introduces "Hedwig's Theme" and then the other main themes and joyful mood of the film. This is followed by The Arrival of Baby Harry starting the story in true "Once Upon a Time" style with some wordless vocals. The next track is a little bit darker focussing on episodes in Harry's upbringing by his nasty step-parents, and then we're immediately off on a venture of discovery as Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley to get kitted out with all the gear needed by a student at wizard school. The hidden alley is like stepping into a cobbled street from the past, and the music reflects this with a simple recorder tune, before solo violin and oboe lead us to the The Gringotts Vault. Then it's off to the station for the trip to Hogwarts, and the next few tracks underline the wonder of the school and what Harry finds there.
We're then introduced to a few episodes from Harry's first term at the school, including the little dragon, The Quidditch March (which is quite a long track starting with a typical Williams fanfare and punctuating the cut and thrust of playing ball in the air), then Christmas at Hogwarts would remind us of Williams' music on "Home Alone" if it wasn't for the whispered ghostly vocals. Although these tracks are episodic in nature, they accompany advances in the plot as Harry and his new friends piece together a mystery (though not always the right way!). The story escalates as Harry uses his new toy The Invisibility Cloak, whose music quietly tip-toes. After Fluffy's Harp the tension begins to mount as the young wizards confront increasingly difficult situations culminating with the confrontation with the evil Voldemort himself.
Following his victory, Leaving Hogwarts is then pure relaxation after the preceding tensions. The final Hedwig's Theme then does a round-up of the main themes to wrap up the album nicely. All the John Williams hallmarks are there on this album. There is an abundance of god melodies, and the somewhat modernistic colour of his harmonies. Williams is a master at telling story through music, and he demonstrates this yet again on this soundtrack. Seeing the phrase "from and inspired by the motion picture" on a CD cover, can sometimes fill the soundtrack collector with dread. However, John Williams likes to give us arrangements edited such that they stand alone better on a soundtrack, while still very much using the film's themes. The listener will find it difficult to tell where the music has been adapted, and will simply find 100% pure John Williams. The music from this first Harry Potter film is a joy to listen to, and you can find it at these shopping sites: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, or Amazon.com in the US (where the movie is called "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone").
The 2nd CD in the pack is a CD-Rom which includes trailers in several languages and a few other goodies to tempt the young Harry Potter fan, and the marketting continues at the movie web-site www.harrypotter.com. This starts out as a journey on the Hogwart's Express, taking apprentice wizards to one of the few schools that would have children eager to attend.
The Harry Potter Sheet Music is up to the usual John Williams standard. The "selected themes" version is the most complete with "Diagon Alley", "Family Portrait", "Fluffy's Harp", Harry's Wondrous World", "Hedwig's Theme", "Hogwart's Forever", "Nimbus 2000", "Quidditch" and "Voldemort". It can be obtained online from The MusicRoom (in the UK). You may wish to look at "Hedwig's Theme" alone at The MusicRoom. Finally, The MusicRoom has a third verion with Hedwig's Theme and Harry's Wondrous World and SheetMusicPlus has an Easy Arrangement versions of selected themes. See also our review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by composer Patrick Doyle and our article about The Music of the Harry Potter Films.