This last week, I was, along with other representatives of other Harry Potter news websites, able to speak with Alexandre Desplat, the composer of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two, about his work for the musical score to the final film in the Harry Potter franchise. He speaks of the daunting task that both parts posed, of his enjoyment of the book series, and both the emotion and epic action he hopes to convey through his music. You can listen to the interview and read its transcript below. The final musical score releases July 12th. Pre-order it now at our Harry Potter’s Page Amazon Store!
WB: Okay, we’re going to start with Isadora from Potterish. Isadora, do you have a question?
Isadora: Yes, I have a question. Did you compose the soundtrack for part two as a follow-up for part one or were they separate things?
Alexandre: Hello, Isadora. Well, I – when I first was asked to write part one it was not yet decided that I would write part two. So, unfortunately we couldn’t – I could not write thinking of the two episodes at the same time. But still, there are some themes of part one which remain and <indistinct> or continue in part two, like what I call the Band of Brothers theme and <sings> when all the friends reunite at the beginning of part one. We hear this theme again in part two and also some of the themes and motifs of Obliviate – you know, the theme that opens part one – that comes back also in part two. So there is some continuity.
WB: Alright. Thanks, Isadora. Kenya, do you have a question? This is Kenya from DanRadcliffe.com.
Kenya: Hi. How are you? Thank you for talking with us.
Kenya: Did you get to see the first half of the final film and your score go along with it and how did you feel about everything put together?
Alexandre: I’m trying to understand what you mean by the first half.
Kenya: The – part one. The first –
Alexandre: I wrote part one, so I saw it, of course and, so, is that what you are asking?
Kenya: Yes, I was asking if you saw the finished product altogether with your score included and how it made you feel –
Alexandre: Oh, yes. Okay. I saw part one, of course I saw part one finished a long time ago already and it was great! I think the essence of what David Yates wanted – which is this sense of loneliness and the lost of childhood – were very, very strong and I think it was a great first part.
WB: Next we have Leena from Fiction Alley.
Leena: It’s really great to talk to you again. I have a question. I know that for many films the composer only gets a few weeks to do the score but I also know that Deathly Hallows – the two parts of the final film – were shot at the same time. So, I was wondering if – since it was filmed way before it normally would be if you got a longer time for the film and if that affected your score process at all.
Alexandre: I think I had a lot of time to write – a very comfortable time to write, ’cause I had altogether, writing and composing, about three months and a half – for months for both – for each episode. But, of course, the filming is different ’cause you can – when you’re on the set you decide you can do all the scenes that belong to this set – then you’ve got to change sets and everything. It’s very different for a score, of course. You have to – I had to wait until I saw the part two edited to be able to start putting ideas together and make a – try to find a sense of an arc. An arc – a dramatic arc for the film. So it’s – time was enough. It was hard work for many months and very inspiring work.
Leena: Thank you!
WB: Alright, thanks. Andy – we have Andy from Harry Potter Fan Zone.
Andy: Hi. My question’s sort of on similar lines. I was wondering – when composing the score for the film did you find that it was a long and drawn out processes or the majority of it come to you sort of fully-formed in like short bursts?
Alexandre Desplat: I’m afraid you have to repeat your question a bit slower and you have to articulate a bit more. It’s difficult for me to understand.
Andy: Sorry about that. I was just wondering – when you wrote the score for the film did you find that the ideas came to you very quickly in short bursts or did it take a long time to develop?
Alexandre: Okay, well. These movies – they are such huge machines. There’s such a huge expectation – so much pressure from the past because, you know, it’s the biggest series of the last ten years. But you have to be very careful and you have to double check, triple check that every note that you write is accurate and fine and good and you want to challenge yourself to be, if not as good, at least to approach the talent of the master that John Williams is. So it requires a lot of attention and you can write a score of that kind in a short amount of time – I don’t think so. You need time to really try things and try again and also these big machines – now that the techniques allow it – the editing keeps changing and you have to adapt to that. You need that time to be able to write properly and accurately.
Andy: Thank you.
WB: Thank you. Next we have Aragorn from Harry Potter’s Page.
Aragorn: There are quite a few deaths in this last film, which was the most difficult to write for and were there any that hit you harder than the others?
Alexandre: Yes, well, how do I approach it? 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 the last episode – we start the film with hearing Lily’s theme which will kind of ghost the film all along – it will be the thread, the musical thread, which will take us from the very beginning of the film to the end of the film. So that’s I guess, one element of death. The people that you miss because you long – and the sorrow. And the question about death – there is the Resurrection Stone and how do you cope with the death of the people you love? So that’s very present, I guess. The themes I’ve used when you see the film – and when you 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. They’re both fighting for death. So there’s no mercy. And in that case we’ve – so I wrote some epic battle, rather lyrical pieces for these moments.
WB: Thank you. Next we have Terrance from HPANA.
Terrance: Hi. Given the nature of the back story with Lily Potter – what was your inspiration for creating Lily’s Theme? What kind of emotion did you hope to convey with that bit?
Alexandre: I think it was – the goal was to find something as gentle, as sweet, and kind as a lullaby with a little Celtic touch to it. That’s what I tried to do. It’s a very simple melody that anyone can hum – a child or an adult and we found this incredible singer, Mai, who has a very pure voice – very pure, very – almost liquid, you know, like something that’s – liquid gold. It’s incredibly pure. And so it will haunt the film – and Harry – all along the last episode.
Terrance: Thank you.
WB: Thank you. Next we have Edward from Leaky Cauldron.
Edward: Hi there! Thank you so much for talking with us today. You know – the Harry Potter films – especially part two – they’re rather action-heavy films. Did you find it challenging to write for large battle scenes or was that something that was fun?
Alexandre: It is fun. It is fun, it is challenging because there’s – there have been many movies with battles and action scenes in the past so you have to find your own path, you own voice through that. It is – it is a different approach that, of course, an intimate scene – but I like to – I like to have a big orchestra roaring and I must say that there are many, many places we alternate from action cues to unexpected, very lyrical moments. More – operatic – to come to a balance with the action. It’s not always chasing the action. It’s a real balance between emotion and action. Even on battle scenes. Some times it’s to have – to feel the adrenaline of the battle. Sometimes it’s good to take it from a bird’s view and have more a distant look to it. And with this bird’s view you can create, in fact, sometimes, a deeper emotion. It’s good to – we played a lot with balancing the moments with David Yates.
WB: Great. Thank you. Next question is from Andrew from MuggleNet.
Andew: Hi. Since this is the last film, there’s a lot of people that are feeling really connected to this final movie and I think a lot of people are hoping to see that this film is something that is very sentimental and also comes full circle. So my question is: will there be scenes such as <indistinct> be making an appearance in this movie or any other small references to previous soundtracks or scores?
Alexandre: Well, we all know that there is one theme that has become iconic. It’s Hedwig’s Theme from John Williams. This theme is crucial to the success of the story and it 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 friendship that we all have with these characters – these kids. Hedwig’s Theme does recur quite a lot – much more than in part one of course where the loss of innocence was the main theme of the film and where Hedwig’s Theme was referring too much to childhood and to Hogwarts. Now we’re back in Hogwarts. The battles take pace in Hogwarts and all the friends are there so it makes sense. So of course, at the end of the film when we say goodbye to these three kids that are becoming adults and are looking forward to a new life, the John Williams theme is present of course. It’s one of the most wondeful themes ever written for films. So it’s a delight to work around t.
Andrew: Yeah. Okay, thank you.
WB: Thank you. Next we have Becky from the Remembrall.
Becky: Hello. My question is –
Alexandre: Hello, Becky.
WB: Do you have a favourite piece from the upcoming film?
Alexandre: Yes. I think Lily’s theme, which opens the film might be the most – yeah the one I like the most because it has the kindness and sorrow that we need to feel when the movie starts even though everything is not yet explained and clear about how Lily’ influenced Harry’s, but also some other character’s destiny in the film. And so I think it’s the theme I like the most and I cherish a lot, yes. Throughout the film and several other moments in the picture where we can hear it again.
WB: Wonderful, thank you. Next question is Aubrey from RuperGrint.net.
Aubrey: Hello. You wrote some beautiful themes for Ron and that hadn’t really been done before so much with his character. What characteristics of Ron and his <indistinct> through the series and through Deathly Hallows inspired the instrumentation for his theme?
Alexandre: Ron has difficulty to show his motions because he’s a bit clumsy, a bit shy, a bit goofy sometimes but I feel that the music should be showing that he has a bit heart and great sensitivity and I think that’s got a choice in the melody and the orchestration I used for his theme. It does come back in part two at a part on the stairs but I’ve used it again once – I know – I used it again once when, finally, Hermione and Ron are reunited .
Aubrey: Thank you.
WB: And finally we have Laurie from Snitch Seeker.
Laurie: Hello; Which moment of the film was the most difficult to transcribe in music?
Alexandre: That’s a tough one. It’s a tough one because this film being the final one there are some – many crucial moments that everybody is waiting for you know because it’s been more that ten years – expect these moments to happen. Maybe one of the most difficult was maybe the final battle between Voldemort and Harry because it’s a long, long moment of battle and duel. It was hard to find the right balance between danger action and keep some emotion and not be too repetitive – repeat too much what you’ve done before. When there were previous duels between them – so I guess yes, the final moment between – bring Harry to victory – because you know he comes to victory – I’m to giving it away, I think.
WB: Isadora, do you have another question for Alexandre?
Isadora: During an interview you revealed that you’d used some Brazilian instruments for the soundtrack of part one and since I’m Brazilian could you maybe tell us which instruments were used and which tracks, if you can remember if they were re-used for part two?
Alexandre: That’s tricky, I’m trying to remember now. I always use Brazilian elements in my score because I’ve played a lot of bossa nova – I had a band when I was in my teens where we were playing all the tunes by <indistinct> and <indistinct> and <indistinct> and <indistinct>. So I’ve always used rhythms or instruments that come from Brasil but yet in The Girl With a Pearl Earring there’s a pattern with a samba and you can’t really tell ’cause it’s played by a classical orchestra but it is actually influenced by Brazil. I think – If I do remember, I must have used some tamborim and pandeiro in part one and I think I’ve used them again in part two, interwoven with some other drums like snare drums and dhimays, but I did use some of the Brazilian – typical Brazilian percussion instruments.
Isadora: Okay. Good to know that. Thank you.
WB: Thank you. Kenya, do you have another question?
Kenya: Yes. I was just wondering if, out of the entire score, you had anything you would say you feel the most personally connected to?
Alexandre: I think the Obliviate cue – I call it the Obliviate cue, because that’s the name of it on the soundtrack of part one. I like it. I think it’s a – one of the things I’d be able to listen to again while I don’t usually listen at all to my music. I can’t stand it. I think it sucks. I think the Obliviate cue is a cue that I’ll be happy to hear again and as I said before the – Lily’s Theme in its opening title form will be, I think, okay for me to hear again. The rest I’m always very cautious. I try to be very distant from my work and put it in – I keep it in the computer or an iPod that I don’t listen to – for many, many months or years because I’m very frustrated. I feel that everything is wrong,.
Kenya: Thank you.
WB: Thank you. Leena, do you have another question?
Leena: Yeah, I have another question. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your relationship with David Yates throughout the entire process both like before you actually composted the score, what he asked you to do in the first place, and how much time after you write the score – how much time it actually takes for you to sit down with him and get a finished product.
Alexandre: I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean.
WB: I think Leena’s asking about working with David Yates and how he was involved with the process.
Alexandre: Okay, I see. David is very involved. I would see him almost every day in the studio in London and we would – I would play him my themes, my demos. I write demos, electronic demos which are very, very precise. They really sound like the final product, except they’re just electronic and you need to have an orchestra to sound really good but you can really tell to the picture which part goes where and the director can really react to it. So we spent a lot of time tweaking things at fthe studio. Then we spend a lot of time when we record with the orchestra tweaking again trying to focus to the most efficient – to focus – that’s the best way to put it – to focus like you focus with a camera – to make it even more accurate. So yes, David is very involved. He’s also very involved in every aspect of his film, whether it be the visual effects, the sound, and all the music.
Leena: Okay, thank you.
WB: Next. Andy, would you like to ask another question?
Andy: Yes. Were you a fan of the series before you were asked to score the films?
Alexandre: Yes. Of course. My daughter was big fan since she was a kid and I followed-up with all the films and read the books because I had to be able to have a connection with her passion – for Harry Potter. If I had not 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 very greatly written. I think J. K. Rowling is a genius writer and, of course, I saw all the films, and maybe, above everything, since I was a John Williams fan for many, many, many, many years I would always buy the scores when they would come out. I would jump on it – to listen to his work. So I’ve always been, yes, a Harry Potter fan.
WB: Great. Thank you. Terrance, do you have another question?
Terrance: You had touched on the use of Hedwig’s Theme earlier, coming into both part one and part two as a whole. How hard was it, coming into this project, that was essentially handed-down from composers such as John Williams and Doyle?
Alexandre: Well, when you come after such a genius composer as John Williams, you have to do his themes, you have to be respectful and challenge yourself and try to find good ideas. It’s just a matter of work and inspiration. When the theme is good, it’s easy. If his theme – if Hedwig’s theme was a bad theme it would have been painful, but it’s such a genius film – a genius theme that it was just a matter of time and inspiration ’cause it was really fabulous to be able to work around his theme.
Terrance: Perfect. Perfect. Thank you so much.
WB: Okay. Edward?
Edward: Yes, hi. You talked a bit about working with David Yates and I was just curious, when you’re first seeing the film – sort of figuring out what to compose, do you base that on the substance of the scene or how the entire scene is shot and what’s on screen?
Alexandre: You know, writing music for film is a global experience. You have to feel the overall flow of the film – the overall emotions of the film to be able to deliver something that is connected to every sequence. I like to write horizontally more than vertically which means that I prefer thinking about the overalls than just sequence by sequence. The think when you work sequence by sequence – you lose the thread – you lose the continuity. I always try to have concepts of what the score will be overall.
Edward: Thank you.
WB: Thank you. Andrew? Do you have another question?
Andrew: Yes. Conrad Pope – he said on his Facebook post a few weeks ago – he was kind of the first person to reveal when the score had been finished with you and the London Symphony Orchestra and Conrad has been working on these for a very long time. So, I was wondering, was it kind of an emotional moment in the studio when it was all said and done? Was there anything said? What was it like when everybody finished?
Alexandre: Well, yes. Conrad is certainly, of all of us, the most involved on the music team. He’s the one who was involved from the beginning. I was more relieved that it was the end of the job, because it’s a very hard job and I was happy to know that I would very soon be on holidays. <laughs> Conrad Pope is a genius. He knows everything about music – everything that you can think of, he knows it. He has been <indistinct> us a lot. He knows music from the past, music from the <indistinct>, he knows jazz, he knows everything – he knows it all. Working close to such a great musician was really, really fabulous for me – really, really beautiful because I learned a lot every day working on the orchestration with him. How to make – how to create sounds that belong only to the very score for what we’re doing. He’s a fabulous musician, Conrad.
WB: Wonderful. Thank you. Becky, do you have another question?
Becky: Yes. My question is did you find more inspiration from the original book or watching aspects of the film production?
Alexandre: Well, you know, the – I chose to be a film composer because I liked to watch – because I’m inspired by the visual and so I guess I could certainly write music from reading a book, but what turns me on is really the moving images.
WB: Okay. Wonderful. Aubrey, do you have another question?
Aubrey: Yes. Thank you. Where did you begin in the score-writing process when you first got the job on these films?
Alexandre: Pardon me, can you ask that again, but slower?
Aubrey: Sure. Where did you begin in your score-writing process when you first got the job on these films? Like – where did you start?
Alexandre: On part one, you mean? Or part two?
Alexandre: On part two?
Aubrey: Part two or part one. Whichever.
Alexandre: It’s very different you see, ’cause on part one it was such a huge task for me ’cause it was my first Harry Potter and I was under a bit – a lot of pressure trying to take over these many years of composers working on the series. I didn’t know David Yates, and it was, you know, one kind of challenge. Now, part two, I knew the team and the challenge became that it was the final episode. So it was two different kinds of very different heavyweight tasks to deal with. So I guess on part one it was to find a tone that would still have an echo of the past scores – and especially John Williams’ scores, I think you understood, I cherish – and still have my own voice. On part two I guess it was to find this balance between emotion and epic drama we needed to – and the action cues that we need to build together through the film. And there again to keep – keeping my integrity – my musical integrity that people hearing my music would say “oh, yes, it’s Desplat, it’s not John Williams”.
Aubrey: Okay. Thank you.
WB: Thank you. Laurie, do you have another question?
Laurie: Yes, I do. What was the first piece of music you wrote for the film and how did the rest follow from that?
Alexandre: I think the first piece I wrote was Lily’s Theme. That’s the first piece I wrote on the piano and I played it to the producers and David and I think they liked it very much. Then, through the weeks of work, we – I tweaked it. I think I improved it and they loved it. And we found this beautiful idea of a voice as a thread. Yeah, that’s the thing that started everything.
Aragorn: Will we hear any themes inspired by the work of Patrick Doyle or Nicholas Hooper?
Alexandre: I don’t think you will hear themes by Patrick Doyle. Nicholas Hooper you might, but that’s a surprise you will have when you see the film.
Thank you very much to Warner Bros. for allowing us to take part in this!