I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Nicholas Hooper, the British composer who scored both Order of the Phoenix (2007) and Half-Blood Prince (2009), the fifth and sixth Harry Potter films. Read on to learn about Hooper’s approach to writing music for the ‘Potter’ films and following in the footsteps of the legendary John Williams.
Harry Potter Fan Zone (HPFZ): You’d collaborated with director David Yates before working on Harry Potter together. How did the opportunity to score Order of the Phoenix arise?
Nicholas Hooper (NH): I had written the music for all of David’s films except Sex Traffic, and we worked so well together that David wanted to get me on board for his first ‘Potter’ film. We had to persuade Warner Bros., so I wrote a demo of the music for the scene where Harry arrives at the Ministry of Magic for the first time. We put that together with some of the bigger scores I had done for past films, and Warner Bros. accepted me on board.
HPFZ: Was the approach to scoring the film at all different because you were writing music for a universe that already had a number of musical identities?
NH: Following in the footsteps of John Williams was truly inspiring, if a bit daunting at first. But I developed my own style to suit David’s needs for the films.
HPFZ: What is your scoring process like? Do themes and motifs start on the piano before turning to full orchestrated form?
NH: I used a computer and input samples of orchestral instruments from the word go. Some ideas came before the filming, but most were worked on as we went along.
HPFZ: As a classical guitarist did any of the music ‘start’ on guitar (instead of the traditional piano approach) before moving to the orchestra?
NH: I always started on the keyboard, but in the case of When Ginny Kissed Harry [from Half-Blood Prince] I made sure that I would be able to play it on my guitar.
HPFZ: How did you approach the inclusion of John Williams’ Hedwig’s Theme and the appropriate places to use this motif? I love the little interpolation of Williams’ ‘Azkaban’ Quidditch theme in Half-Blood Prince too.
NH: I knew that the people involved in making the films were very keen for Hedwig’s Theme to appear at important moments. We used it more in Order of the Phoenix (I loved using it in the opening — such an iconic moment for me). I didn’t want to imitate John Williams so, except on one occasion, I took it my own way, as in the train ride in Order of the Phoenix. I also changed one note in the theme right at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince — I sharpened the fourth note in the scale to give it a feeling that all was not well. Glad you liked the reference to John William’s Quidditch theme — I was very proud of that.
HPFZ: Some of your most iconic themes like Professor Umbridge, Dumbledore’s Army and Slughorn’s Confession are so melodically memorable. Did those melodies arrive quickly in the composition process or was there much iteration and development required to arrive at the final theme?
NH: I wrote six ideas for Professor Umbridge. The last one I bunged in as an off-the-wall idea, and that’s the one that got used. The other two were easier — but nothing was that easy!
HPFZ: There’s some lovely instrumentation in your ‘Potter’ scores, including electric guitars and an accordion. How do you decide the appropriate moments to colour the score with those sounds?
NH: In those cases the accordion was for ‘fun’ moments and the electric guitar was about teenage rebellion.
HPFZ: Was there a particular melody or theme you’re most proud of?
NH: I have always been moved by the Possession theme from Order of the Phoenix, when Voldemort gets into Harry’s head and Harry throws him out ‘with love’. If you listen hard you will notice I used it quite a bit too in Half-Blood Prince.
HPFZ: Were there any themes that you found particularly hard to write?
NH: The Dementor attack in the underpass. I think I wrote that theme on Easter Day. Dumbledore’s Farewell also. [Producer] David Heyman asked me to dig deep, and I did, but it took time.
HPFZ: Were there any differences in the way you approached Half-Blood Prince given you’d already written music for one ‘Potter’ film?
NH: Half-Blood Prince was much more thematically linked — a bit like a symphony. Interestingly, one theme that glued everything together was the song In Noctem which was never actually used in the film. The sequence it was written for was cut. But parts of the theme were used throughout in relation to Dumbledore and Harry.
HPFZ: It’s ten years this year since Half-Blood Prince was released. How do you look back and reflect on the Harry Potter experience?
NH: It was scary and exciting, and had a huge effect on my life. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and I’m hugely proud of what I achieved with the help of a wonderful musical team, wonderful producers, and a fantastic director.