In the second installment of my musical commentary on modern film music, we return to the wonderful world of Harry Potter; a musical world that was started by John Williams and finished by 4 different composers over the course of movies 4-8, with Alexandre Desplat scoring both parts of The Deathly Hallows. Rewind 80 years and enter Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, set in the wizarding world in the US across the pond.
This difference in setting allows for the exploration of “magic” from a musical perspective in a completely different way, and one that I thought James Newton Howard explored very well. Whereas I would associate Williams’s Harry Potter scores with evoking the mysterious nature of magic, and the energy and innocence of the youth characters (at first), Howard’s approach seems to focus around and present more of an adventure and more of a sense of wonder in some cases. Of particular interest, at least to me, is what I consider to be the “main theme” of sorts shown below:
What makes this melody great is the harmonic changes that accompany it. You’ll notice that in this case, III goes back to I (the same with IV and other chords as the music continues). The lack of resolving the III chord in particular as is done in traditional theory leaves a sort of musical cliffhanger, creating this force that strains and moves the music forward. The best way I can explain this is that the forward motion in the music doesn’t come from a push, it comes from a pull.
All in all, the score is a nice alternative perspective on what is essentially the same or at least similar universe. The jazz is a nice touch for Kowalski and I think contributed to my own fondness for the character.