Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Soundtrack, Jeremy Soule, 2002
Your video game might be based on a movie blessed with a score by one of film’s most legendary composers. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with a great game soundtrack album. Just look at the disappointing amount of noteworthy material from those Star Wars and Star Trek games that have actually released on album. Legal matters of licensing that limit access to iconic melodies don’t necessarily help things. However, this limitation that can also be encouragement for a composer to find his own inspired approach.
Such is the case with the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack, easily the best of Jeremy Soule‘s five scores for the game franchise. It also benefits from a better album presentation than Soule’s other Harry Potter soundtracks. Only eight minutes of notable material are missing from the album release, which thankfully excises a lot of ruminative underscore. Sadly, in 2009, Electronic Arts unceremoniously pulled almost all of its Harry Potter game scores from online music scores. Frustrating album situation notwithstanding, Chamber of Secrets is Soule’s most satisfying fantasy soundtrack. Yes, that’s a big claim to make, considering his work on franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars. But Chamber of Secrets achieves a consistency of quality that Soule’s more bloated score releases don’t accomplish. He doubtlessly deserved his 2004 win of the BAFTA Games Award for Best Original Music for Chamber of Secrets.
Soule’s designation as “the John Williams of game music” has always had more to do with hyperbole and facile comparisons than with actual musical parallels. For example, Soule seems almost entirely disinterested in the elaborate thematic structures that shape so many of Williams’ works. However, there’s no denying that at his best, Soule is able to create a lavish orchestral sound reminiscent of John Williams’ creations in the science fiction and fantasy genre.
It was this similarity in sound that landed Soule the gig on the first five Harry Potter games. On the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack, he shows why he’s the right man for the job. Soule gets the necessary mix of adventure, menace and child-like wonder just right. He crafts the perfect soundtrack for a quest that is light-hearted, but not without dangers and dramatic encounters, set in a colourful world that’s homely, but still of immense scale.
All these impressions come together on the album’s opening track “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Title Theme”. This title cue evokes the requisite sense of both magic and majestic sweep essential to a Harry Potter score. A substantial choral component gives the music unexpected heft and scope, before the orchestration pulls back to solo piano only. Soule shows his aptitude at handling these swift, fluid changes of orchestration and mood with impressive ease. At the same time, it’s obvious Soule has found his individual musical entry point to the world of Harry Potter, never coming off as a mere Williams rip-off.
What’s most refreshing about the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack is its light touch, and a feeling of affability and charm that is utterly delightful. It also helps that the variety on display on “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Title Theme” is present throughout the entire soundtrack. For example, the requisite comedy elements make their mark on “Washing”, which bounces along merrily without ever turning cloying or childish. Meanwhile, “House Point Theme” has great fun contrasting regal fanfares with tuba-driven oompah-style humour. In the soundtrack’s liner notes, Chamber of Secrets‘ audio manager Nick Lavier claims that Soule “doesn’t seem to be able to […] very easily […] write light, playful music.” However, based on the winning evidence presented here on album, it’s an issue that Soule overcame successfully.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack’s action pieces. Despite the odd less than spectacular cue, they manage to outgun the battle tracks on pretty much all of Soule’s other fantasy scores. A comparison with his work for the same year’s The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind proves insightful. By comparison, Chamber of Secrets’ action cues are far more attractive, with no place for stale ostinato staccatos. They also have with a real sense of rhythmic elasticity, never content to rest in one spot for long as the whole orchestra contributes to the light-footed compositions.
Most importantly, there’s a real sense of urgency and verve that turns even short tracks like “Draco” into energising interludes. It’s hard to overstate how much a live orchestra’s vivid sound brings to these compositions. For example, the voluptuous, rasping sound of the brass section on “Draco” is immensely satisfying.
Many other tracks contribute to the variety of textures and moods that makes the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soundtrack such a successful work. Take “Flying”, which shows Soule at his most spirited and effervescent. Here, the music truly cuts loose, unable to contain its excitement at the wide open skies ahead. Then there’s “Willow Level 3”, a beautifully contoured string adagio with Wagnerian overtones that displays Soule’s classical inclinations. “Spell Atmos” and its calm solemnity and mystical gestures feel like a test run for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Its feeling of otherworldly wonder and gazing finds its charmingly unassuming equivalent in the gorgeously meandering “Day”. The composition’s hazy, sustained woodwind chords set against piano and celesta are something to savour. It’s a rare moment of absent-minded daydreaming that later Harry Potter scores with higher dramatic stakes don’t allow for.
Not commercially available anymore – try music streaming services or second hand stores.