“A Different Sort of Magic”: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as Departure from an Established Musical Register

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child represents a significant departure from the existing franchise world and all media elements that pre-date it. As a play in four (and more recently in some locations two) acts the shift in format from novels, films and videogames to a piece of theatre necessitates a range of other changes in register, and the change in musical style is perhaps one of the most notable differences. The score consists entirely of predominantly pre-existing music by Imogen Heap, re-purposed with the help of music supervisor Martin Lowe. Although the musical register of the Harry Potter films and games evolves over the darkening course of the series as different composers take the helm, the earlier scores by John Williams are centrally positioned as touchstones of the franchise’s musical register, with Hedwig’s Theme acting as a capstone and a key entry point to the world in all media (White 2024). Thus, the choice to move away from this established musical world is a bold one, with interesting consequences for the play and its audiences. This paper identifies this shift as an example of two of Christopher Alexander’s transformations, as outlined by Summers and Farmer: transformations 9 (Contrast/Difference) and 13 (The Void/Open Space).

The first of these transformations articulates the significant difference between the existing musical register of the franchise and that of the new play, and although the paper explores some seemingly coincidental similarities, Cursed Child’s musical register differs in style, instrumentation, texture and form, yet remains effective as a narrative and worldbuilding agent. Recognisable elements, including one of Heap’s most famous songs ‘Hide and Seek’, stand to create some cognitive dissonance or indeed world-mixing for some viewers. The second transformation speaks to franchise elements that are discarded and applies to the loss of Hedwig’s Theme. Although partly rights-based, the erasure of the film series’ only constant musical element represents a significant departure, and the paper explores both motivations and approach through an interview with Lowe. The paper finishes by applying these transformations to the play’s sound design in order to explore whether sonic signatures can form part of a franchise’s musical/sonic register, and the title of the paper is quoted from an interview with the play’s sound designer Gareth Fry.
Period3 Jul 2024
Event titleSound on Screen III: Music and Sound in Transmedia Franchises
Event typeConference
Conference number3
LocationOxford, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational