Sure, the record-breaking, multi-award-winning West End/Broadway musical isn’t the kind of thing people would generally think of as prog with its wizards, witches, potions, time travel, transfiguration and… oh, hang on! Okay, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child might be somewhat prog-friendly on paper, but the most prog aspect of all, which has gone largely unremarked upon as such, is Imogen Heap’s expansive score. It’s one thing to be Olivier-nominated for her Outstanding Achievement In Music, but why hasn’t the world noticed how blatantly and blissfully prog Heap’s Cursed Child soundtrack album is? It makes Rick Wakeman’s lavish Journey To The Centre Of The Earth sound only a little bit prog. Heap’s Harry is prog in excelsis.
For starters, it’s presented in four suites, which, reflecting the play’s narrative arc, move through an accessible sunlit opening, a darker passage, a busy electronica-based section and a highly orchestral climax. Bear in mind that JK Rowling’s co-authored production isn’t a musical — nobody does jazz hands or bangs on about Oklahoma — so the music is subtle, clues rather than cues. Yet it insistently flavours the story, and taken out of that context stands up as emotive and elegant.
The gig came to the inventive, classically-trained musician by accident. Her past career has covered everything from synth-pop (as half of duo Frou Frou with Björk and Madonna collaborator Guy Sigsworth) to singing for Jeff Beck. She sang Holding Out For A Hero (the Bonnie Tyler, er, classic) for Shrek 2 and even won a Grammy for co-writing and producing the Taylor Swift track Clean. But the last thing she was expecting was a call from the Potter play’s movement director Steven Hoggett. Having worked with her years before, Hoggett had been using her old songs as a temporary fix as they worked through ideas, and now the movement director told her that he was doing something “about a boy with a scar”. He didn’t unsettle her by revealing the hugeness of the project, but instead asked her to adapt old tracks and create some new ones. The net result comprises 42 instrumental pieces, with only fleeting vocal intrusions. In the end, Heap said she didn’t “deep-dive into Harry Potter” but instead aimed for something that was completely different to the trad-pomp of John Williams.
Thus, her cursed child is golden with a modern spin on the usual faux-classical tropes. At times skittering, at times sweeping, the music is magnetic, even to a Muggle.
“I didn’t know if people would get overwhelmed by all the changes of tempos and time signatures,” she’s said. “But they seem to be liking it!”
This article was originally published in Prog 102.