The opening cue in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, ‘Main Titles’ opens with a haunting, pianissimo rendition of ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ over a string tremolo. James Newton Howard included this musical reference to “tip our hat and acknowledge in a respectful and witty wink” to the music of Harry Potter, before ultimately deciding on a score that is “composed of all new material.”
‘Hedwig’s Theme’ melts away and crescendos up to a fortissimo, percussive melody, alternating between 5/8 and 7/8 and now in the tonic major. The pounding melody, showcasing the third and fourth of the scale, creating an undulating feeling is doubled in octaves, with a dominant pedal in the bass parts. The brass and percussion accent the rhythm to regulate the fluctuating time signatures.
This theme repeats six times over, altering harmonically, and shifting in a parallel motion with appropriate intervallic changes, as well as a gradual decrescendo to take the intensity out of this powerful opening. A slowly shrinking orchestration also complements this cool-down, as the camera pans down from the sky to the European manor where we first witness Grindelwald’s sheer power. An ominous dissonant pedal, employing string harmonics belies this, with forceful, punctuating percussion. This builds up into a lyrical, slightly syncopated idea in 7/8 in the strings, with, again, Howard’s crutch; percussion, to push this gorgeous line along; ‘Obscurus Theme (B)’. The strings drop out, for a much more rhythmic and impactful section, mirroring the drama of the news seen in the newspaper montage on screen at this point.
A broken-chord string figure closes off this section, as a new rhythmic idea is introduced; a ‘chugging’ idea which acts as an ostinato, which is ‘Newt’s Theme’. This new melody accompanies Newt’s arrival into New York, and is later used in ‘Inside the Case‘ perhaps indicating a thematic symbolism to this musical idea; it represents Newt’s journeys to and from his home. The slightly ungainly and gawky rhythm of this idea could also be something meant to represent Newt, and his social awkwardness.
A soaring, lyrical melody grows out from this; the ‘Case Theme’, using the onscreen moments of freedom as hit points for this. In this cue, the cut away to the landscape of New York warrants this beautiful new melody, and later in ‘Inside the Case’ when Frank takes flight, the melody is heard again, possibly alluding to the adventurous, free spirit inside of Newt.
This theme, employing a triadic melody has a sense of fortitude, outlining chord tones, with strong, diatonic harmony with a subtle key change, ending this cue in A major, as opposed to the overriding amount of C in this piece. This tonal shift could be representative of the foundation Newt now has in his new surroundings, having adjusted to fit into being in New York, and what better way to show that than the score adjusting with him.