Harry Potter composer Alexandre Desplat and the shadow of John Williams

16 January 2015, 12:54 | Updated: 4 January 2017, 17:15

Double Oscar nominee Alexandre Desplat still remembers being blown away by John Williams's 'Star Wars' score. So what was it like having to take over soundtrack duties from the great man on Harry Potter?

When then-teenage movie buff Alexandre Desplat saw Star Wars on its first release in 1977, the John Williams-composed score made a huge impact on him.

"The music was so elaborate, so inventive and wide open to 20th century classical music," the composer tells Classic FM's Tommy Pearson on this week's Saturday Night at the Movies (Saturday 17 January, 5pm).

GALLERY: Alexandre Desplat: Ten best movie soundtracks > 

Star Wars was not just an echo of the music of Richard Strauss and Mahler so beloved of Golden Age Hollywood film composers, Desplat says. 

"Suddenly you heard in John Williams's scores the influence of the early- and mid-20th century and it was so refreshing and so exciting. Friends of mine who would never listen to contemporary music would listen to these scores without any issue," he says.

More than 30 years after he was first thrilled by the music of Williams, Desplat was called to follow in his hero's footsteps to score the final two movies in the Harry Potter series. He wasn't sure he was strong enough to do it. 

"John Williams had given such a tone with his wonderful melodies to the whole series… so there was this shadow on me," he says.

"I think the last one was one of the most seen movies ever in the history of cinema. It was a huge challenge."

Desplat has just been nominated for two Oscars in the 2015 Academy Awards - for The Imitation Game and for Grand Budapest Hotel, his third film with director Wes Anderson. The composer puts his highly successful collaborations with directors down to his own passion for cinema.

"I think they understand that and share that with me," he tells Pearson.

"The composer is the third author of a film - the director, the screenwriter and the composer," Desplat says. "There was an era when composers like Steiner, Waxman, North, Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann were praised as great artists and [were] really a major part of the film making. 

"They were film makers - and it has somehow vanished or faded. I'm always trying to bring back this vision of composers seen as an important part of the filmmaking."