Adding more weight to the tons of excellence that is The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is Howard Shore’s award-winning score, almost a separate entity in itself in its scope and grandeur. The collective soundtracks of all three films could are like an opera. Music was integral to Tolkien’s understanding of his world. Al of his books on the mythology and history of Arda are filled with poems, verses, and songs in various languages and meters. One book, The Lays of Beleriand is but a collection of the psalms of the Elves of Middle-Earth. To my knowledge, though, Tolkien himself never composed a single note. Thus it fell to Howard Shore in the Peter Jackson film trilogy to bring the sound of the myriad cultures and peoples of Arda to life. Shore’s score is largely successful to this end.
Each culture and country has its own theme: the Shire has its Northern European fiddle music, Gondor a rousing fanfare, Isengard a bizarre 5/4 pow wow. I don’t usually do lists, but I thought, in a score this huge, a few moments deserve some special attention.
The musical choices for Lothlórien are eclectic indeed. Whereas most composers might have gone in a Celtic direction, Howard Shore’s ambience has a near-East, Persian feel. This combined with the mournful voice of Emiliana Torrini singing a lament for the recently departed Gandalf give the Golden Wood the ethereal otherworldliness it deserves.
9. Forth Eorlingas
All seems hopeless at Helm’s Deep, until Aragorn remembers Gandalf’s promise to return at dawn with Rohan’s cavalry. Hopelessness soon blossoms into an exhilarating action climax to the second film. The battle cry, “Forth Eorlingas” (Rohirric for “Forth, sons of Eorl), leads the Rohirrim to a Hastings-style battle where they trample over the Uruks of Isengard.
8. Minas Tirith
For two films Shore has been building upon the theme for Gondor. Gandalf’s entrance into the capital city Minas Tirith is the first time we hear it in all its glory. Beautifully shot, this quick little scene is the perfect pick-me-up for the early stages of the third film.
7. Concerning Hobbits
When they recut the films into an Extended Edition for the DVD releases, Howard Shore was brought in to rescore some of the edited scenes. In this scene, we get a slightly longer, recut introduction to the Shire, with Bilbo narrating instead of Gandalf. The editing in this scene works far better than in the frantic jump-cutting of the theatrical versions. The familiar Shire theme fiddle tune is back, alternating as it does between whimsy and soaring orchestrated bliss, giving us something upon which to look back as the characters travel into the heart of darkness.
6. Mist and Shadow
In the book this haunting Hobbit travel song, composed by Bilbo, appears just as the Hobbits are leaving the Shire. In The Return of the King it is put to far more ominous use, in anticipation of the coming onslaught of Sauron’s armies. To be sure the melody coupled with the melancholic imagery make it one of the most memorable scenes in the third film. And Billy Boyd has a dreamy voice.
5. The Last March of the Ents
One of the more seemingly laughable elements in Tolkien’s legendarium is the presence of humanoid trees called Ents, apparently inspired by a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is surprising how much these characters actually work especially on film. Believe me, in the wrong hands these walking trees could have turned out perfectly ridiculous. But Peter Jackson makes it work like no other.
4. The End of All Things
This is sort of the last hurrah of the Return of the King soundtrack, just before the ring is destroyed. It is the dramatic high point of the series. The armies of men are in their final show-down with the armies of Mordor. Frodo and Gollum wrestle for possession of the ring to which they’ve both become addicted. All this seems like the end of the world, until comes the ucarastrophy we’ve all been hoping for. The music could not be more fitting.
3. Arwen’s Fate
If there’s anything Peter Jackson excels at it’s really artsy slow-motion montages, and this one is no exception. The beautiful cinematography, Elrond’s lofty narration, and of course the moody lament underscoring it make this one of the best scenes in the entirety of The Two Towers, as Arwen comes to realize the dim fate of Men.
2. The Passing of the Grey Company
This scene appears only in the Extended Cut of The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo and Sam spy on some Elves passing through the Shire on their way to the Grey Havens. They are leaving Middle-Earth, returning to the land of the Valar against whom they once rebelled. As they go they sing a hymn to the Queen of the Valar, Varda, whom they name in Sindarin Elbereth Gilthoniel. Unfortunately the scene is very brief, but on the other hand, the full composition has been released.
1. Lighting the Beacons
A reprise of the Minas Tirith music, this scene is a stunning montage of the mountains of Middle-Earth. Apparently this scene was unscripted and only came together in editing. It is an odd choice, since it is only mountains, but every time I see it my soul simply soars. Enjoy.
Stay tuned. Next week we get to talk about another great film with great music: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me!