<oh, and this is long. quite long. Jostein should be asleep by the fourth
Now that Howard Shore has won his Oscar for "The Lord of the Rings: The
Fellowship of the Ring", I should like to explore for a moment the score’s
It seems at first to be precisely the kind of score one would expect for a
large-scale epic fantasy, and in many ways it is. It is full of gigantic
orchestral passages, fanfarish heroics, darkly scored passages with lots of low
brass for the villains, big choral passages, ethereal choral passages, and
melodies both happy and melancholy. Shore’s work is deftly done in all those
regards and more. While his orchestral and choral writing are indisputably
splendid, with Shore directing his massive resources with consummate
craftsmanship and aplomb, the score is hardly unique in that regard; instead
his work here stands squarely in the tradition of Goldsmith, Williams,
Herrmann, Rozsa, Korngold and all the other great composers of epic scores.
What makes this score so remarkable, especially in this day of frequently
substanceless bombast, is its construction: its symphonic and leitmotifistic
cohesion in which many themes are interrelated and manipulated with a constant
eye and ear for Story.
When the track-listing for the LOTR:FOTR CD was made public, the striking
detail was that most of the track titles were actual chapter titles from the
book. And then, in his Oscar acceptance speech, Shore specifically noted "the
words of Tolkien". These are not coincidences. The LOTR film project is tied to
its literary forebear to a much greater degree than most other notable
book-to-film translations, and this turns out to be the key to Shore’s work
on the LOTR score. Shore uses his music not just to create mood but to reflect
Tolkien’s themes and stories. In fact, while Shore’s score almost perfectly
enhances Peter Jackson’s film, it is Tolkien’s story that dictates how
Shore uses his themes.
Consider, first, what can probably be called the score’s "main theme": the
theme for the Fellowship of the Ring itself. In its boldest form, it is a
fairly obvious heroic theme, and it is heard in full at the film’s most
overtly heroic moments: when the Fellowship is first formed at Rivendell, and
when Aragorn and Frodo leap the bottomless gap in the Mines of Moria. These are
moments of undeniable triumph, and the use of the Fellowship theme there is
entirely appropriate. What makes the theme interesting is in how it is formed.
Shore gives us very brief snippets of it throughout the score up to the
Fellowship’s official formation, musically depicting the slow coming-together
of the Fellowship’s core. And then, after Gandalf’s fall in Moria, the
Fellowship’s theme is never heard in full again. It is quoted as the
Fellowship leaves Lothlorien by a single horn, so soft as to almost be
offstage. We hear it again a few moments later, louder but no more complete.
The musical symbolism is clear: the Fellowship itself is incomplete, and the
lack of balance in the theme foreshadows the eventual final breaking of the
Fellowship. We next hear it partially quoted as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli
pledge to go after Merry and Pippin. However, the theme immediately seques into
the score’s other main theme, that of the Hobbits.
The Hobbit theme is first heard when we first lay eyes on the Shire, and the
theme is similar in contour to the second phrase of the Fellowship theme. That
interrelatedness of the Fellowship and the Hobbit themes allows Shore to
effortlessly switch between the two, and this similarity – the way the middle
section of the Fellowship theme echoes the Hobbit theme – musically depicts
the fact that the Hobbits are central to the mission of the Fellowship itself.
Shore is musically illustrating Tolkien’s conceit that a race long-ignored is
about to step to the fore of the crucial moment in Middle-Earth’s history.
It is also important that the Hobbit theme is first heard when we actually see
the Shire, but not when we first see a Hobbit in the film: in the Prologue we
see Bilbo finding the Ring, but the Hobbit theme is not heard until we see
Frodo in the Shire. Thus Shore tells us several things musically: that it is
Frodo, not Bilbo, who is to form the central focus of the Fellowship, and that
the Hobbits are bound up very closely with their homeland. Hobbits, Tolkien
tells us, rarely leave the Shire; in fact, they rarely leave their own
communities within the Shire. Thus it is that when we first hear the Hobbit
theme it is played as a folk-tune on a fiddle over a playfully tapping
drum-rhythm. The next notable use of the Hobbit theme comes at Rivendell. Shore
does this to convey a sense of homecoming – Tolkien calls Rivendell "The Last
Homely House" – but Shore scores the theme for solo clarinet, the purest
sounding of instruments, and gives it some extra ornamentation, enough of a
variation to make the theme sound somewhat different. The sense of homecoming
is fleeting, and we know from the music that it is not to be permanent.
As noted above, the Fellowship theme at the end of the film yields to a lush
string statement of the Hobbit theme. This is an obvious musical depiction of
the separation of the Fellowship; but the strong relation between the two
themes allows Shore to make the transition from the former to the latter
without some kind of "bridge" section, highlighting the sense of separation to
an even greater degree. Thus it is that at the film’s end the Hobbit theme
plays, in its saddest incarnation, as Sam and Frodo head down into Mordor. But
even then, Shore gives us something more: underneath it can be heard the same
tapping drum rhythm from the theme’s first statement. Shore is here depicting
that it is more than Hobbit against Sauron; it is the Shire against Mordor.
The interrelation of themes in Shore’s LOTR score is not limited to the
Fellowship and the Hobbit themes. There is a militaristic theme for Saruman and
his Uruk-Hai, and this theme opens with three notes (C-B-C), very similar to
the notes that open the Fellowship theme (C-b-flat-C). Where the Fellowship
theme uses the major-second interval and solid rhythms to create a sense of
heroism, the Saruman theme uses the minor-second and an off-center syncopated
rhythm to create a sense of malice. Why would these two themes be so related?
Because the C-B-C motif, the germ from which both themes are grown, can be said
to be the "Man" motif. It is no accident that the first full statement of the
Fellowship theme is not heard until the arrival of Men at Rivendell. A scene
with Gandalf and Elrond makes clear that the fate of Middle Earth is now in the
hands of Men, for good or ill. Thus two themes for the key men in the story,
one good and one evil. It is further worth noting that we do hear a variant of
the Fellowship theme, in a minor key, when Gandalf rides to Isengard to confer
with Saruman. Shore is musically foreshadowing the betrayal. He is telling us,
through music, that Gandalf’s trust in this particular man is misplaced and
will come to ill.
So Shore gives strong, thematically-based depictions of the story’s two most
prominent races. His treatment of the other two is more muted, more
impressionistic. This is also perfectly in keeping with the story. There is no
theme per se for the Elves; instead there is a kind of tone-painting that is
ethereal in nature, hinting musically that the Elves are outside the history of
Middle Earth. Shore employs shimmering strings and soprano vocalists to suggest
the almost alien nature of the Elves. Their music is entirely different from
nearly everything else in the score. But Shore also recognizes that the
film’s two Elvish locales, Rivendell and Lothlorien, are very different in
character, and thus while he takes a similar approach to each they both still
sound very different. Lothlorien has a darker, earthier sound with hints of
Middle-Eastern flavor, and Shore even goes so far as to employ a different
soprano vocalist for the Lothlorien music, one with a different sound than
Enya. The difference in tone is carefully considered, as is the entire decision
to not define the Elves with a single theme of their own. He is musically
reinforcing Tolkien’s conceit that the Age of the Elves is ending. The Elves
are, to a certain extent, "outside" of Tolkien’s history, and thus their
music by Shore is "outside" of his symphonic conception.
Something similar can be said for the fourth race, the Dwarves. Of them we only
see Gimli alive; the rest is hinted at through the shattered remnants of the
Mines of Moria. Here Shore employs very low sounds – men’s chorus, low
strings and brass, et cetera – and he takes a leaf from Wagner and uses
anvil-like percussion. Like the Elves, there is no Dwarf-theme per se; this
allows Shore to compose Dwarvish music that feels incomplete. This is most
striking when the music swells as Gandalf illuminates the Great Hall of Moria,
but even then we don’t get a full melody. The story tells of empty, cavernous
spaces; thus Shore creates music that is empty and cavernous. And he does so
brilliantly before moving onto frenetic action music for the escape from Moria.
Finally, there is the Ring theme itself. Shore does not use the Ring theme
nearly as often as one might expect; we hear it several times in the Prologue,
primarily as the Ring’s journeys from one "owner" to the next are detailed.
Its most striking use occurs late in the film as the Fellowship rows past the
Gates of Argonath. Aragorn points the great statues out to Frodo, and the
symbolism of the exiled King of Gondor coming home is hard to miss; so why is
the Ring motif used instead of, say, the Fellowship theme or perhaps some other
permutation of the "Man" motif for Aragorn’s return? Because Shore knows his
story, and he knows that Aragorn’s return home is not to be – at least, not
yet. He knows that soon Aragorn will have to turn west and go to Rohan (in "The
Two Towers"), while the Ring’s journey to its home will continue. Thus it is
the Ring theme that we hear. Once again, Shore’s sense of Story guides and
illuminates his themes and how he uses them.
And to think of the at-least six hours of "Lord of the Rings" score that Shore
still has ahead of him to compose. Music for the Ents, for the Riders of Rohan,
for Minas Tirith, for the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, for Shelob and her lair, for
the Cracks of Doom, for the Battle at Helm’s Deep, for the Gray
Havens….bring it on, Mr. Shore.
"Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music."
Don´t want to be a nitpicker(especially at such a fine review), but there
where at least 2 more dwarves at the council of Eldron.
My point was that we don't see the Dwarves as a society, but we only get hints
of them as such. Thus, the nonspeaking Dwarves at the Council fit right into
>>>Something similar can be said for the fourth race, the Dwarves. Of them we
>>>see Gimli alive; the rest is hinted at through the shattered remnants of
>>>Mines of Moria.
>>Don´t want to be a nitpicker(especially at such a fine review), but there
>>where at least 2 more dwarves at the council of Eldron.
>My point was that we don't see the Dwarves as a society, but we only get hints
>of them as such. Thus, the nonspeaking Dwarves at the Council fit right into
Oh, it's okay to nitpick?
well, then the fellowship theme actually does play out complete before
the formation of the actual fellowship... when Frodo and Sam are
leaving the shire.... which actually brought me to thinking, maybe
it's more of a "quest" theme? maybe it represents hope? which would
explain its breaking apart after Gandalf's death?
And other than that, I think this was a truly wonderful post, written
with great passion, and a true reverence for its subject matter.
My eyes have opened to a new face of Jaquandor.
My respect for you has grown tremendously.
Michel R. Edward
<You came in those pants? You're braver than I thought.>
[from 25 lines from StarWars that can be improved if you substitute the word "pants"]
>well, then the fellowship theme actually does play out complete before
>the formation of the actual fellowship... when Frodo and Sam are
>leaving the shire.... which actually brought me to thinking, maybe
>it's more of a "quest" theme? maybe it represents hope? which would
>explain its breaking apart after Gandalf's death?
I could, I'm sure, come up with a spirited defense of how this fits in with my
theory, but instead I'll just point to something imaginary behind you, yell
"Look at THAT!!" and run away.
>And other than that, I think this was a truly wonderful post, written
>with great passion, and a true reverence for its subject matter.
>My eyes have opened to a new face of Jaquandor.
>My respect for you has grown tremendously.
Nice try. I'm still not moving to Montreal.
(but thanks for the nice words. I had a great time writing that post.)
It was top-notch Jaq. I greatly enjoyed reading it. I did indeed have to take
a break at around the fourth paragraph to read Jostein a bedtime story (I think
it was The Sneeches this time), but I loved the conclusions you were able to
draw about the relationship between not just the score and the movie, but also
the score and the story. I'm more excited than ever now to read the books.
-- Tasslehoff Burrfoot, Hero of the Lance
> It was top-notch Jaq. I greatly enjoyed reading it. I did indeed have to
> a break at around the fourth paragraph to read Jostein a bedtime story (I
> it was The Sneeches this time)>