BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
MUSIC BY: Howard Shore
It’s taken me a while to figure out how I should even approach writing something like this. Mainly because of the sheer length involved, and the greatness of the material that really involves a complete exploration. You can’t do a half-assed job on something like this, nor would I want to. This is a box set that demands – and deserves – your full attention. This is The Lord of the Rings.
It’s become Hollywood legend now. Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s eternally popular myth needed a strong musical score to get maximum effect out of the work. So did they turn to John Williams, or Jerry Goldsmith, or James Horner? Nope. Howard Shore.
At the time, most people said ‘Howard Shore?!?’ The composer was well known for doing more low-key scores, such as The Silence of the Lambs and David Cronenberg pictures like The Fly, and while the latter is an exercise in operatic tragedy, he didn’t really have the filmography that screamed out ‘epic fantasy film.’ So a lot of us doubted him, myself included. And when the film came out, we discovered that we were all big morons.
What Shore did is equal to what John Williams did for the Star Wars trilogy, although some of it eclipses that, at least conceptually. This is essentially a three-act symphony. But what we got originally with the first release of The Fellowship of the Ring was an eighteen-track album that held approximately just over seventy minutes of music. An hour and ten minutes, that’s not bad, right? Well, consider that this comes from a film that runs just under three hours, and that’s not including the extra half an hour that was included in the extended edition.
So for all of us who felt gypped the first time around, Reprise have finally come through with this magnificent box set. Spanning four discs, this is about three hours of music overall and, to put it bluntly, is a fucking great set. I’m going to run through each disc separately, but before I do that, I’ll give a rundown of the other cool things about this set, along with a little bit of history.
First off, the packaging is amazing. Similar to the DVD cases for the Extended Editions, here we get an imitation CD-sized burgundy “book” that holds a digipack, plus a forty-seven page book about the score, abridged from the forthcoming ‘The Music Of The Lord Of The Rings Films’ book by Doug Adams. It’s a lovely idea, although I would have liked it to have been green, to match the Fellowship Extended DVD, with the forthcoming set for The Two Towers taking the burgundy, and so on. But it’s a minor point.
It’s also worth noting that this is the soundtrack to the Extended Edition of the film. At the same time, these are the actual cues that were on the film’s soundtrack, and edited as such, rather like the Star Wars: Episode I Ultimate Edition, although nowhere near that hackjob quality-wise. What this means is that some of the cues you’ll know from repeated listens to the original one-disc soundtrack are different on this set. I’m still going to keep my original soundtrack as an appendix to this box, rather like I bought both the theatrical and extended DVDs, making them essentially a six-disc set. But enough foreplay, let’s take a look.
A Word of Warning: I’ll be going track by track with this, and at thirty-seven tracks, that’s a lot of writing. So if you’re not ready to commit to this in-depth but admittedly Extended Edition-sized review, I suggest you bow out now. You wuss.
The first disc of the set opens, appropriately, with the main title music, which follows with the Middle-Earth history lesson the movie opened with. ‘Prologue: One Ring To Rule Them All’ is different to the four-minute track on the original album, containing an extra three-minutes to display the prologue – which was extended by three minutes – as it appears on screen, starting with the familiar Elvish choral pattern, now undisturbed by Galadriel’s speech (“The world is changed, etc”). Not that Cate Blanchett’s narration isn’t great, but I’ve waited four damn years to hear this cue without any talking. This then segues into the first version of the sinister nine-note Ring main theme, as the main title appears (this theme is known as “The History of the Ring”). This continues for a few seconds longer, until it moves into into a tense march, rising in power with each note as it plays over the forging of the One Ring, and Sauron’s hordes and their devilish deeds.
Some quite brassy and dramatic music scores the Last Alliance of Men and Elves as they march into battle in Mordor, which soon gives way to some heavy dark choral work as they fight Sauron’s armies. Suddenly, the music stops and the track is punctuated by heavy percussion as Sauron himself steps into the fray, armed with a very big mace and The One Ring. His attacks start up the choral sections again, which give way to the four-note theme titled The Fall of Men as Elendil is killed. This segues into rising strings that quicken in pace as his son, Isildur, picks up the broken Narsil and slices off Sauron’s fingers, and more importantly, the Ring.
The main Ring theme is reprised as we see Isildur pick it up, and a sinister motif follows as he gives in to the temptation of the Ring, and we see him wearing the Ring around his neck. Even in the first few minutes, Shore illustrates the power of the Ring’s seduction in a simple but effective way, and it sets the groundwork for what’s to come. We hear brassy battle music as his party is attacked by Orcs, and it inevitably gives way to the Ring theme as it slips from his fingers in the great river Anduin, and he falls into death.
This is followed by some dark foreboding music that segues into Gollum’s theme as we see him pick up the Ring and take it deep into the Misty Mountains. Like so many of the themes, Gollum’s is a piece that is occasionally heard in The Fellowship of the Ring, but comes into more prominence in the later parts, especially as relating to Frodo. It’s a fantastic theme that sounds vaguely reminiscent of the main Ring “History” theme, yet sounds as twisted and gangly and pathetic as the character it represents. The theme is drawn out with some beautiful strings, until it moves back to the Ring theme scoring the Ring’s escape. This is followed by some hopeful music as the prologue ends and we cross-fade to what, four years later, is a very familiar sight.
‘The Shire’ moves us into Bag End, scored by the beautiful “Pensive” Shire theme, which segues into the first statement of the Fellowship theme as the book’s title appears on screen. This is immediately followed with what is known as the “Rural” Shire theme, which was a new composition for the Extended Edition scoring Bilbo’s narration as he writes the introduction to his book. It’s a slower and more playful version of ‘Concerning Hobbits,’ which was the second track on the original album. Using fiddles, harp, guitar, dulcimer and other Celtic instruments, it presents a frivolous musical illustration of the Hobbits as they go about their daily business, i.e. eating, drinking and gardening.
It’s a nice piece, although I’ll be perfectly honest, I prefer it in its later form. I wasn’t a fan of Holm’s narration (the narration was great, but the actual placing of the scene) and I preferred the original opening with Frodo sitting by the tree reading. But now, the third track, ‘Bag End,’ introduces that scene, starting with the first few notes of the Pensive theme on whistle before giving way to Ian McKellen’s Gandalf singing Tolkien’s song ‘The Road Goes Ever On,’ again something not featured on the original album. The song is a perfect introduction to Gandalf’s character, and finishes with a short whistle section, bookending the opening section. Frodo leaping onto Gandalf (no comments from the peanut gallery) starts up what most of you know as ‘Concerning Hobbits,’ as it was known on the original album. A more accomplished version of the Pensive theme, this is a beautiful piece that serves as our second introduction to Hobbiton, and scores Frodo and Gandalf’s conversation in his cart. It’s not the same as on the original album, mainly for editing but also because of a section two and a quarter minutes in of tense strings as Bilbo thinks he’s lost the Ring.
It’s an amazing piece, especially when it soars, and when it stops for a second when Gandalf sets off his fireworks for the children, it just encapsulates the joy of The Shire and its bucolic setting. I prefer the original version of the track as a pure listening experience on its own, as I feel the Bilbo section interrupts the flow a bit too much. But that’s the only half-negative thing I can say about it.
‘Very Old Friends’ starts with a reprise of the Pensive theme as Bilbo opens his door to find Gandalf staring at him. It continues using the Hobbit Outline accompaniment, moving about in a quirky way as Bilbo jaunts around, stopping to reflect with a more serious string section as Gandalf picks up an old dusty map Bilbo’s been studying. We return to the Outline part, before moving back into a more mature and slightly darker progression as Bilbo tells his friend of his yearning to travel again. It ends with a short rendition of the Pensive theme as the pair sit on a hill, smoking their pipes.
‘Flaming Red Hair’ is another piece of diagetic music, written and performed by Plan 9. It’s a bouncy and rustic Celtic theme that’s used as the music for Bilbo’s party, as performed by Hobbits themselves. It’s a fun little piece, but I don’t find it that enjoyable to listen to on its own, and I swear I heard a quotation from ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ from Fiddler On The Roof in there. ‘Farewell Dear Bilbo’ starts with a short mischievous piece scoring Merry and Pippin’s introduction, before going into another pensive and ruminating piece with Bilbo reiterating his desire to leave, before going back into Merry and Pippin’s music, which goes from playful to tense as they steal Gandalf’s dragon firework and let it loose upon the party guests.
‘Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe’ opens with a tense string piece that underscores the final part of Bilbo’s speech, and his subsequent disappearance as he uses the Ring. This moves into an ethereal, which subsequently segues into the History of the Ring theme as Bilbo covets the Ring, much to Gandalf’s distaste, climbing to dark and tense heights as the wizard displays some of his magic, then moving to calmer and more serene music as Bilbo relents, pausing only for a moment to turn more sinister as he forgets to leave the Ring, reprising some of the Mordor theme from the prologue, then moving back as he drops it on the floor and returning to the Pensive theme as he leaves, overlayed with Ian Holm’s reprise of ‘The Road Goes Ever On.’
Darker music takes over as Frodo returns, his finding of the Ring on the floor a catalyst for a reprise of the History theme, which moves to a brilliant little section where Shore uses the first few notes of Gollum’s theme as he moves to leave, on a mission to capture the creature (obviously not in the film, but spoken of later). This suddenly gives way to the first fully-blown rendition of Sauron’s theme as we are introduced to the sight of his hordes rebuilding Barad-dur, and the nine riders in black departing from Minas Morgul in a horrific chorus sung in Adûnaic, Tolkien’s language for the ancient men. The track ends with Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd singing the ‘Drinking Song’ as they, to put it bluntly, dance around blind drunkenly after a night of ale in the Green Dragon.
‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’ starts with a light reprise of the Pensive theme, and then dives straight on into some pretty dark and foreboding movements as Frodo returns alone to find Gandalf, who has returned with one express purpose: he needs to see the ring Bilbo gave him. Gandalf throws it in the fire, only to discover the flaming Mordor-tongue inscribed on it, revealing its true identity. Shore starts to really up the tension here, pausing to play the Mordor theme as the Nazgul approach The Shire, and cunningly playing Gollum’s pitiful theme as Frodo asks if anyone knows of the Ring. This segues into a tense crescendo as Gandalf reveals Gollum’s torture at the hands of Sauron, and the two words uttered by the foul creature: ‘Shire’ and ‘Baggins,’ as the Ringwraiths draw nearer. A reprise of the Pensive theme and the Mordor movement close the track as Frodo readies himself to leave.
The beginning of ‘Three Is Company’ is marked by the first appearance of the third Ring theme – Seduction. Sung by a boy’s choir to project the innocence, purity and naivety of the Hobbits, as well as the Ring taking its attempts of temptation to a new level with a new voice. This moves on to a preview of two themes that will grow and expand as the film goes on: firstly the ‘Hymn’ theme, from the end of the film, which plays as Sam takes his first step out of Hobbiton, thematically linking that moment of the Hobbit reluctantly beginning a far-flung journey to the final moments of the film, where he instinctively chooses to follow Frodo on his quest. This is subsequently followed by what is the first real statement of the Fellowship theme, in a very warm and truncated form, indicating the beginnings of the quest. It’s these kind of moments that make the score so special, and material placed here that is not only fleshed out in this film, but in the next two as well.
‘The Passing of the Elves’ is another track from Plan 9, scoring the extended sequence where Frodo and Sam watch the wood elves as they leave Middle-Earth, singing a lament signifying their sadness at moving on, as adapted from Tolkien’s text. It’s a good piece, but it almost seems out of place alongside Shore’s other work. Perhaps this is intentional, as they are supposed to be from different realms than we actually see in the film, but even Lothlorien and Rivendell seem part of the same musical world that this does not.
As its name suggests, ‘Saruman the White’ underscores Gandalf’s journey to Isengard to meet with his fellow wizard. The track begins with a dramatic and darker-tinged rendition of the embryonic Fellowship theme, personifying the serious nature of his quest, as opposed to the lighter vein of the Hobbits, who still don’t know what real dangers they face. Despite Gandalf’s apparent readiness to seek counsel from Saruman, his appearance is scored by the ‘Mordor Threat’ theme, already signifying to us his defection to the side of evil. This continues, until it segues into a terrifying chorus of the Black Speech of Mordor as Gandalf and Saruman battle it out, with the former coming out on the losing side. It’s this kind of track that Shore is so good at, especially from his past history working with such directors as Cronenberg, and it makes ‘Duel of the Fates’ sound like the Backstreet Boys.
‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms’ reintroduces Merry and Pippin to us as they run into Frodo and Sam after stealing from Farmer Maggot. Using the light sounds of the Hobbit themes, the music takes us into the realm of humour for a bit, until the mood is disturbed by the ominous beginnings of the Nazgul theme. The theme echoes as they chase the Hobbits through the woods, rising in pitch and tension as Frodo is separated from the others, barely making the escape onto the ferry, made almost unbearably tense by Shore using an instrumental version of the Ringwraith theme, and using the chorus only towards the end as the Nazgul grow closer.
Closing the first disc is ‘Strider,’ which follows the Hobbits to the village of Bree and the Prancing Pony inn, their score quietly stalked by subtle movements of the Nazgul theme. Reassuring strains sound when they reach the inn, although this soon turns to nervousness as they discover Gandalf isn’t there, and that they are alone. Or so they think. After slipping on the Ring accidentally, Frodo is accosted by a mysterious stranger who calls himself Strider, accompanied by the first version of the ‘Heroics of Aragorn’ theme, which manifests itself as mysterious, but slightly heroic. This continues as the other Hobbits join him, and segues into ‘The Nazgul’ as the black riders descend on the Prancing Pony. Inevitably invoking the Ringwraith Chorus, the music follows that tense line until the party leaves Bree, led by Strider, upon which it starts to take on a more-rounded version of the Fellowship theme. The track ends with the ethereal and soulful sounds of Viggo Mortensen singing ‘The Song of Luthien,’ an Elvish number about Beren and Luthien, Elf/Mortal lovers that have parallels towards Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship, and eventual fate.
The second disc opens with ‘Weathertop,’ as Strider and the Hobbits take refuge at the ancient watchtower of Amon Sûl. The music immediately kicks off with an aggressive version Mordor Threat motif with low-frequency choral underpinnings, rising slowly as the Ringwraiths approach the Hobbits, who realize they’re in a huge amount of trouble as the music rises to unbearably tense levels. This leads directly into ‘The Caverns of Isengard’ as Strider leaps into the fray, his theme now taking on an even greater sense of heroism as he drives the Nazgul away, although not without a crucial injury to Frodo. This segues to the first appearance of the Isengard theme as we see the transformation of Orthanc and its surrounding area, climbing the tower to see a beaten Gandalf. The beautiful soprano vocals of Edward Ross announce the arrival of a moth, using the Nature’s Reclaimation theme to provide an opposition to the industriality of Isengard, a theme that will further develop in the next two films. As the moth leaves, the Isengard motif returns, driving itself like the machinery it represents as we see the devilry that Saruman is creating below the tower.
A beautiful ethereal choir announces the arrival of Arwen at the beginning of ‘Give Up The Halfling,’ as the Elven princess takes Frodo and rides to her home, the Ringwraiths in pursuit. Shore builds the theme with heroic and hopeful strings with underlying threatening percussion representing the Nazgul, and quickly develops the track into a tense chase piece, bringing in the wraiths’ chorus as they pursue her to the Ford of Bruinen, building ever more with brassy heroic and a crash of cymbals as she reaches the Ford, to create an Elvish tidal wave to wash the Nazgul away. The track ends with a reprise of Arwen’s choral theme, echoing her pleads to the Valar to save his life.
‘Orthanc’ is a short piece underscoring the telling of Gandalf’s escape from Isengard, building with a tense movement that nearly unleashes into Sauron’s theme, before launching into a soaring crescendo as he falls onto Gwaihir the eagle and makes his escape. A light rephrase of the Pensive Hobbit theme opens ‘Rivendell,’ one of Shore’s best pieces, followed by the majestic Rivendell theme, illustrating the beauty and splendour of the elves. This segues into an emotional rendition of the Shire Hymn Setting theme as Frodo is reunited with Bilbo that, if I’m perfectly honest, just sends me into tears with how beautiful it is. The theme continues as Sam and Frodo discuss leaving Rivendell, to get back to The Shire and where they belong, a subtle choir underscoring the theme as Frodo agrees.
‘The Sword That Was Broken’ opens with a slightly darker and more dramatic rendition of the Rivendell theme as we see more of the members of the council arrive, under the watch of Gandalf and Elrond. The score grows ever darker – and louder – as Elrond recounts his tale of he and Isildur venturing into the heart of Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, only to have the latter refuse, thus sealing his fate. The ‘Evil Times’ motif, a sinister and foreboding movement that will develop in turn as the Fellowship’s quest expands across the trilogy, closes the track as Aragorn and Boromir meet over the Shards of Narsil.
The first piece of music written by Irish songstress Enya appears in ‘The Council of Elrond Assembles,’ with the beautifully idyllic and spiritual ‘Aniron,’ scoring the rejoining of Aragorn and Arwen as they share a romantic moment. I know some people were against the Celtic mistress being involved in the saga, but I love what she wrote for the movie, and to be honest, I wish she worked on the other movies. Aniron gives way to tense strings and foreboding movements as the Council assembles, moving into a high and very sinister reprise of the History of the Ring theme, followed by the Ringwraith movement creating an air of threat and danger around the Ring and all those who wish to possess it.
One of the most interesting musical pieces in the film opens ‘The Great Eye,’ as a melancholy and almost depressing theme that underscores Boromir’s speech about his country and his father. It’s a subtle theme, so subtle that I remember when the trailer for The Return of the King arrived, and people were asking what music scored the second half and where it came from. The answer, which is well-known know after we saw the last film, is the Realm of Gondor theme. This is a great example of Shore’s brilliance, using what is called the Decline movement of the theme to illustrate Boromir’s anger at his country’s seeming defence of the whole of Middle-Earth, which will only be resolved in the third film with the Ascension motif as the king returns, although it makes a brief appearance in the Extended Edition of The Two Towers.
The material takes an even darker turn when Boromir raises the idea of using the Ring against Sauron, which segues to a combination of the Mordor and Nazgul themes when the various members argue on who will take the Ring, displaying its power of seduction for all to see. The dark atmosphere is suddenly broken as Frodo announces he will take the Ring, with a beautiful string section that moves into an even more pronounced formation of the Fellowship theme, as Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Boromir swear their allegiance to Frodo and the quest. The Pensive theme returns as Sam, followed by Merry and Pippin, sneaks into the council and announces his intention to accompany him, before swelling into the first properly developed statement of the Fellowship theme, as Elrond names them as the Fellowship of the Ring, closing the track.
‘Gilraen’s Memorial’ opens with the first appearance of the ‘Diminishment of the Elves’ theme, which comes into more prominence in The Two Towers, but here is used to score the scene from the Extended Edition of Aragorn kneeling at the grave of his mother, and his subsequent conversation with Elrond about Arwen , who wishes that she would stay with her people. It’s a beautiful theme, full of sadness and an almost weariness, but one that still keeps the ethereal quality of the Elves. This is followed by a short quotation that reminds me of Shore’s opening credits of The Silence of the Lambs, which takes us to Frodo and Bilbo, where the younger Hobbit is given the infamous mithril vest. The brightness descends quickly into dark tones and a surprising and jolting string movement as Bilbo attempts to grab the Ring, moving to the Hymn setting as Bilbo apologises for bringing the Ring upon Frodo. The track climaxes with a movement signalling the Fellowship’s departure, with a statement of the Fellowship cue giving way to a sweet movement as Frodo leads the way out of Rivendell. This moves with a beautiful soaring choir to a very quiet string moment as Aragorn faces Arwen, a moment which – as we find out in The Two Towers – is much more bittersweet than we originally thought. This is ended by a loud and brassily heroic version of the Fellowship theme as the iconic scene of the nine walking over the mountain plays out, signifying the beginning of the journey.
The Fellowship’s journey starts out in a light vein, with some quite jaunty and fun music beginning ‘The Pass of Caradhras,’ as the Hobbits mock-fight with Boromir and Aragorn. This soon segues to darker and foreboding music, building to a crescendo as a flock of Crebain (i.e. birds) enters the fray, the harsh music dissipating as they leave and we are told by Gandalf that they are Saruman’s spies. Realizing their position is known, they decide to take the pass of the mountain Caradhras. The perilous route is scored by Dangerous Passes, a tired and weary motif that encapsulates the hard times ahead, especially for the Hobbits. This is especially highlighted when Frodo falls, losing the Ring, only for it to be picked up by Boromir. The Seduction of the Ring theme plays as the man of Gondor holds the Ring, displaying its instant temptation to him and ceasing as he gives it back to the Hobbit, under Aragorn’s suspicious and watchful eye.
Suddenly, the Isengard motif comes in as the Crebain return to Orthanc, and Saruman is informed of the route the Fellowship is taken. The tired motif returns as the snow rains down, seemingly getting worse. A powerful and brassy heroic movement scores Gandalf as he chants to the spirit of the mountain, before growing darker as we see Saruman at the top of his tower, controlling the spirit. Dwarven drums sound as a foreboding message as the group decides to go to the mines of Moria.
A reprise of Dangerous Passes opens ‘The Doors of Durin,’ as the Fellowship arrive at the mine’s invisible walls. A rendition of the History of the Ring theme follows with a rising crescendo and some darker tones until a choral passage underscores the revelation of the door, as reflected by moonlight. As the Fellowship waits as Gandalf tries to remember the password, a quiet and subtle movement underlies the tension until the doors open, and Moria’s ancient percussion rhythms kick in with straggly rising strings as they discover the death inside. This is interrupted by heavy drums and a very strange thematic pattern that sounds very Cronenbergesque as the Watcher in the Water rises out of the water and attacks the Hobbits, or more accurately, Frodo and the Ring.
Male Dwarven choir runs through ‘Moria,’ as the Fellowship make their way through the mine, the escape route blocked up. The choir intensifies as they progress through, with the heavy drums creating an unnerving atmosphere for our heroes. ‘Gollum’ creates a symphony of pity and sadness, dominated by Gollum’s slinking theme as Gandalf reveals the creature is following them, and recounts his tale to Frodo. Here, Shore uses very slow and almost ethereal music at times to portray Gollum not as a villain, but as a victim of the Ring. As Gandalf tells Frodo that pity stayed Bilbo’s hand after wishing he had killed him, the Hobbit Understanding motif plays, as Gandalf explains ‘all we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us,’ underlying this key theme that will influence Frodo in events to come.
‘Balin’s Tomb’ is a magnificent piece that debuts the glorious Dwarrowdelf theme, soaring with a mixture of grandeur and sadness as the Fellowship discovers the huge abandoned city. The cue turns from majesty to frenetic urgency as Gimli discovers the casket of his cousin. A melancholy version of the Dwarrowdelf theme plays as he stands before the coffin, knowing all that was once great about the city is lost. Fast strings accompany the action as the Moria Goblins discover the Fellowship, assisted by a very dumb, but very large, cave troll. The music immediately dies down as the attack begins, but returns as the troll stalks Frodo, recalling some of the more traditional movie monster scores, using high strings and brass against the backdrop of heavy drums. The cue breaks down into some very high strings as Frodo is skewered by the creature, only to segue into a heroic theme as he reveals his Mithril vest. The track is concluded by the beginning of one of the best musical sequences in the film, as Gandalf’s command to run to the bridge of Khazad-dum acts as a catalyst for a powerfully heroic rendition of the Fellowship theme.
The third disc kicks off in the same way as the second one ended, with the rollicking ‘Khazad-dum,’ the best action piece in the entire set, and perhaps the trilogy. The track begins with gutteral chanting, announcing the arrival of the Balrog, and quickly belts off with Gandalf’s cry of ‘Run,’ heavy percussion attacking us on all sides as the Fellowship run through the caverns and towards a staircase that leads to the distant bridge. The Moria theme builds the tension incredibly, using the choir and drums to develop a movement of fire and anger, as the group flees from the still unseen enemy, throwing each other across a broken gap in the staircase. Suddenly, the staircase begins to crack, and as Frodo and Aragorn are left stranded, the male chorus chants higher and higher until they reach the crescendo of the Fellowship theme as the pair make it across.
The Balrog theme follows as the group start to make it across the bridge, the notes building ever higher as everyone makes it across – except Gandalf, who stays back as another crescendo announces the manifestation of the Balrog. Expecting another heroic theme, we are instead treated to a dark chorus and the Moria drums, along with rising brass as the wizard battles the demon, with the movement coming to a sudden and shocking reprise of the drums as the unthinkable happens – and Gandalf falls. As the shell-shocked Fellowship escape from the mine to the relative safety of outside, a single soprano sings a song of mourning for Gandalf, backed by a sorrowful choir. It’s one of the most beautiful moments in the film, seeing the effect of his death on the group, especially Frodo, and so much of it is due to Shore’s composition here. Amazing, amazing stuff which gives the film the power and emotion that puts it above its fellow contenders.
The ethereal motif of the Elves from the opening credits returns as we reach ‘Calas Galadhon,’ a pensive and almost eulogistic cue that fits the events we’ve just seen unfold perfectly. Sinister strings underplay the choir as the Fellowship are found by Haldir and his comrades, and taken to their lair, almost as hostages. As they wait, the History of the Ring theme is heard as the Fellowship look back at Frodo, giving him a sense of paranoia that he is taking them down a dark route with him. A majestic and grand movement follows as they are taken to the woods of Lorien, the choir returning as they journey up the huge staircases to the tops of the trees, and the domain of Galadriel. Her theme plays as they relay the news of Gandalf, followed by a dark and stripped-down version of the Hobbit Understanding motif. Elizabeth Fraser’s emotive and otherworldly vocals close the track with the Lament for Gandalf, a musical eulogy for the fallen wizard.
Another example of a theme developed in this film but not expanded on until the third opens ‘The Mirror of Galadriel.’ Officially known as Minas Tirith (Silver Trumpets), the theme is used quietly to underscore the conversation between Aragorn and Boromir, as the latter tells of Gondor, his father, and his wish for the both of them to return to the White Tower. This theme has a double-purpose here, illustrating both Boromir’s need to get back to his people, but also signifying Aragorn’s reluctance to return to the city and take on the mantle he rightly deserves, illustrated both through dialogue and music. The theme will only return when he decides to do this, scoring the creation and eventual gifting of Anduril, the reforged Narsil in The Return of the King, albeit in a more triumphant and hopeful rendition.
Galadriel’s theme returns as Frodo approaches her, drawn to her and the mirror. Suspenseful strings sound as he looks in the mirror, and sees the eyes of the Fellowship upon him, enforcing his paranoia. The Mordor motif underscores his vision of The Shire as enslaved by Orcs, and his vision of the Great Eye as the Ring is drawn towards the mirror. As he pulls away, the History of the Ring theme plays, followed by a bittersweet rendition of the Hymn Setting theme. This gives way to a powerful brass movement as Frodo offers Galadriel the Ring, and she illustrates what would happen if she did take it. The Hymn theme returns as Galadriel shows faith in Frodo and his completion of the quest, closing the track.
The violent and aggressive Isengard motif opens ‘The Fighting Uruk-hai’ as Saruman’s hordes are sent out to find the halflings and bring back the Ring. This segues to the Lothlorien theme, followed by Hobbit music as the Fellowship is given gifts by Galadriel, before setting out on their journey. Darker strains accompany Aragorn as he is given a dagger by Celeborn, and informed that he is being tracked by the Uruk-hai. A beautiful female chorus sings a farewell song as the group departs, followed by elements of the Fellowship theme, which is soon interrupted by the Isengard theme as their pursuers gain ground. This moves to a subtle rendition of Gollum’s theme as the Fellowship shore up, and Aragorn reveals he is still tracking them, along with the Hymn theme as Sam and Frodo discuss the quest, capped by a dark and slightly foreboding version of the Fellowship theme as Aragorn berates Boromir for once again mentioning using the Ring themselves. Both the music and the film display the same thing – the Fellowship is at breaking point.
Following this is one of the most beautiful and majestic cues in the film, The Argonath. Shore begins with a choral reading of Elessar’s Oath (the one Aragorn sings during his coronation) and moves into a powerful version of the History of the Ring theme, as we see these giant statues, relics of an age long since disappeared. Originally, the track was presented on the first album without the scene on the shore, which was inserted in the film for the Extended Edition. As useful as the scene is, especially to illustrate the growing distrust between Aragorn and Boromir, I still feel musically, the original track was better, with the passage allowing time to breathe before its eventual crescendo with the Ring theme. Still, it’s an amazing piece of music.
We next see the Fellowship shored up again at ‘Parth Galen,’ where they discuss their next routes. However, two members are missing. Boromir – and Frodo. The History of the Ring underplays the uncertainty of the scene, and a combination of Hobbit and Mordor motifs illustrate the danger of the situation as Boromir tries to take the Ring, only for Frodo to put it on and escape. As the Fall of Men theme – originally played for Elendil’s death in the prologue – returns, encapsulating Boromir’s failure to resist the temptation of the Ring, the Mordor motif returns fully-blown as the shadow world is once again revealed to Frodo, along with a vision of the now rebuilt Barad-dur and the flaming Eye of Sauron.
As he takes off the Ring, Frodo is now met with Aragorn. Remembering Boromir, he fears the Ranger, but asks him if he would take it. As Aragorn approaches, the Seduction of the Ring theme plays, the boy choir humming the theme of purity and beauty to tempt him. Aragorn refuses, and closes Frodo’s hand, cutting off the theme. Before they have a proper chance to say farewell, the Uruk-hai arrive, causing Aragorn to take them on, with his fully developed heroic theme accompanying him. The theme clashes with the four-beat Isengard motif, as the Fellowship finally come into direct contact with their aggressors. But by now, Aragorn’s theme is dominating the proceedings, broken only by a full rendition of the Isengard theme as their captain, Lurtz, bears down on Boromir. His valiant efforts are scored by a heroic chorus, but are suddenly cut off as Lurtz fires an arrow into him, foretelling his eventual fate.
His fate is told in ‘The Departure of Boromir,’ introducing the Noble End theme, sung by a boy’s choir. The theme moves slower and slower as more arrows pierce Boromir, and comes to a halt as Lurtz approaches him, ready to strike the death blow. This is immediately interrupted by a strike of brassy heroics and pounding drums as Aragorn attacks him, his theme lashing out to a crescendo as he defeats the Uruk-hai. But it is too late. A beautiful mournful movement accompanies Boromir as he utters his last words of regret, and of his admiration for Aragorn. A single soprano moves in as he passes, followed by a reprise of the strings along with a bittersweet rendition of the Fellowship theme as Aragorn says farewell to the son of Gondor.
‘The Road Goes Ever On… Part I’ is essentially the majority of the track on the original album named ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship.’ A beautiful rendition of the Hymn theme plays the track in, followed by the Understanding motif as Sam desperately tries to follow Frodo, who has already begun his lone journey. The music swells beautifully as Frodo rescues Sam and agrees to take his friend along, hitting the heights of emotion without ever overplaying it. A whistling rendition of the Hymn theme scores their partnership, underplayed by a choral version.
This segues into an emotional string movement as Boromir’s body is sent over the Falls of Rauros, and the Fellowship decides what to do next. The movement is almost indecisive, and pensive, but soon starts to swell into a more heroic motif as they plan rescuing Merry and Pippin, finishing with a final statement of the Fellowship theme as they depart after their friends. The Hobbit Understanding motif scores Frodo and Sam as they prepare to pass through the craggy rocks of Emyn Muil, with a reprise of the Pensive theme as Frodo expresses his happiness at Sam being with him, and the track – and the film – closes with a beautiful choral version of the Hymn Setting.
It’s hard to express just how powerful this track is. As the scene played in theaters, everyone around was reduced to a blubbery mess, and so much of that is down to Shore’s music here, particularly the use of the Hymn theme. It’s an emotional piece that not only encapsulates the central theme of friendship that the Hobbits treasure so much, but also the hope for the journey ahead.
The final two tracks comprise the film’s end credits, beginning with ‘May It Be,’ as sung by Enya. Each of the films have had a different female vocalist closing the films, and they have all fit perfectly, especially here, where again, a sense of hope for the future is gained, as well as the nature of friendship, a theme which is enforced in ‘The Road Goes Ever On… Part II,’ which begins with a reprise of the Hymn Setting, before heading into ‘In Dreams,’ a beautiful vocal performance with lyrics by Fran Walsh, mixing the Hymn Setting and the Fellowship theme. It’s an amazing cue, and was originally heard at the end of ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship,’ as a replacement for the instrumental version that closes the movie. A reprise of the Rivendell motif follows, followed by a powerful and climactic rendition of the Fellowship theme as the end credits finish.
And that’s it. Is it good? Very much so. Perfect? No. I would have very much liked to have seen a disc with additional material, perhaps with the alternate cues as presented on the original album, or perhaps some alternate cues that weren’t used at all. As I mentioned before, I’ll be keeping that album as an appendix to this set. Also, I would have liked the cues to be a bit more individually represented. But to be perfectly honest, the last disc makes up for all of that. There’s no additional material, but what you get is great if you either love great sound or are too lazy to change discs. You get the ENTIRE SCORE on one DVD-Audio disc featuring Dolby 5.1 Surround. How good is that? And it sounds unbelievable.
You also get the aforementioned and absolutely badass forty-seven page mini-book called ‘The Music of The Lord of the Rings, Part I: The Fellowship of the Ring.’ This is essentially a preview of a book about the music of the trilogy coming out next year by a fella named Doug Adams, and while that makes it sound like a marketing thing, let me tell you, these liner notes are amazing. So helpful that I used them while writing this review, cause let me tell you, keeping track of all these themes is not an easy task.
In terms of the quality of the music, The Fellowship of the Ring – The Complete Recordings is near-unbeatable. It’s the best score of its type since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, and the only recent scores that really come close are its sequels. But what’s telling about how good the music really is comes from the ability to listen to it as a symphony rather than a film, and to explore the development of themes to see where they go, and how they go about getting there. It’s fascinating stuff, especially in terms of themes such as the Gondor motif, developed in this film but not fully rendered until the third part. But it’s really necessary to get in a dark room with this set and give it a listen to appreciate the score’s genius.
Some of you might be thinking ‘Sixty bucks? That’s crazy.’ True, but when you consider you’re not only getting the entire recording of one of the greatest musical scores ever recorded, along with a full 5.1 DVD of the score, it’s worth it. Hell, most movie music freaks are ready to drop more than that on a single rare Eurotrash horror disc, so it’s not much really, especially since you can get it easily at a lower price than the MSRP.
In any case, if you love soundtracks, or The Lord of the Rings, or you’re just a music freak in general, I implore you to pick this up. Or if you’re like me, I challenge you to go into a store that sells it and not come out with it. Hell, I’m already calling it ‘My Precious…’