Film Score Friday: ‘The Lord of the Rings Symphony’ by Howard Shore by Jonathan Weilbaecher, Sep 16 2011
There are a few quintessential film scores in every generation. Amongst the first of the new century is the music from The Fellowship of the Ring, Howard Shore’s epic, sweeping and moving first score in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. At the end of the day, all three scores work together to tell the single story of the Lord of the Rings, weaving in and out of complex themes and structures more like an opera than a traditional film score.
This epic master work has recently found new life with the release of The Lord of the Rings Symphony, a six movement piece that spans the entire trilogy. The music is structured into two movements per movie, emulating the two books in each volume of the trilogy. Each movie getting between twenty and forty minutes of their best musical moments, woven together like a single cohesive musical experience.
So the first question on my mind as I hear about this release is how it sounds. Many times when there is a re-recording of a release, it doesn’t have that certain spark of the original recording, the music is all there, but it is just not quite the same. Thankfully, for this release the music is almost perfection, and several cases I even prefer the new recorded cues to the originals I have listened to for years.
So yes, the music translates wonderfully to this new arrangement, and the heavy inclusion of choirs and vocalists is a big reason for it. The film’s music had the luxury of finding the most talented singers and musicians for the original recordings, and the people who played and sang on this release stands toe to toe with them. Even the end credits songs, which each have iconic and different singular sounds are covered with skill. I can easily see my self lightening to this album when I want a quick Lord of the Rings fix, it is that good.
Normally I do my three favorite tracks, and my least favorite. With only six tracks on this release and none worth pointing out as a worst, I am instead going to just go over each movement:
Movement One - The beginning, the mood setter, and the track with the most heavy lifting to do. One of, if not the, most iconic themes of the trilogy is that of the Hobbits. In the movies this theme is introduced very quickly as Bilbo explains Hobbits to the audience. When you start movement one, you are not yet sure how good the whole thing will sound. The music from the prologue is presented well, but it isn’t until the Hobbit music that you realize that you are in good hands. The best part is that it isn’t just a carbon copy, this version even has some of it’s own texture, which really brings it to life in this setting.
Movement Two - This is the longest single movement from the album, and it is almost entirely brilliant. It starts with the elves and the etherial sounds of Rivendell, moves triumphantly to the Fellowship theme, and continues to wow as the second half of the first film is played out beautifully. There are two moments in this movement I want to focus on, the first being the single best version of the Fellowship theme I have ever heard.
It is big, heroic and never fails to give me goosebumps. The second moment is a smaller moment that never stood out to me before on any soundtrack release. When the fellowship passes by the Argonath, statues honoring the kings of old, the music is just stunning. I know I picked up on it in the movies, but never on a soundtrack release, until now.
Movement Three - Moving on to the second film now, movement three has some more amazing music. When you first hear the theme for the people of Rohan I almost lose it every time. The way it builds from the pieces of the fellowship theme, and a great version of the orcs music is just perfect. In context of the symphony I think it actually plays better, in fact I think it sounds better too. This movement also has some really great Isengard themes as well, really selling the point that this moment in the symphony represents the lowest, most hopeless point in the journey.
Movement Four – This music represents the turning of the tide, when hope rode back into story. It begins with the elves marching to be at the side of man one last time and then transitions into my favorite moment in the entire symphony. The music that accompanies Theoden’s ride out to the Uruk-hi and Gandalf’s epic return is easily the most moving music Shore has ever written.
Again it is the context of what music plays around this cue that elevates it even more. Also of note in this movement is a wonderful version of Gollum’s Song, the original version has much more of a nordic vide to it, and this version is sung a little more traditionally. I think this actually improves the song.
Movement Five - We have finally come to music from the last of the films. There is a lot going on in this movie, and on the soundtrack the score does kind of jump around a bit. More so than either of the other two films, and the rearrangement of the music into this symphonic package really brings out the best of it. My favorite moment in this movement is the music for the lighting of the beacons, a thrilling, if a little hooky, moment from the movies that plays beautifully in this movement. Also a tiny moment from Faramir’s ride to Osgiliath is buried in here and is a perfect counter to all of the battle music that populates the rest of the track.
Movement Six - The film might have twenty five endings, but the music for the last portion of The Return of the King is so good that I would have sat through twenty five more. The movement starts with the music from the final confrontation of good vs. evil. Frodo and Sam are on mount doom, Aragorn is leading the men of the west to the gates of Mordor, basically sh*t is about to go down. Seamlessly the music lays of the final battle, hitting on most of the iconic musical moments for the perfect amount of time.
From this epic finale it then plays off with almost the entire music from the prolonged end of the trilogy, even the song Aragorn sings at his coronation is here. It is beautiful, every note, all the way to the very end with a version of Into the West and a wonderful cue that lives at the very end of the credits, fittingly closing the book on one of the greatest musical achievements in modern history.
So yeah, I loved this symphony. It is perfect, amazing, beautiful, or just about any adjective you can use to describe something great. Even if you own the original soundtracks and the complete recordings (as I do) you will want to make sure to pick this up.
Final ScoreThe Lord of the Rigs Symphony: 5 out of 5
The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
The following entry presents criticism on Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-55).
A leading philologist of his day, Tolkien was an Oxford University professor who, along with Oxford colleagues C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams, helped revive popular interest in the medieval romance and the fantastic tale. Tolkien is best known for his epic fantasy/romance trilogy of novels, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien gained a reputation during the 1960s and 1970s as a cult figure among youths disillusioned with war and the technological age; his continuing popularity evidences his ability to evoke the oppressive realities of modern life while drawing audiences into a fantasy world. Many critics claim that the success of Tolkien's trilogy has made possible the contemporary revival of “sword and sorcery” literature.
Plot and Major Characters
The Lord of the Rings charts the adventures of the inhabitants of Middle Earth, a complex fictional world with fantastical characters and a complete language crafted by Tolkien. The goal of Tolkien's literary life was ultimately to infuse his fairy stories with such exquisitely formulated detail of character, action, philosophy, and religion that they would be as “real” as the most factual nonfiction. Taken together, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with its prelude The Hobbit (1937)—which is based on bedtime stories Tolkien had created for his children—encompasses ten thousand years of Middle Earth history and includes an encyclopedic mythology inspired by but entirely separate from that of the human species. Peopled with a vast array of beings, including hobbits, elves, dwarves, and orcs, as well as the men of Westernesse, Middle Earth is arguably the most comprehensive imaginary world created by a writer in English, other than John Milton's heaven and hell. While not technically a part of The Lord of the Rings,The Hobbit, which is considered a children's story and lacks much of the psychological depth of the trilogy, begins the story of the rings with the reluctant efforts of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to recover a treasure stolen by a dragon. During the course of his mission, the hobbit discovers a magical ring which, among other powers, can render its bearer invisible. The ability to disappear helps Bilbo fulfill his quest; however, the ring's less obvious faculties prompt the malevolent Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, to seek it. The hobbits' attempt to deny Sauron unlimited power is the focal point of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which consists of the novels The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). In these books Bilbo's nephew Frodo takes over the elderly Bilbo's quest, as Bilbo passes the ring on to Frodo in the opening scene of The Fellowship of the Ring. At this point the wizard Gandalf, who orchestrates many of the adventures in Middle Earth, tells Frodo that the ring has far more important powers than he suspects—that it may, in fact, hold the key to the world's fate. Throughout the trilogy, Tolkien rejects such traditional heroic attributes as strength, size, and bravado. Instead, he has Gandalf deliberately choose the reluctant hobbit heroes, who are small, humble, and unassuming, to guard the ring and thereby prevail against evil.
Despite Tolkien's protests to the contrary, The Lord of the Rings does evoke themes both from earlier literary archetypes and the development of modern culture in the twentieth century. Critics have found echoes from various works of epic and medieval literature, including The Iliad,The Song of Roland,Beowulf,The Elder Edda, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tolkien's work as an Oxford scholar of early literature suggests that he, perhaps even subconsciously, was influenced by the adventure and mythology of these texts. But The Lord of the Rings also appears to address issues specific to the twentieth century, particularly the sense of loss, despair, and alienation that came as a result of the two World Wars. Many have read the trilogy as an allegory of the history of modern Europe, especially the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism in Germany. Others see it as a Christian allegory. Tolkien always denied that his books were either allegorical or topical in nature, maintaining that the events that occurred in Middle Earth predate any historical occurrences that Western humans could be aware of. Nevertheless, most critics find that, particularly because The Lord of the Rings was written roughly between 1939 and 1949 and because of Tolkien's own experiences serving in World War I, the influence of the catastrophic events of the twentieth century must have been inevitable.
Initial critical reception to The Lord of the Rings varied. While some reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the story's great length and one-dimensional characters, the majority enjoyed Tolkien's enchanting descriptions and lively sense of adventure. Religious, Freudian, allegorical, and political interpretations of the trilogy soon appeared, but Tolkien generally rejected such explications. He maintained that The Lord of the Rings was conceived with “no allegorical intentions …, moral, religious, or political,” but he also denied that the trilogy is a work of escapism: “Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. … The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live.” Tolkien contended that his story was “fundamentally linguistic in inspiration,” a “religious and Catholic work” whose spiritual aspects were “absorbed into the story and symbolism.” Tolkien concluded, “The stories were made … to provide a world for the languages rather than the reverse.” Largely because of its fantasy elements and its seemingly anti-war themes, the trilogy was absorbed into popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and references to it appeared in music and materials related to the psychedelic drug scene. Interest in The Lord of the Rings was renewed in the early twenty-first century, with the release of a series of award-winning films based on the novels.