[Exclusive - Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - First Listen]

Quite recently, SoundtrackNet had a chance to speak with Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore about his work for The Two Towers, Peter Jackson's highly-anticipated follow-up to last years blockbuster Fellowship Of The Ring. Shore graciously related more than a few insights into the latest cinematic chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece The Lord Of The Rings. "This piece is act two of a three act piece," Shore explained. "The first act is a very linear story: start in Hobbiton, meet characters, learn about The Ring, set out on the journey with Sam. Slowly meet the rest of the fellowship, journey to the mines of Moria. Very linear."

"But now we have the fellowship splintered into three separate groups", Shore continued, "The complexity is that you have three stories going on simultaneously, as well as new characters and cultures. Merry and Pippin have been captured by Uruk-Hai. We follow their story to Fangorn Forest, Treebeard, and the story of the Ents. And then you've got Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas as they track the Uruk-Hai and meet up with the riders of Rohan. We are also following Frodo and Sam and their meeting up with Gollum, and the story of him leading them to the Black Gate, and Mordor. There's also the story of Arwen and Aragorn, which flashes back to Rivendell. So time is moving forward and backwards. You see the past more, in relation to the present."

Shore also spoke about how the music for Two Towers has developed through the use of several new contributing artists, "When I was writing Rivendell (for the first film), there was a lot of singing. So I thought of using Enya. That's how that started, an invitation to be part of that piece in that particular part of the story. But it's progressed past that part of the story. As we've progressed, we've got different voices for the different parts of the story."

Shore ran down a partial roster of the new talent involved in the score for Two Towers, "Isabel Bayrakdarian sings in the Aragorn scenes. Sheila Chandra sings as well. And Hilary Summers sings when it deals with Galadriel. There's complexity in Rivendell that go beyond a love theme. It also involves Elrond, and him struggling with Arwen not to stay. There's much more of a cultural aspect than a love story."

In all, Shore composed four hours of music for the film, including extended material for the future Expanded Edition DVD of The Two Towers. He ended up recording three hours of that music, with about two hours and forty minutes ultimately used. Some of those pieces, already written but unused, will be on the DVD. Other pieces are still being written, as Shore has also done recently for the Extended DVD of Fellowship.

Shore also kindly provided a bit of insight as to one of the many additions to the film audiences will be waiting nearly a year to see: namely, the wonderful back-story of how Smeagol became Gollum. "That was gonna be in the cut, but didn't make it. It will be on the DVD."  

Most of all, Shore emphasized that the film The Two Towers is a "widening" of the story, and the third will be the "bringing together" and conclusion. "The third film is the resolution. When I started working on Two Towers, I looked at Return of the King. It's a brilliant film, perhaps the best of all of them."

In the meantime, the drooling Tolkien fans who just read that last line (and fans of great film music in general) can sate themselves with the CD for Two Towers, which hits store shelves on December 10th, 2002. On that note, SoundtrackNet is proud to offer (for its second year running) this exclusive "first listen" to the disc.

The following track analyses have been made without seeing any of Peter Jackson's film of The Two Towers, aside from the theatrical trailers and cut scenes from the Playstation game (which rocks, by the way). Even so, many spoilers lurk ahead, so let this serve as a warning to anyone who doesn't want anything "ruined" for them. With the background of Tolkien's novels as a guide (and a few helpful hints from the composer himself), the best possible attempt has been made to determine what music might go where within the context of the album. But first a rather large disclaimer: this analysis is a speculative venture and could (and likely does) include many errors. We'll all find out how right or wrong this effort is on December 18th.

Technical note: last year our servers got hosed by the MP3 downloads. This year, we put a bandwidth limiter on it so that our site can still function happily. So, if you get an error message - keep trying! You'll get the clips eventually...

Nevertheless, here we go:

01. Foundations Of Stone (3:51)

After a brief build of strings, Shore begins the second installment of the Rings trilogy with a restatement of the mysterious "ring" theme that played over the main title of the first picture. It serves well as a musical title page, if you will. A wistful new passage for strings follows, allegedly taking us through Frodo's dream-state recounting of the major events of the first film.

Not long after that, Shore's signature thundering percussion takes over, returning us to the depths of Moria for the true fate of the feared-dead Gandalf. Shore reprises a few moments of the wizard's fall into shadow, then unleashes a relentlessly exciting orchestral and choral piece for Mithrandir's final battle with the Balrog. The cue also contains the album's first chill-inducing moment: near its finish, Shore takes the relentless percussion away for a few seconds, letting the chorus and orchestra soar all on their own. Wow. If this is any indication, it's going to be a great Christmas for Tolkien fans.

02. The Taming Of Smeagol (2:48)

As the first track crashes to a finish, the second enters with a gentle reading of Frodo's theme, no doubt taking us to the crags of Emyn Muil where Sam and his master are attempting to make their may to the bottom. Again, the music quickly turns darker and more ominous. As Shore has stated many times, these scores are his opera. So on first listen, it seems that there may be even more use of moody choral work in Two Towers than in his already-grand score for Fellowship. Or at least more variance.

Next up is a new figure formally introducing us to the character of Gollum: long string sustains over the tentative, ambiguous sounds of a cimbalom. Lots of subtle (and not so subtle) percussion dots Shore's new work here, but there is little deliberate thematic work. The effect, one can guess, is to temporarily keep Gollum's true loyalties and intentions as ambiguous as they seem to Frodo and Sam. In this sense, Shore's approach to Gollum pays off magnificently by the end of the album. A bit of orchestral violence finishes the cue off, as Frodo and Sam manage to subdue a writhing, screaming Gollum.

Shore himself explains his choice of textures for Gollum: "I used the hammered dulcimer in Hobbiton as one of the folk instruments, so I took that hobbit sound and used it in a different context, to play with it a bit and the corruption. So one of these sounds from Hobbiton becomes
one of the sounds of Gollum."

03. The Riders Of Rohan (4:05)

As the remainder of the Fellowship (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas) pursue the orcs who have abducted hobbits Merry and Pippin, they are stopped and questioned by riders on horseback. Driving, galloping writing heads up the corresponding cue, sounding not unlike a voiceless variation on Shore's previous Ringwraith material. Very exciting, but it's nothing compared to where the music leads us next.

With the appearance of Eomer and the men of the Riddermark, Shore introduces a new theme, a theme for the hardened people of Rohan. It begins quite subtly, with noble, medieval-sounding strings. It then moves on to a stirring brass fanfare, triumphant yet with an underlying melancholy. In the hands of a lesser composer, the Rohan motif might have become a rather vacant, faux-mythic affair. But Maestro Shore leads his second reading of the theme with a Norwegian fiddle called a hardanger, reminding us that these are not empty heroes but a struggling people of the earth. The impact is palpable. The theme is amazing. And we're only on track three, folks.

04. The Passage Of The Marshes (2:46)

As Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the dead marshes on the outskirts of Mordor, Shore works overtime to keep the score's second installment dark, dark, dark. Aggressive brass, swirling strings, and the pained cries of a bone-chilling chorus (giving voice to the souls of the dead trapped in the swamp) make this cue the cacophonous stuff of nightmares. We end again with more of Gollum's restrained, mysterious drum textures, suggesting musically that it would be unwise for our diminutive protagonists to blindly trust their sycophantic guide.

05. The Uruk-Hai (2:58)

The next cue begins with bold brass hints of Shore's heroic Fellowship motif from the first score. After a few moments of teasing, the theme makes a full-blooded and majestic reprisal, one of the lengthiest statements of it in either score. It is a most welcome return, and wonderful to discover that this motif has survived and even flourished despite the dissolution of the Fellowship itself within the films. The composer explains these returning fragments of the Fellowship theme thusly, "Although some elements have dropped, it's still there in the original mandate: help Frodo take the ring to Mordor."

After a brief restatement of the new Rohan theme, Shore again takes us back to material from the first score. First it is the hurtling brass of his motif for Sauron, then the clanging metallic textures of Saruman. One can surmise from the track title that this music encompasses the two warring factions of orcs who have taken Merry and Pippin.

06. The King Of The Golden Hall (3:49)

As the remainder of the Fellowship (with the resurrected Gandalf in tow) arrive at Rohan's capital city of Edoras, Shore follows a brief statement of the Fellowship theme with the folk-tinged colors of the hardanger again.

The music promptly turns somber again, with a low-key reading of the Rohan theme heralding the group's arrival at the court of aging King Theoden. Sinister strings creep in alongside Theoden's traitorous advisor Grima Wormtongue, culminating in a frenzied musical counterpart for his exile at the hand of his former master. Afterwards, another moving reading of the Rohan material as Aragorn pleads with the weary King to rise up against the forces of Saruman and Mordor. This builds majestically to the cue's final moments as Theoden relents and rises from his throne with a newfound strength in him.

07. The Black Gate Is Closed (3:17)

Meanwhile, Frodo, Sam and Gollum's journey takes them past the massive main gate to Mordor, as a gigantic army of Sauron's forces is led out to war by the Witch King, the leader of the Nazgul (or Ringwraiths). The corresponding cue crashes in oppressively with Sauron's theme, but as the Witch King senses the proximity of Frodo (and the ring of power), Shore rivetingly gives way to an eerie, undulating reading of the ring theme. The moment passes tensely, and our heroes make their way secretly onwards.

08. Evenstar (3:15)

The liner notes of the soundtrack detail that the cue "Evenstar" is for a scene in which Aragorn dreams of Arwen as he "floats near death down the river", a scene not even suggested in the book. (A scene of the heroes being attacked by wargs those wolf / dog things from the trailers - on their way to Helm's Deep is reputedly the cause for Aragorn's wounding.) So even though it is the first music to not have a clear correlation to Tolkien's novel, the piece is undoubtedly one of Shore's most gorgeous compositions to date.

With Enya's previous "Aniron" material on hiatus, Isabel Bayrakdarian's haunting voice imbues a sense of tragic sadness throughout. It is definitely one of the album's many highlights, rekindling and further developing the apparently more-fleshed-out romantic aspirations of Jackson's film.


09. The White Rider (2:28)

Bound to be one of the most memorable scenes in the film, "The White Rider" likely underscores the preparations of Rohan's army as it readies to make war with the orcs. The cue's title refers to Gandalf who, astride the magnificent horse Shadowfax, helps lead Theoden and his men out of Edoras and on to Helm's Deep. The choral piece here is by turns understated, ethereal, and above all suitably huge and majestic. Tolkien fans have been waiting for this scene for a while, and Shore does not disappoint one whit with his contributions.

10. Treebeard (2:43)

Moving back to Merry and Pippin's section of the story, Shore pulls out more rolling, low-end percussion and other effective atmospherics for the fantastical character of Fangorn, also known as Treebeard. As with much of Gollum's music, Shore seems to favor textural choices as opposed to an out and out theme here so as to not overload the film with leitmotifs. It is a wise move; the music still oozes a wonderful, otherworldly mood.

11. The Leave Taking (3:41)

For another scene not depicted in the novel, that of the elves of Rivendell preparing to move westward into the Grey Havens (and possibly leaving a lovelorn Arwen behind), Shore opens with a dirge-like rendition of his material for the elven refuge heard in the first film's cue "Many Meetings".

From there, the music moves on to another theme from Fellowship, the mysterious elven motif that opens the film. As before, (when it was coupled with Galadriel's narration) this theme seems to speak of the sadness of the elves in the face of a world they are fading from. In fact, much of the rest of the cue plays out similarly to the music from Galadriel's prologue, which is a treat considering that this music never made it onto Shore's disc for the first film.

12. Helm's Deep (3:53)

Back at the fortress of Helm's Deep, Aragorn and the rest of the defenders of Rohan face off with that monstrous-big army of Uruk-Hai from the film's trailer. Shore begins with a snippet of Saruman's theme that leads into energetic rushing strings and frenetic brass fanfares, all heralding the start of a battle sequence that phony internet reports had clocking in at forty-five minutes. (Jackson himself has since put that rumor to bed.)

Not long into the cue, the action recedes a bit into some impassioned, Wagner-esque string writing, then segues back into Rohan's theme. After that, the cue rounds out with another solo from Elisabeth Fraser (veteran of the first score), correlating to what the liner notes call a "tragic elvish moment at the Battle of Helm's Deep". Hmm. Nothing like that in the book. Not even going to guess.

13. The Forbidden Pool (5:27)

After Frodo and Sam are taken in by Faramir and the soldiers of Gondor, we come to one of my favorite locations in all of the books: the waterfall hideout of Osgiliath. There, Frodo bargains with Faramir not to kill a trespassing Gollum, who is merely hungry and hunting for fish.

Shore's cue is atmospheric and suspenseful in the best possible sense, and contains quite an interesting surprise. Halfway through, the listener is treated to a different arrangement of the ring theme than we have ever heard before. It is sadder, a bit less resolutely evil. If it is to reflect Frodo's feelings about Gollum (which it appears to be), Shore is nothing short of a genius to have translated such a complex bit of Tolkien's thematic ambiguity into music.

The cue builds yet again and closes mysteriously as Frodo is forced to betray Gollum in order to save him from the hands of Faramir's men.

14. Breath Of Life (5:07)

This is the biggest stumper I came across, as far as track titles go with respect to the novel. My best guess is the music, another sad and ethereal vocal piece (this time courtesy of the very talented Sheila Chandra), pertains at least in part to Arwen and Aragorn's star-crossed relationship. This however does not remotely explain the cue's rousing final moments. Another great piece with a tentative question mark hovering over it.

15. The Hornburg (4:36)

All of the thematic nobility Shore has suffused the people of Rohan with seems to boil over in this cue, which pertains to the orc siege within the walls of Helm's Deep. It is a slow, deliberate build, with strains of the Fellowship theme sneaking in occasionally. At one point, Shore takes his mysterious elven theme (mentioned before in "The Leave Taking") and commandingly gives it to the brass. Definitely raises the hairs on your neck.

16. Forth Eorlingas (3:15)

For the final rush into battle, and the outcome of the battle of Helm's Deep, Shore pulls out all of the stops here. Desperate strings careen over pounding percussion, sounding a bit like the kind of thrilling epic action music John Barry used to write (a note that could apply to all of the Rohan material, though it is all unmistakably Shore in the end).

By the time the Fellowship theme reemerges triumphant, it is coupled with the glorious sounds of Rohan and soprano Ben Del Maestro. Come December and the film, there is no doubt we'll all be cheering this music on screen.

17. Isengard Unleashed (5:01)

That title of this cue is a bit broad, to say the least, as a lot of things happen in the book that could be labeled as such. No doubt, this is the intention of the filmmakers and Shore not to give everything away with the names of their cues (bless you guys). That being said, "Isengard Unleashed" (which features both Elizabeth Fraser and Ben Del Maestro again) does begin with a musical battle of wills between Saruman's metallic clangings and the noble strains of Rohan.

The, suddenly, the cue then pulls out an absolutely wonderful surprise: a full choral reading of the subdued motif from the first film that underscored the white moth finding Gandalf stranded atop the tower of Orthanc. Man, it's just cool to see Shore stitching his complete work together like this. Beyond that, the rest of the piece churns itself into an orchestral / choral fury the likes of which we haven't heard since the first album's "The Prophecy".

18. Samwise The Brave (3:45)

After all of that, suddenly all is quiet and gentle again as we return to Frodo and Sam atop the steps of Cirith Ungol. Shore reprises a bit of "The Breaking Of The Fellowship" here, but lets the strings soar even higher before turning the music's attention back to the precariousness of the hobbits' situation. Optimism does win in the end, with another soulful reprise of Frodo's theme.

The cue and the film finish by turning resolutely dark and sinister. One guess for the cause of this could be Gollum's cliffhanging choice as to whether or not he will actually betray his diminutive companions. We'll all have to find out for sure come December 18th (and then wait a whole 'nother year to finally get a look at Shelob).

19. Gollum's Song (5:51)

Presumably an end credits suite, the dark and tragic "Gollum's Song" is performed by singer Emiliana Torrini (who sounds startlingly like Bjork) and provides a musical answer to the story's questions of Gollum's true loyalties.

Shore himself spoke a bit about "Gollum's Song", explaining that there is "a small theme associated with him in the first film. We get glimpses and fragments of that. Shore explains further, "Now we get to see who Gollum is, and are aware of the fact that there are two people in there - schizophrenic. Gollum is a river hobbit that was corrupted and distorted by the ring, and has become this creature who is as close to an animal as a hobbit might be."

"There are still elements of Smeagol," Shore continues, "You didn't know that in the first film, but now in film two we start to learn the complexity of Gollum's tale. It meant you needed two themes: one for Smeagol and one for Gollum. So I used part of the theme from film one, and developed a new theme based on the distortion. And since Gollum knows more about the ring than anyone, since he's interconnected, there are also elements of the ring theme interwoven into his theme."

On a personal note: listening to the piece, and thinking about the epic John Barry-esque class and style Shore has brought to the whole of The Two Towers, something occurred to me about this final cue. "Gollum's Song" sounds a lot like a Bond title song turned on its ear, probably the darkest and most somber Bond title song you've ever heard. Don't worry: there are no backbeats or anything like that, just pure, vintage creepy Shore. But you'll know what I mean when you hear it. It's fantastic, a perfect encapsulation of the malevolent yet pathetic Gollum.

Finally, the last track reprises the stunning Rohan material again, bringing part two of Tolkien's trilogy to a majestic close.

20. Farewell To Lorien (4:39)

Good news, Rings fans! On this year's "Limited Edition" version of the Shore's score, the record company has decided to throw us a musical bone, err, bonus track. (Last year, all we got for our extra cash was that faux-leather slipcase.) The cue is called "Farewell To Lorien", and it is from the newly-recorded extra half hour Shore wrote for the Extended Edition DVD of Fellowship. (Everybody got that? Whew.) Vocalist Hilary Summers is the lovely voice of the elves here, and Shore's liturgical strains seem to prefigure the ethereal qualities of Two Towers gorgeous "Evenstar".

Worth the extra dinero? Um, you irritated misers out there aren't gonna want to hear this, but yeah. It is. Skip it only if you're the barest armchair quarterback kind of Rings fan. All else should pony up.

On the whole, as a listening experience Shore has scored another profound success with The Two Towers. He has developed major new thematic material while building and shaping the themes from the first film. And there is just enough of both to make things feel cohesive, yet never stale or rehashed. As a side note, certain themes from the first film notably for Minas Tirith and Gondor are appropriately absent here but will likely reemerge in Return Of The King.

As for now, Shore has gone and hit himself another grand slam. Like The Empire Strikes Back before him, The Two Towers has taken the best of what the first film offered and delivered exponentially more for the sequel. As hoped, Howard Shore again deserves the gratitude of Lord Of The Rings fans worldwide.

Now exactly how long are we going to have to wait for a boxed set of everything?

SoundtrackNet would like to thank Dan Goldwasser for the interview, Jason Cienkus at Warner Bros. / Reprise Records, Chris Rinaman, David Koran, and especially, Howard Shore