by Dan Goldwasser
Back in July of 2000, SoundtrackNet first broke the exciting news of composer Howard Shore's latest assignment: director Peter Jackson's highly anticipated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ever since, soundtrack fans both young and old have been eagerly anticipating what sort of score Shore would deliver. On the one hand, Shore couldn't have asked for a grander canvas than Tolkien's universally revered books, recently dubbed the twentieth century's greatest single work of fiction. On the other hand, talk about pressure. Tolkien fans the world over have been acutely concerned and, thanks to our friend the internet, extremely vocal that the films be true and accurate to their source material.
Needless to say, Shore was quite aware of this need for accuracy, spending no less than four months conducting research for what could only be described as the textbook definition of an epic symphonic score. Working closely with Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, Shore has conjured a work that both accurately and appropriately depicts the majestic grandeur of Middle Earth. But even more than that, Shore hasn't forgotten what's really important here: to reflect the warmth and heart at the center of Tolkien's otherworldly masterpiece.
The soundtrack album to the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, is to be released in stores on November 20th and runs 72-minutes in length. Structured in operatic form, Fellowship makes use of a 100-piece orchestra and different variants on a 100-person choir, including soloists Edward Ross, Elisabeth Fraser, Mabel Faletou, and everyone's favorite Celtic songstress, Enya. (To calm some of the more reactionary fans out there, it should be noted that Shore has supervised and even orchestrated the Enya pieces to maintain a smooth flow between the score and the songs. So everyone can just relax.)
For the record, I have not yet seen the film, so I cannot say how well the score works in that context. But as a listening experience, this album is one of the most enjoyable discs I've heard all year. Stylistically, fans of Shore can expect something akin to his choral score in Looking for Richard and the dramatic tragedy of The Fly, mixed with a stirring nobility and some wonderfully interpolated ancient, almost Celtic elements. It's a dark and heartfelt score with tremendously memorable thematic motifs and plenty of drama.
With over three hours of music scored for the film, Shore admirably faced the daunting task of compressing his music down to a single CD while still maintaining the thematic integrity and flow of the score. (For example, Shore recently told SoundtrackNet that the Mines of Moria sequence in the film contains twenty minutes of score. However, as presented on the album it only runs ten-minutes long, split over two consecutive tracks, "A Journey In The Dark" and "The Bridge of Khazad Dum".) Here now is SoundtrackNet's first listen to the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings score, composed and conducted by Howard Shore. (Sound clips in MP3 format.)
1. The Prophecy (3:54)
The work begins with a slowly building orchestra and choir. Somber in tone, wholly epic in scope, the sinister "Ring" motif is heard before the cue insinuates into a powerful brass and choral statement that climaxes with a pounding crescendo. From there it relents, with a pastoral brass statement of the noble "Fellowship" theme.
2. Concerning Hobbits
A light and upbeat cue, "Concerning Hobbits" contains the main Hobbiton theme consisting of a recorder, a solo violin and a harpsichord, backed by the orchestra. It has a rural quality to it, intoning a traditional village melody that has been played for ages. With moments of sweeping strings between the smaller moments, the cue ends with a restatement of the Hobbiton theme, performed on flute this time.
3. The Shadow of the Past
This is presumably where Gandalf (Ian McKellen) charges Frodo (Elijah Wood) with his quest to destroy the Ring of Sauron. The cue begins with a soft statement of the "Ring" theme which then builds into a frenetic bout of dissonance, then large chorus. A low repeating motif, which will be heard throughout the score, is accompanied by pounding percussion. A powerful cue, it contains many elements present throughout the remainder of the score.
4. The Treason of Isengard
Assuming this cue pertains to Gandalf's imprisonment at the hands of the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and his learning of the sinister ambitions of even-more-evil lord Sauron, the dark and tragic underscore of the "Ring" theme slowly turns into another noble reading of the "Fellowship" theme. From there it takes a dark turn, and the orchestra again builds to an enormous choir, singing powerfully.
5. The Black Rider (2:48)
A burst of heroic brass segues quickly into a playful version of the "Hobbiton" theme, which moves faster and faster until it cuts out - only to be replaced with some wonderful brooding material, and the aforementioned low pounding motif and choir. The tension certainly runs high in this aggressively throbbing cue.
6. At The Sign Of The Prancing
At this part in the story, Frodo and his fellow Hobbits meet Strider (Viggo Mortensen) at a mountain pub. We begin low-key and ominous, but soon the chorus is again chanting Black Speech over thrashing metallic percussion, abruptly ending on a tenuously upbeat note.
7. A Knife In The Dark
That upbeat note doesn't last very long, however, and the low repeating ostinato (beginning to sound like a relentless cross between the bottom end of Orff's "O Fortuna", even the Dies Irae) is back with a vengeance, when the Fellowship encounters the Ringwraiths at the Ruins at Weathertop. The chorus continues on in Black Speech as the orchestra builds unbearable tension. Pounding percussion and anvil accompanied by hard brass are suddenly overtaken by an ethereal choir and boy soloist. The pounding then returns, building once again to a ferocious climax.
8. Flight To The Ford
After a more contemplative moment, performed tenderly by the orchestra, the action elements continue as the Fellowship tries to escape the Black Riders at the Ford, ending on a slightly romantic note, hinting at the character developments to come.
9. Many Meetings (3:05)
Almost wondrous in nature, with female choir and harps accompanied by the orchestra, this cue is the first time we get to hear the whole sweeping "Fellowship" theme in its entirety. Until this point, it's just been hinted at or excerpted. In its full glory at last, the theme is a welcome respite from the exhilarating action that has preceded it.
10. The Council of Elrond
(featuring "Aniron" theme for Arwen and Aragorn) (3:49)
This track features the first Enya cue on the album, a soft romantic piece for the blossoming romance between Arwen and Aragorn. It's tender, and Enya's voice is incredibly soothing and peaceful. The orchestrations by Shore allow the piece to flow into a statelier theme, followed by a sweeping rendition of the "Fellowship" theme.
11. The Ring Goes South
Now that the Fellowship is complete, their theme begins to show up a bit more frequently. This cue begins unassumingly, but suddenly bursts into a joyous fanfare rendition as our heroes journey across the mountains headed towards the mines of Moria.
12. A Journey in the Dark
In this first part of the Moria sequence, the music begins both tentative and ominous, with choir followed by a hopeful restatement of the "ring" theme. The track then bursts into a full-blooded heroic restatement of the "Fellowship" theme, downshifting into a tense action cue as the Orcs prepare to attack. The tense action continues, and climaxes into a sudden silence.
13. The Bridge Of Khazad
The action comes suddenly crashing back from there, with pounding percussion, strong brass, and plenty of tremolo strings. It is a major moment in the score, thrilling and vibrant. And all at once it disappears, leaving a low note being held while the male choir chants and "grunts". But again, the battle wages on, culminating in its inevitably tragic ending (which I shall not describe for those unfamiliar with the story). The boy soloist returns with a sad and contemplative orchestra.
14. Lothlorien (4:34)
Primarily female choir dominates this cue, sounding almost Gregorian at first, with a steady string section intoning powerful mysticism. Elisabeth Fraser provides some ethereal vocals as well, lending an otherworldly quality to the somber piece.
15. The Great River
Soft chorus fills the cue with majesty and wonder as the Fellowship travels down the Great River and passes between the Pillars of the Argonath. A stately, yet ominous motif concludes the track.
16. Amon Hen (5:02)
Enya's vocalizing from "Lothlorien" shows up briefly before the building orchestra and strong brass build to another crescendo, and then tense action (with the same pounding percussion and themes from "A Knife In The Dark"). Soft chorus leads to a quieter restatement of the "Fellowship" theme.
17. The Breaking of the
This track takes all of the drama and emotion that has been building throughout the score, and brings it to its logical conclusion. Sweeping strings filled with emotion, a poignant version of the "Fellowship" theme with English lyrics is sung by the young Edward Ross, and backed by a small choir.
18. "May It Be"
- Enya (4:16)
"The Breaking of the Fellowship" segues seamlessly into this song by Enya. It's sad and stylistically, it fits the somber mood felt at the end of the film. Shore orchestrated the song, and it ends with a powerful and optimistic restatement of the theme as heard at the end of "The Council of Elrond".
Powerful and epic in scope, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is not only one of the best soundtracks of the year, but it's also an incredibly nuanced and moving composition in its own right. While it remains to be seen how it all works in the film (look for my review in December when the film is released), for now it is almost undoubtedly safe to say that, as a first impression, Shore's contribution has absolutely nailed it.
Special thanks to Matt Barry, Jason Cienkus, and of course, Howard Shore. For more information, read our interview with Howard Shore here.
Images © 2001 New Line Cinema; Sound clips © 2001 Warner Bros. Records