An Ode To… is a series of “dedications” to some of my favorite musicians and bands. Perhaps you’ve heard of them before – or perhaps you haven’t. Either way, An Ode To… is a fun way of sharing one of my passions and helping you discover new music to add to your collection. So, sit back, listen, and relax – or, in some cases, headbang. 😉
Ohhhhhhhh I’ve been DYING to write this Ode since launching the series last year! And I think many readers will enjoy this one, too, since… well, you know, it’s Lord of the Rings. 😀 Not everyone listens to its score outside of the films, but I think we can all agree that the soundtrack is packed with some of the most memorable musical themes and moments in film history.
Today’s Ode will use a slightly different format than past Odes. Instead of picking one song from each album and a few additional songs, I’ll highlight my three favorite compositions from each of the LOTR films. Some picks are bound to be popular among the crowd, while others might surprise you. I’ll also provide links to each track’s respective scene in each movie, for your convenience.
Also, the clips below can be found on the limited edition Complete Recordings CDs, not the original motion picture soundtracks. The Complete Recordings feature more (for lack of a better word) complete versions of the music heard in the films than the original soundtracks do.
So, let’s start with…
Three Favorites from The Fellowship of the Ring
Corresponding Scene: Frodo arrives in the Shire for Bilbo’s party
This piece reflects the Shire and the Hobbits perfectly. It’s whimsical, light-hearted, and peaceful. The tin whistle and violin solos also give it a rustic feel that matches the Hobbit’s simple, peasant lifestyle. It’s quite a contrast to the more exciting and bombastic pieces that come later in Fellowship. But bombast wouldn’t have fit well with the Hobbits, would it? 😉
Corresponding Scene: Frodo wakes up in Rivendell
Ah, Rivendell. This Elven outpost is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Middle-Earth, so it’s no surprise that its “theme song” in Fellowship matches that tone. The orchestral arrangements glide and ascend while embodying the wisdom and stateliness of the Elves. Ethereal choirs, chiming bells, and flute and oboe solos add to the overall elegance.
Corresponding Scene: The Fellowship flees from the Balrog in Moria
Calling this piece “brilliant” doesn’t do it justice. Every element replicates the peril of the final chase through Moria. The all-male choir with Maori grunters, thundering percussion, frenzied strings, the brass section’s piercing reminder of doom – it really does feel like a demon is bearing down on you. Then, at 5:42 comes the heart-wrenching “Fall of Gandalf” denouement. Mabel Faletolu’s cry of raw grief is so powerful that words aren’t necessary. The emotion is all there in her voice.
Three Favorites from The Two Towers
Corresponding Scene: Opening of The Two Towers (a.k.a. Gandalf’s duel with the Balrog)
After a gentle opening, “Glamdring” hearkens back to “Khazad-dûm.” It only makes sense, given that this scene brings us back to Gandalf’s duel with the Balrog in Fellowship. All three LOTR overtures feature this duality of soft intros climbing into sweeping spectacles. Yet the contrasts are most noticeable in “Glamdring.” Up to 1:43, the strings carry us back to Middle-Earth and cradle us in quiet, mournful memory. After that, the brass, percussion, and commanding choirs storm in, battling each other yet collaborating in a frantic, discordantly beautiful way. It’s just as primal and chaotic as “Khazad-dûm,” and a fantastic way to start the trilogy’s second act.
Corresponding Scene: Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive at Edoras
I’ve always liked the “Fanfare of Rohan” theme, so I wanted to include a Two Towers piece that featured it prominently. It first comes at 0:08 on a fiddle, and then at 3:09 from both the fiddle and the brass section. It’s not as heroic and sweeping as the Fellowship theme that recurs throughout the trilogy, but its Celtic-influenced air sings with nobility and triumph. Overall, “Edoras” is a subdued piece, its low and wistful moments alluding to a kingdom that has known better days. Yet the added instruments and rise in volume at the end suggest that, perhaps, Rohan hasn’t seen the last of its greatness.
“One of the Dunedain” / “Evenstar”
Corresponding Scene: Aragorn’s memories of Arwen (a.k.a. the “Evenstar” scene)
I think most LOTR fans love this piece, and so do I. 🙂 It’s forlorn, brooding, and bittersweet, matching the tone of its scene. If you listen closely, you’ll hear echoes of the Rivendell theme that only tie the piece more tightly to Aragorn’s internal struggle between his love for Arwen and his responsibilities to Middle-Earth. Not to mention Isabel Bayrakdarian has the perfect voice for the “Evenstar” section. It’s otherworldly like the Elves, yet colored with sadness and uncertainty.
Three Favorites from Return of the King
“The Grace of Undómiel”
“The Grace of Undómiel” has a bit of a split personality. At first, it feels like a Elvish requiem. Renee Fleming’s lilting soprano gives voice to Arwen’s heartache over leaving Aragorn. Shades of the Rivendell theme emphasize her undying hope not only for her future, but for that of Middle-Earth. But at 3:35, the hushed, wistful melodies escalate once again for a more resplendent Rivendell reprise and then – to signal Gandalf and Pippin’s arrival in Minas Tirith – the regal Gondor theme. It’s a wonderful example of how gifted Howard Shore is as a composer. His mastery of transitioning from low notes to high, soft sections to intense, helps make the trilogy’s score so thrilling.
“The Lighting of the Beacons”
Corresponding Scene: Pippin lights the beacon at Minas Tirith
Confession: I picked this piece mostly for 3:53 through 6:00. (*lol*) Listen to how the higher-pitched strings pipe and leap and tumble over the brass and lower-pitched strings, and how the overall effect they create is one of soaring majesty. This segment makes me feel like I’m flying over mountains, sort of like the “bird’s eye view” shots as beacons are lit from Minas Tirith all the way to Gondor. The rest of “Lighting” is wonderful, too. But.. yeah, that 2-minute span. I love it.
“The Sacrifice of Faramir” (featuring “The Edge of Night / Pippin’s Song” by Billy Boyd)
Corresponding Scene: Faramir and his soldiers ride out for Sauron’s army
It’s weird to end this post with “The Sacrifice of Faramir.” It’s quieter and more restrained than most of the LOTR score, and eerily haunting. But by being what it is, “Sacrifice” leaves a huge impact on the audience. It suits the futility of Faramir’s final charge on Sauron’s army as well as the general sense of despair that the characters feel now that they’re on the edge of war with Sauron. Billy Boyd’s “The Edge of Night” (which his character Pippin sings in the film) augments that melancholy even more. If anything, “The Sacrifice of Faramir” reminds us that there’s beauty not only in music’s lighter or more triumphant moments, but also in its sorrows and anguish.
Are you a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy? What are some of your favorite tracks from its film score?