Appreciating Film Score Music

Film scores are usually composed in a matter of weeks and the most ambitious films contain no more than 20 or so major themes. Composer Howard Shore, however, spent a minimum of twelve months on each of the Lord of the Rings films. In translating the rich tapestry of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth into musical expression, Shore also incorporated more than 50 different themes and motifs. The amount of research that went into creating this superb music defies comprehension. Consider this one excerpt from the “Music of The Lord of the Rings Films” booklet:

Gollum’s wretched theme is intertwined with the music for the History of the One Ring, which sighs the films to life with two prolonged rising pitches, a half-step apart. This same rising half-step can be heard in the Evil of the Ring/Sauron theme and, inverted, in the martial, clangorous music of Isengard. Isengard, however, inverts the figure, dipping down a half-step, then returning upwards, a figure that dead-sets it against the Fellowship theme, which begins with the same down-up-down shape transformed to a more stable and heroic whole-step. This circular sense of interconnectivity permeates Shores score not only to reinforce the cultural relationships present in Tolkien’s world, but also to highlight the most important dramatic concepts: dedication, seduction, purity, good and evil.

Now, imagine reading over forty pages of information like that (and this booklet only describes the first film!) and you’ll begin to understand the depth and creative intensity of Shore’s work.

The music in the trilogy contains a healthy dose of magnificent choral writing: several choirs and soloists were used to represent various characters, cultures, geographical locations, and situations. You can go to this web page to listen to selections from 19 of the more popular themes from the films. I’ve posted the links to my favorite samples from this list (most of which include choral elements).


The Nature Theme




Ring Wraiths

Why the resurging excitement about LotR music? Well, next month the 4-disc Two Towers album will be released. (The 3-disc Fellowship of the Ring album—which I own, of course—was released last year.) Yes, it includes every second of music used in the film(!), in addition to some cues that weren’t used for the final cut(!). That’s over four hours of orchestral and choral beauty!