Music from Middle-earth – Shore’s Genius

The slow, but gradual, spine-tingling sensation slowly creeps up on you … your heart beats faster … adrenaline rushes through your system … a flood of emotions attempts to escape from your own being …. 

It might sound like something out of a raunchy novel, but that’s a pretty accurate physical description of what happens whilst listening to soundtracks … particular soundtracks for LOTR FOTR Complete Recordingsthat matter.

This post is dedicated entirely to the soundtracks of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – it is meant as both an appreciation, appraisal and analytic piece to the composer and his music.

If you’re like me and can’t do without listening to a Middle-earth track for more than a few days, then you are welcome to enjoy a variety of examples from the soundtracks that most appeal to me. At the same time, I shall be trying to explain (in words) the feelings and sensations that certain musical tones, vocals and instruments bring about …

It all starts with a few musical notes …

Perhaps most of you have seen the behind-the-scenes documentaries for The Lord of the Rings and may surely have come across how Howard Shore brilliantly evolved certain themes from one film to the next (case in point: Gondor’s theme – from Boromir at the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring, to the lighting of the beacons in The Return of the King).

There is an evolution to his work that expands over all three films and the same concept appears (in a slightly different way) in The Hobbit.

Suffice to say, it’s really difficult to pick a favourite or list every track that most appeals to me, but I have tried to condense the list to a handful from all 5 Middle-earth films so far. What There and Back Again will offer us, we cannot know, but it will certainly be as special as the others. Perhaps, a future post shall expand on this topic to include tracks from the third Hobbit film.

– Defining the indefinable

How can one ever be able to describe a piece of music, verbally or through the use of words? It’s perhaps impossible. The only thing you can do to communicate this sensation to TH AUJ Soundtrack coverothers, is to let them listen to it and experience it for themselves.

Then again, what does that matter? As long as you enjoy and experience the music yourself, everything else has no meaning …

And whilst the music is beautiful even on its own, it’s even more sensational when you are able to recall the scenes from the films it is connected to – bringing together the despair, hope, heroism and epicness of it all.

In order not to make this post just a large chunk of text, I’ve included links to the relevant tracks in discussion. Perhaps you could have a listen to them whilst reading … 😉

Gilraen’s Memorial (The Fellowship of the Ring)

The way this track starts off with a sad and melancholic elvish choir (depicting the sorrowfulness of Aragorn’s life and his love towards his mother), into what becomes the main theme for the Fellowship, is perhaps the highlight of this film.

This track encompasses all emotions: sadness, hope, defiance, sheer joy and terror … yes terror. At 1:44, that violin note sends a shiver down my spine as we recall Bilbo turning into a not-so-nice-hobbit in Rivendell – but the music soon turns towards a sense of anticipation as the Fellowship is formed as is about to venture into the wild.

3:04 … that’s where the true magic happens. That’s where the utterly irresistible, emotional drive starts to take hold of me, which then evolves into the mesmerizing romantic score taking place at 3:32 as Aragorn bids farewell to Arwen – both uncertain whether they will ever set eyes on each other again.

The score explodes at 4:17 with a monumental rendition of the main theme of The Lord of the Rings, conveying a sense of hope and courage that resonates in this adventure. Finally, Good is withstanding the overwhelming tide of Evil! Hurrah!

Balin’s Tomb (The Fellowship of the Ring)

I’m mainly enchanted by the first minute and a half of this piece, as the soaring music reaches extraordinary heights – being able to comprehend the beauty and majesty of the kingdom of Moria; together with the unsurpassed might of the Dwarves. In just a minute or so, Howard Shore manages to give these scenes on screen a real sense of being – as if they truly come from a very real Middle-earth.

The culture of the Dwarves is laid out to us in the rest of the track as we go through the evolution of this particular piece …

The Departure of Boromir (The Fellowship of the Ring)

There is no better tear-jerker than this scene – both through the film itself and even just by listening to the music, you can feel the power and emotion that runs through this score. I’m no musical expert, but I believe this particular track epitomizes Howard Shore’s sheer brilliance in composing a piece of music so moving and fit for a brilliantly-directed scene. Yes, the visuals help to propel the impact of the music, but as I have already stated, even just by listening to this track it will manage to break you down.

I can always hear, amidst the heavenly choir, Boromir’s gasps of pain as each arrow finds its mark and the looks of the helpless hobbits towards such a towering warrior.

2:44 is a thoroughly nostalgic piece which sees two great warriors (Aragorn and Boromir) bidding farewell to each other, with the former promising the latter that the White City will not fall (4:22 … simply divine).

As I said, I don’t have a specific list of favourites, but this would definitely make it in my top 3 …

The Banishment of Éomer (The Two Towers)

Moving on to the second film in The Lord of the Rings, this track incorporates some of the wonderful thematic motifs of Rohan and the Uruk-hai theme. Visually, this sequence inter-cuts between Théoden’s decline, Éomer’s banishment by Wormtongue and the Three Hunters’ chase to find Merry and Pippin.

Of particular interest to me is 2:52 as the punching music conveys a sense of true determination as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli tirelessly pursue the Uruk-hai captors amongst the lush landscape of Rohan.

Théoden King (The Two Towers)

Perhaps my favourite track from The Two Towers, this piece incorporates pretty much every iconic motif of Rohan, beginning with 0:44 and going through 1:18 as Théoden regains his former status thanks to the help of Gandalf and his companions (a significant musical composition which also features during the charge of the Rohirrim in The Return of the King).

But Théoden quickly discovers the bitter truth of his time under the power of Saruman – he learns of his son’s death. In the Extended Edition of The Two Towers, we get a new scene which includes Théodred’s burial at 3:10. The music, very reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon culture, is simply-breathtaking.

Add to that Éowyn’s hymn (in Old English) and you couldn’t wish for anything more “historically real” (at 4:00).

However, what I really anticipate to listen to, is the moment starting at 4:37 as Théoden is overwhelmed by his grief. The music climaxes to a beautiful composition, setting the emotional context of the scene and forcing the audience to experience the same pain the king of Rohan is going through.

Powerful stuff …

The Last March of the Ents (The Two Towers)

Undoubtedly, one of the most favourite and recognised tracks by many fans, both the rising of the Ents against the threat of Saruman and Théoden’s revival of hope during the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The choir is what makes this stand out from the rest – that sense of sheer determination in the face of impossible odds …

The Lighting of the Beacons (The Return of the King)

I’m talking primarily of the moment (at 3:56) when Pippin sets alight Minas Tirith’s beacon, creating a chain reaction across the vast plains around the White Mountains.

Not only bringing together a sense of hope to the seemingly hopeless first half of The Return of the King, but I always get that feeling of wanting to get up, run towards my horse in the garden, saddle up and go full speed to the aid of Gondor.

Alas! No such thing actually happens, but I’m instantly drawn into it; the whole concept of showing that the Good side still has much to offer against the oncoming tide of Evil and that they won’t wait until they’re defeated, but are suddenly spurred into action to do something – no matter how hopeless it may seem.

And what about 5:50, when Aragorn sees the flaming beacon and runs to tell Théoden about this, til at 6:14 the King (even though he was previously unwilling to help Gondor) decides to go ahead with it and end this evil menace once and for all.

To top it all off, you have that sensational moment when Théoden remarks to himself (8:06) “So, it is before the walls of Minas Tirith that the doom of our time will be decided” – the same motif of the Last March of the Ents is used here, but in a slightly different context. Nonetheless, it works beautifully.

Go Beacons! Go!

Fellowship Reunited (The Return of the King)

Creating such an extraordinary adventure throughout three films is no easy feat. But both Peter Jackson (with his direction) and Howard Shore (through the music) manage to pull it off perfectly.

This track’s theme is all about going back home and trying to readjust to normal life. A truly nostalgic piece combined with a sense of serenity and happy returns, as evil is finally defeated.

There are many moments to be highlighted here, particularly Aragorn’s coronation “speech” at 3:46, his meeting with Arwen at 4:41, the hobbits’ return to the Shire at the Green Dragon (8:41) and my favourite: Frodo in Bag-End – telling the audience about his own emotional state of not being able to return to the life he had before his adventure (10:31).

Bilbo’s Song (The Return of the King)

Yet another of my top 3 choices in The Lord of the Rings. This track was specifically composed by Howard Shore to be included during the Fan Credits in the Extended Edition of The Return of the King.

I honestly can’t describe how emotionally-powerful this song is to me.

Wow! I mean, you can’t get any more nostalgic than that. At least, I do.

And I really hope this finds its way, somehow or other, in The Hobbit: There and Back Again – as it feels so appropriate to end a six-film saga.

Petition anyone?

Misty Mountains Cold (An Unexpected Journey)

Well, surely I wasn’t going to talk about soundtracks from Middle-earth without mentioning this one …

Woah! Talking about the Balin’s Tomb track before, Shore manages once again to recreate a new theme for a different type of Dwarves (not from Moria, but Erebor). Still, it embodies that same fiery spirit that is so synonymous with this Middle-earth race.

A big kudos to Richard Armitage (and the rest) for such a captivating rendition and excellent voices.

I’ll be honest … I sing this on a daily basis – out loud and whenever no one’s around. If there is someone else with me, I’ll just hum it really low …

Radagast the Brown (An Unexpected Journey)

I love Peter Jackson’s version of Radagast and all the more, the music that accompanies his character. And yet, what I like most about this track are the first 38 seconds or so (yes, I still enjoy the rest of it too).

That particular snippet of music occurs twice in An Unexpected Journey: first during Gandalf’s conversation with Bilbo about the Five wizards, as he discusses Radagast. This piece (with no choir) plays in the background during that particular dialogue. The same thing happens as Gandalf (after blasting his way in Goblin Town), tells the dwarves to “Take up arms” and “Fight!”

Very much reminiscent of Bilbo’s Song in The Return of the King, this piece is really moving and nostalgic for some reason.

Please don’t ask me why … it just is! 🙂

Naturally, the rest of the music explodes into a “crazy-ish” violin piece which embodies Radagast’s free-spirit character … fantastic!

Feast of Starlight  (The Desolation of Smaug)

Perhaps one of the least-favoured scenes (and definitely non-Tolkien moments) in The Desolation of Smaug. Nonetheless, both the scene itself and certainly the music, strike a very beautiful chord with me.

This track reminds me of the good-old Elf music in The Lord of the Rings, both melancholic and hopeful at the same time. And it really reaches an electrifying climax at 1:35. A really beautiful piece to an equally lovely conversation between Kili and Tauriel.

Yes, it might not be to everyone’s liking, but you can’t deny both the heavenly music and the skillful dialogue spoken in the scene.

Thrice Welcome (The Desolation of Smaug)

Ah yes! Now for some of the less-cheerful stuff. Lake-town in The Desolation of Smaug is truly captivating and so much so due to the music composed for its sequences. Have a listen to this track and the way it builds up at 2:15. Doesn’t it convey that brooding feeling, but also adds a touch of the heroic and defiant Bard in there, too?

It’s very much in-line with Rohan, consisting of a very particular culture of Men in Middle-earth – with some interesting similarities between the two, but also a stark contrast.

Tumtumtum tumtumtum tumtumtara….

And what’s more, you get a flare of the Hobbit theme at 3:14 … 10/10!

Concluding remarks

What about The Grey Havens, Blunt the Knives, The EaglesThe End of All Things, Concerning Hobbits? Not to mention the songs: May it Be, Into the West, The Song of the Lonely Mountain

Again, the above list is certainly not a complete one. I’d rather say that ALL tracks from every movie are my favourite but in attempt not to bore you with unnecessarily long paragraphs, I restrained myself from listing any more.

What are YOUR favourite tracks? And how do YOU feel when listening to them? Are they your source of inspiration? Do they get you through daily problems? Do you sing some of them in the shower, on in the car?

Share your thoughts with us below! 🙂 

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12 thoughts on “Music from Middle-earth – Shore’s Genius

  1. Interesting take on the soundtrack from a non-technical perspective.

    Yes, Howard Shore’s soundtracks is one of my favorite things about these films. His big themes are amazing admittedly, but love how so many of his ideas are expressed subtly. I also love how we rarely ever hear a theme played the same way twice, the music is always progressing with the tale. On a slightly more geeky note, 😉 the lyrics sung throughout the films in Tolkien’s languages have so much meaning in them. Below are some of my favorites from The Fellowship of the Ring:

    From A Knife in the Dark Sequence (This is the Nazgul theme which appears multiple times in FotR. The language is that of Adunaic.)

    Nêbâbîtham Magânanê
    Nêtabdam dâur-ad
    Nêpâm nêd abârat-aglar
    Îdô Nidir nênâkham
    Bârî’n Katharâd

    We renounce our Maker
    We cleave to the darkness
    We take unto ourselves the power and glory
    Behold! We are the Nine
    The Lords of Unending Life

    From the Bridge of Khazad-dum Sequence (the male choir sings these lyrics in Khuzdul)

    Ubzar ni kâmin
    Aznân taburrudi
    Iklal tanzifi bashukimâ
    Ubzar ni kâmin
    gilim Sanzigil
    shakar ra udlag
    Ubzar ni kâmin
    Tada aklat gagin
    Ugrûd tashurrukimâ
    Maku kataklutimâ?
    Askad gabil
    Tashfati ni azanân
    Kâmin takalladi!
    Tabriki! Takarraki!
    Maku zatansasimâ?
    Urus!
    Urus ni buzra!
    Arrâs talbabi fillumâ!
    Ugrûd tashniki kurdumâ!
    Lu! Lu! Lu!
    Urkhas tanakhi!

    Deeper into the earth
    The dark grows heavy
    Cold snaps our bones
    Deeper into the earth
    There, the glint of Mithril
    sharp and far away
    Deeper into the earth
    That sound again
    Dread surrounds us
    Can no one hear us?
    A great shadow
    Moves in the dark
    The earth shakes!
    Cracks! Splits!
    Will no one save us?
    Fire!!
    Fire in the deep!
    Flames lick our skin!
    Fear rips our heart!
    No! No! No!
    The demon comes!

    And finally, I love the Sindarin lyrics sung when Boromir is dying:

    I alda helda, i ehtele lína
    Manna lelyalye Voromírë?
    Cánalya…
    …desse
    Sí massë…

    The tree is bare, the fountain still
    Where are you going, Boromir?
    We hear…
    … your call
    Where are you…

    From Desolation of Smaug I think the tracks The Forest River (Extended Edition) and My Armor is Iron are worth a mention. The Forest River is one of the most exciting tracks I’ve ever listened to. I wish it came through in the sound-mix a bit more in the film. I love the high violins that play Mirkwood elf motifs and the huge sweeping brass that play some of the dwarves’ theme. Plus, you can’t overlook Smaug’s theme. It’s a simple 6-note pattern that captures everything about Smaug, his magnificence, evil nature, craftiness, etc. It may be my favorite part of DoS. Plus, all the other little elements (and sometimes big themes) that come into My Armor Is Iron make it another exhilarating, incredible piece of music to listen to.

    • Wow Andrew, I fully agree with what you said. I’m very much impressive by the level of detail they went into creating The Lord of the Rings (and now the Hobbit). Not only in terms of the more obvious, visual aesthetics, but also the idea (as you correctly pointed out) of incorporating Elvish and Dwarvish choruses in the track … simply astounding!

    • The only correction to the lyrics I want to make is that the words in Boromir’s farewell song are Quenya, not Sindarin. Sindarin generally lacks ending vowels and doesn’t have the ‘ht’ and ‘ly’ sounds. Since Quenya was used as a formal language in Gondor, it makes sense that his eulogy would be in Quenya.

      • Oh yes, my mistake. 🙂 I was looking back at older posts on here and I didn’t see your comment until now. I got the lyrics from Doug Adams’s wonderful book, The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films. Apparently, the first part of that text (The Death of Boromir) is in Sindarin while the latter part (from which I quoted) is in Quenya. While I was copying the text my eyes strayed to the wrong section and saw the words “Sindarin Translation”. Oops. The full text is as follows.

        PART ONE
        Text by J.R.R. Tolkien
        Sindarin Translation by David Salo

        U-velin i vegil an eigas (I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness)
        Egor i bilin a linnas (Nor the arrow for its swiftness)
        Egor i vaethor an aglar (Nor the Warrior for his glory)
        Melin i mar i beriar. (I love the homeland which they defend)

        PART TWO
        Text by Philippa Boyens
        Quenya Translation by David Salo

        I alda helda, i ehtele lina (The tree is bare, the fountain still.)
        Manna lelyalye Voromire? (Whither goest thou Boromir?)
        Canalya hlarula, la hirimmel (We heard your call but cannon find you.)
        Fuine lanta Pelendoro nandesse (Darkness falls upon the vale of Pelennor)
        Si masse i Anar? (Where now is the sun?)

  2. I had forgotten about some of these themes, but I really hope that the men’s vocals from Balin’s Tomb will make some sort of a comeback in the TABA funeral. I more likely suspect some sort of reprise of the Misty Mountains Cold theme, but it would be a nice touch. Since several themes have bridged the trilogies, it wouldn’t be that remarkable, but this is certainly not as well-known as other musical themes in the series, so it may not evoke such powerful memories until people watch them all together.

    • Let’s certainly hope you’re right. It would be nice to have some connecting musical motifs between the two trilogies (as we already have)

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