How music carries "The Lord of the Rings" to its end

Scoring music for a film can be a difficult task for any accomplished composer. Since the genesis of movies, music has always accompanied films, used to add dramatic effect to what’s on screen. A great score keeps the pace on track and illustrates character’s thoughts.

In an essay critiquing Howard Shore's work on "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, video blogger Evan Puschak, Nerdwriter, suggests that “we hardly grasp the importance of music and film. It's an invisible layer of pure emotion that guides [and] challenges the drama itself.”

"The Lord Of The Rings" is a tricky trilogy to score. Director Peter Jackson and Shore needed the viewer to care about dozens of characters. Music can be one solution, and Shore ensures we know what the characters are feeling and thinking without hearing a word they say.

The success of Shore’s composition, according to Puschak, comes down to how he employed Leitmotifs throughout the film. Popularized by Richard Wagner, this operatic technique fuses “musical themes with specific people, events, or places to aid or in some cases augment the dramatic development of the story.” These leitmotifs are heard throughout the film, and the Shire, Bilbo, and the Rohan all have their own theme.

One prominent leitmotif, largely heard in the first film, is the Fellowship theme. A fully formed melody isn't head until the middle of the film at the Council of Elrond, where the memebers of the fellowship first meet. The idea of getting, as Elrond puts it, “the nine companions,” individuals who historically were not friendly with each other, to come together for the greater good is a very powerful sentiment.

As the story progresses, this theme and leitmotif also develops and changes. Viewers don’t hear the full-fleshed out melody until the mines of Moria, where the nine are all working as one, cohesive team by fighting off the orcs. Once Gandalf falls from his encounter with the Balrog, the score shifts as the fellowship starts to break.

This trend continues till two final moments: Frodo and Sam’s departure, and Boromir’s death. “Shore links these two moments with severely deflated, but poignant rendition of the Leitmotif that fades into silence,” explains Puschak. “Like the fellowship itself, the "Fellowship" theme builds to its full formation and then is deconstructed until it's only a shell of its former self.”

Image: BBC UK