In honor of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING concerts performed live to film tonight and tomorrow at Radio City Music Hall, I’ve devoted this month’s “9 on the 9th” to my favorite cues from the trilogy.
(I) – THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
(II) – THE TWO TOWERS
(III) – THE RETURN OF THE KING
9. Samwise the Brave (II)
While THE TWO TOWERS lacks the joy of “first discovery” that THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING had, Shore subtly changes the themes from the first score so that there is a natural progression and maturation of the music that matches the characters as they go through their life-altering adventures. If home is where the heart is, then this lovely cue captures that sentiment with a poignant rendering of the Shire theme for the beloved Sam.
8. The Black Gate Opens (III)
As Aragorn and Gandalf lead the charge against the Black Gate of Mordor, a churning in the lower strings and the Fellowship theme in the brass rouse the horses and riders to action. James Galway’s tin whistle tweeps above the fray. But it is the brief quote of the melody for the Oscar-winning “Into the West” in the French horns and trumpets at the end of the track that gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes every time.
7. Shelob’s Lair (III)
A gigantic spider sounds like something out of 1950’s sci-fi. But Shelob was no ordinary arachnid. As if her ferocious presence weren’t enough, Shore’s music scares the bejesus out of us. The lower strings churn with menace while the upper strings shriek in fright. Shore channels his inner Herrmann to create one of the most frightening cues in film music.
6. The White Tree (III)
One of the most outstanding visual sequences in the entire trilogy comes from the lighting of the beacons of Gondor. As each pyre is lit, the message of trouble is spread from one mountain top to the next, rousing the community of men. The violins churn under the brass fanfare leading to a heroic statement of the Gondor theme. A truly awe-inspiring melding of visuals and music.
5. A Knife in the Dark (I)
With Gandalf imprisoned high atop Isengard, the camera plunges deep into the underground factories of Saruman and the Orcs. Brutal and menacing, Shore explores an even darker side of evil as the brass belch forth the birth of the Uruk-Hai, The metallic percussion sounds are augmented with anvils and a prepared piano struck with a chain.
4. “Into the West” (III)
The song begins as a tender lullaby with sustained string chords and gentle guitar accompaniment. Shore couldn’t have found a more perfect vocalist than the divine Annie Lennox. With “What can you see/On the horizon?” in the chorus, Shore gives Lennox the opportunity to open up those amazing pipes of hers. A beautiful song that deservedly won the Oscar and a beautiful closer to this magnificent trilogy of scores.
Frodo and Gollum slug it out above the fiery pits of Mordor. The climax of 9 hours of time and emotion invested in Frodo’s journey to destroy the Ring have all led to this point, and Shore doesn’t disappoint. The timpani pounds and the chorus wails in fury. The major chord as Gollum plunges to his death gives me shivers while Renee Fleming and her burnished soprano bring a weary poignancy to the scene.
2. Flight to the Ford (I)
The Nazgul are hot on the heels of Strider and the little Hobbits. With help from Arwen, Frodo escapes on horseback across the raging waters. With the undead in hot pursuit, Arwen uses her powers to summon the water gods. The water becomes a menacing army of horses and the French horns shriek in fury as the Nazgul are drowned. In my next life, I want to be a French horn player, if for no other reason than to play this cue.
1. Khazad-Dûm (I)
In the nearly 11 hours of music that Shore wrote for the trilogy, nothing matches this stunning cue. It begins with a rousing rendition of the Fellowship theme as our intrepid adventurers flea the Balrog. The men of the chorus grunt and chant and the stakes escalate. As Gandalf plunges down with the Balrog to his death, the cue closes with a particularly haunting lament.