Sure, some movies just have music thrown in in the background to kind of prop up the emotion of a scene. But in other movies, the music is woven in as part of the story-telling. In the Lord of the Rings, the music was crafted as a complementary telling of the story. You can listen to the score of LOTR and hear the characters, the ideas, the themes and the emotional line of the story. The music – like the movie, the art, and the book – is another path to Tolkien’s world. Here is an excerpt from the Annotated Score of Return of the King.
“In the streets of Minas Tirith, another hobbit is about to begin a perilous climb. Gandalf, having seen Minas Morgul’s signal, has sent Pippin on a mission. He is to light the city’s beacon and summon Rohan’s aid. Throughout the beacon lighting sequence, Shore strikes up a churning rhythmic patter, which constantly refers to a four-note motif consisting of an arpeggiated triad (either major or minor) and a flat sixth, a half-step above the triad. In fact, this figure is woven through numerous themes in The Lord of the Rings. It represents Tolkien’s recurrent theme of a fall from grace and a subsequent redemption. In this sequence, its purpose is crystallized. Gondor’s star in Middle-earth has fallen, sunk under the weight of its own decadent history. But it still embodies the greatest hope among Middle-earth’s assets.
The four-note Weakness and Redemption figure spins through continual variations, darting through accompaniment and melodic lines alike. The hobbit has reached the peak of Amon Dîn and the first beacon fire. He stumbles at first, but manages to light the beacon. The orchestra tautens, and one of The Lord of the Rings’ signature musical moments begins. Machine-like, woodwinds and strings churn, beginning the machinations of Gondor’s salvation. Weakness and Redemption braces the low brass, underpinning constantly modulating chords in the French horns and trumpets. With a lattice of rising figures, the brass steels upwards, emerging in a powerful, magniloquent statement of the Gondor theme. Yet, the phrases still end with the Gondor in Decline figure. This is Gondor both summoning its pride and calling for help.
The message is carried across Middle-earth, one beacon at a time joining the relay. Finally it reaches Rohan. Aragorn is the first to see it, and with a giddy series of Weakness and Redemption lines, he bursts into Meduseld to inform King Théoden.”
This scene took my breath away in the movie theater, and it never ceases to make my heart race each time I either see it in the film, or listen to the soundtrack. To know that there is an ideological underpinning to the music makes it all the more meaningful. Now I know that those thrilling lines of music that spoke to my heart aren’t just emotional waffle… they have meaning – weakness and redemption… one of the oldest themes in the world… and one of the most beautiful.