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The Fellowship of the Ring - Donated Review
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• Posted by: Christian Kühn   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Thursday, January 31, 2002, at 11:47 p.m.
• IP Address:

The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore): This score is only two months old as I write this review, but it has been given a wealth of attributes, like: "best of the year" (which I support firmly), "a mile-stone in Shore's career", "met, but not exceeded my expectations", "uninspired", "thematically weak" etc. The first thing I have to say is, I am an admirer of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, so I'm basically very enthusiastical about everything connected with it. Secondly, I place myself into the league of the lovers of this score. In my opinion, it is the best score of 2001, without a second of doubt.

I remember the first discussions at the Scoreboard back in October 2000, when it still wasn't clearly certain who would now write the score for Tolkien's classic epic. I voiced my support for John Debney, but I was "prepared" for the news that good ol' Jimmy "Na-na-na-NAH" Horner had got the job. Then early in 2001, I heard that Shore was to be that man, and to be honest, my enthusiasm took a partial vacation. Then, someone posted that Shore had used a 300-man-choir for the Moria scenes. A major plus. Then, I saw the trailers and was rapt how great this film promised to be. Then, word leaked out that Enya would perform for the score. Another "not-negative" fact! The beginning of November 2001 saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and I was truly nervous that this film would steal much of the spotlight from The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring. Luckily , my concerns were wrong. As of yet, the film fared very well at the box-offices and has also gathered some awards already (although I'm still skeptical about the Oscars...). And one factor of Peter Jackson's gigantic mammoth effort is Howard Shore's score.

I leave all the talk about Shore's usual style and the skepticism about him doing the score for the film. Not only in my eyes has Shore done a true classic, an epic score, grand and overwhelming in parts, while intimate and sorrowful in others. There's no single wrong cue in the entire 150-minutes score, a fact that in my belief does not happen so often nowadays. Enya's contribution is indeed noteworthy ("May it be" is a moving and longing song), but compared to Shore's music, it is only of, well, hobbit-size. Shore recorded his music mostly in New Zealand, and the choral parts (performed splendidly by the London Voices) in London. He admitted that sometimes he felt like Frodo bearing the Ring, but he did an exceptional job with this score and deserves every praise and award that exists. I am so fanatic about this score that I'll dare the task of writing a cue-by-cue analysis, and I would be very proud if you endure to the end.

The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring begins on CD very somber and mystical. "The Prophecy" sets the tone and mood very well, although this cue is actually never heard in the film itself. It is an epic and very ominous piece of music, full of motifs and thick layers of music with a choir that is anything but whimsical. Singing in Sindarin, a Elven speech created by Tolkien, the choir culminates into a deafening chord at the two-minute mark, leaving the track to be dominated by very gloomy music, that already foreshadows some of the themes of the score. I'd like to mention that the lyrics in the booklet are horribly messed-up, only Enya's ones are correct. #2 comes as a surprise; it features the theme for the Shire, and more specifically, Frodo. Performed by a small ensemble of fiddle, accordion, dulcimer and penny-whistle, this is an extremely beautiful and entertaining piece of music, and it describes the scenic Shire and its (still) carefree inhabitants very well. But things get darker with the next track "Shadow of the Past". It is a important part of both the book and the film, and is equally essential for the music. Described with one word, this track is brooding. We hear the theme for the Ring, performed by some kind of bassoon, for the first time in full. But then, the orchestra erupts in power, as we see the re-building of Barad-dûr, Sauron's fortress in Mordor. As the Nazgûl are seen for the first time, then choir chants threateningly in Black Speech. A tumultuous rapid motif follows as Gandalf reads parchments of lore. The motif will occur throughout the entire first half of the score, and its pounding quickness symbolizes very well the urgency of the events and deeds that are to be done.

Another immense track follows, as Frodo and Sam set out from Hobbiton and take leave of Gandalf. The first part of this track is rather quiet and sorrowful, and features both Frodo's theme and the theme for the Fellowship of the Ring. As Gandalf arrives at Isengart to talks with his superior Saruman, the pace quickens, but it becomes brooding almost instantly again. And then there is a eruption of choral power as I've never heard it before. Listen to this track, it is simply incredible, and please overlook the fact that the choir chants 'Ash nOOzg durbatuluk" instead of "Ash nAzg...". #5, "The Black Rider", begins with a rambunctious orchestral scherzo that is very entertaining. It ends abruptly, and gloom and foreboding danger take over, as the first Ringwraith appears in the Shire. Sauron's minions are scored with a descending motif similar to Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and a choral chant that made me extremely nervous as if something terrible was lurking behind me and rivals even Williams' "Duel of the Fates" in scope and sheer power. #6, while beginning rather calm, takes this motif further, in an even more powerful performance. It all climaxes in track 7, "A Knife in the Dark": it begins with that rapid motif, followed by a screeching string glissando over the Ringwraith motif. The choir is back again, supporting the Nazgûls' attack on the four hobbits on Weathertop. There is no escape, there is no hope, only Death! Then we hear a new theme, the theme for Saruman and Isengart. It's a throbbing metallic rhythm with a very interesting measure and some simple but yet powerful brass overlays. And then, all of a sudden, there is a bat and an angelic boys choir with solo. Unexpected, but incredibly effective. The rhythm takes over again, bringing a very varied track to a loud closure. The first part of the scores finishes with track 8: it opens with a heavenly boys soprano and some string-dominated, more quiet music. But as soon as we think everything's okay, Shore stabs us in the back, and provides us with some powerful writing for brass and timpani before loosing the choir with all its might. "Móri, nafharat", indeed. It culminates in chaotic brass, before ending with again a boys soprano solo, as the Ringwraiths are literally swept away and Frodo and company finally, after many dangers, arriving at Rivendell. We have quietness, now, at least for some time.

#9, "Many Meetings", begins with that element which makes this score so original: a choir, but this time in a warm and lovely fashion, representing Rivendell and the ancient Elves living there. Frodo's theme weaves in and out of this track with sweeping and sorrowful strings. Actually, it's a quite simple theme (c-d-e-g, e-d-c), but I think its beauty comes from that very simplicity. #10 features the love theme "Aníron" by Enya. It is a very quiet piece of music, perhaps a little bit too unremarkable, but fits the between the quiet parts of the score quite well. After a short rendition of the Shire theme, we hear the grand Fellowship theme for first time. It's a noble and heroic theme (guess why!), and it's interestingly constructed: after the first part, it is performed a few notes below before it ends in a glorious crescendo. #11, "The Ring goes South", features this theme again, as the Fellowship travels south along the skirts of the Misty Mountains. It's a rather optimistic cue, but that mood doesn't hold long.

After retreating from the snowy heights of Caradhras, the Fellowship enters the incredibly vast mines of Moria. Shore's music is appropriately dark and foreboding, with mostly low strings and restrained percussion. The use of a Maori male choir makes this track and the next the highlight of the entire score. The choir sings in Khuzdul, the language of the Dwarves. After the theme for the ring, Shore slowly builds up his music to a absolutely huge and marvelous crescendo, which in my opinion is the highlight of the entire score. It is only ten seconds or so in length, but it is so good. After that, the music becomes tumultuous, as a horde of Orcs attacks the company, but I have to say that in this case tumultuous doesn't mean dissonant. In fact, this NEVER gets dissonant, and that's another major plus. Then, the big action track follows, "The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm", and this track more than any other cries out urgency and drama. The Fellowship theme makes a grand entrance, and after that, the Maori choir returns, chanting powerfully in the background, or making even moans or something similar. The piece moves along at a good pace provided by timpani that are never used in excess. The Dwarvish chants build up in momentum to another crashing rendition of the Fellowship theme, and after another minute of pounding, the music reaches its climax as Gandalf falls into the abyss together with the Balrog. A solemn and heartbreakingly beautiful chorus with boy solo (if this minute doesn't makes you cry, nothing other will!) follows, and brings this track to a sorrowful close.

After escaping the long darkness of Moria, we enter the Golden Woods of Lothlórien. Although this is my least favorite track of the score, it is undeniably effective in conveying the mystic of this Elvish country and the power of the Lady Galadriel (although both are too darkly embodied). Female choir as well as a vocal solo in Quenya sung by Mabel Faletou, as well as some exotic instruments are used for this track. Track 15 begins with a haunting choir, quiet and solemn, and introduces, after a soft rendition of the Fellowship theme, the main Númenorean appears in full might as we see the gigantic statues of the ancient kings Isildur and Anárion. It is a most heroic theme, but also somewhat ambiguous, since the weakness of the Númenoreans 3000 years ago was the reason that the Ring wasn't destroyed. The last action track on this album, "Amon Hen", begins with quiet choir and high strings but quickly shifts into an array of French Horns and restraint timpani before fading into the Isengart/Orc ostinato, which ends abruptly with three mighty bangs. Choir takes over again, bidding an sorrowful farewell to Boromir, and thoughtful strings and soft brass brings this track to a close.

Shore's ends his score with a incredibly moving and rewarding track, "The Breaking of the Fellowship". Boromir is slain, Merry and Pippin taken by the Orcs, the quest stands on the edge of a knife. Frodo decides to go to Mordor alone, but is soon joined by his servant, Sam. A stirring Horner-esque passage for strings with a wonderful and restrained crescendo accompanies the beginning of their lonely travel into the shadows. Frodo's theme is heard on pan-flute (or something similar), before a low and noble brass passage accompanies Boromir on his last voyage down Anduin. Aragorn chooses not to follow Frodo and Sam, but to try to rescue Merry and Pippin, appropriately supported by the Fellowship theme. A new theme for mainly strings, soft brass and Bodhrán drums emerges, and it's truly heartbreaking. Then, there's Frodo's theme again, and the drums with soft choir lead us into "In Dreams", a beautiful, almost hymnal song for boy soprano and choir. Sung by Edward Ross, it perfectly captures the tragic of the moment, but also the eternal hope, and even foreshadows a kind of happy-end ('I will go there, and back again'). Frodo's theme closes the track in an interesting fashion, since Shore ends it on a fifth (thus, not bringing it around in a complete circle). Enya's relaxing "May it be" provides a thoughtful and simply gorgeous end to the CD, and since it is only my fourth single Enya track, I value it very highly. The CD closes with a quiet rendition of Frodo's theme and a glorious statement of the Fellowship theme. It's teasing that we have to wait till late autumn to hear the next part of The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers.

Overall, I cannot praise and recommend The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring enough. It is a stunning piece of work: it fits the film enormously well and makes for an equally enjoyable listening on its own. It may have some minor faults, such as the sometimes uneven sound or the also sometimes some basic underscore, but in my opinion, these "faults" are completely forgettable. Even if I have reviewed this score in a light much too bright, I don't apologize for this. I'm front and center in demanding and supporting a complete score release, since only that move would do this epic work full justice! Fans of the books and the film don't need my recommendation, I suppose, but to everyone else: get it, GET IT, GET IT NOW! Easily the best score of 2001, The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring has lived up to and exceeded my expectations in the best way and proved wrong my skepticism. One score to rule them all... *****

- Christian Kuehn,

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