Middle-earth music: The Return of the King

Soundtrack - The Return of the KingComposer Howard Shore draws from the themes he created for previous films in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings for The Return of the King, and this score caps the trilogy off superbly.

He draws from the pleasant pastoral sound of the first movie to show Gollum’s early days as the hobbit Smeagol, before twisting it into a darker theme as Gollum kills his friend for the One Ring. It becomes clear from the start the music will echoe the tests the characters’ will undergo as Tolkien’s story reaches its climax in this instalment.

It’s not all gloom and doom, though. The heroic mood of “The White Tower” soars as mountaintop beacons are lit to call Gondor’s allies to help defend its embattled capital. And even though the weight of Sauron’s forces is felt in the deep notes of “Minas Tirith,” the brass section overlays it with a noble melody to evoke the courage of of the soldiers of Gondor.

Even some of the characters are given a voice on this score. Merry (Billy Boyd) sings in “Steward of Gondor” and his humble voice contrasts with the creeping, disquieting strings as Faramir, the Steward’s son, charges into a doomed attempt to retake the captured city of Osgiliath.

Later, Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) sings at his own coronation, and the power of the music lies in its understated elegance.

It’s an apt counterpoint to more shrill and discordant pieces, such as those when Sam and Frodo enter Mordor with Gollum as in “Cirith Ungol” and “Shelob’s Lair.”

Rounding out the score is its “single” — a song played over the closing credits, as did Enya’s “May It Be” in The Fellowship of the Ring and Emiliana Torrini “Gollum’s Song” in The Two Towers. This time it’s Annie Lennox singing “Into the West.” Her simple, powerful voice over Shore’s orchestrations conveys beautifully the loneliness and consolation of the characters’ journeys as some depart for the Undying Lands in the west and others must remain in Middle-earth. It won the Academy Award for Best Song in 2004 — and it certainly deserved it.

The Return of the King

  • composed by Howard Shore
  • Reprise / WMG SOundtracks, 2003
  • Four stars out of five
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8 thoughts on “Middle-earth music: The Return of the King

  1. I loved the scores for this trilogy. And Annie Lennox’s song certainly did deserve that Oscar — and maybe a second one for her performance of it at the Academy Awards that year. I nearly cried just watching her gorgeous, soaring, feeling-it-in-my-own-lungs-just-watching-her-sing singing.

    • Partly because I felt it doesn’t quite work as a whole piece to just listen to — the way his scores to FOTR and TTT did. It works when you’ve sort of got the other scores in your head, but not so much on its own. I should probably have articulated that in the review, but I felt it was already getting a bit long.

      • Not too long at all, but then I’m long-winded myself.

        And I can see your point. I wonder whether this is partly because so much of a musical score’s phrases and moments are connected to individual characters or places (e.g. the Shire, the Fellowship, Mordor, etc.), and in the third installment of a trilogy, most of the ground has already been introduced.

        I thought this issue was handled relatively well in the Harry Potter movies, but then each installment offered a little bit new to work with — more so than LotR.

        • Also: John Williams. Not everything he does is great, but every film he scores has a unified whole symphonic sound. And when he’s great, he towers above most others. (As a Star Wars and Raiders fan, though, I’m pretty biased 🙂 )

  2. I love the music from these movies & play them when I’m writing. The mood of my characters seem to shift somewhat to reflect the tone of each track. Don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I guess anything that keeps me writing is a good thing! 🙂

    • I’m the same way, though I find sometimes the music gets ahead of the scene I’m writing. It sometimes work better if I have the score “stuck” in my head without the music actually playing, so as I write I just pull up the theme that seems to fit. I used to love drawing or painting to my favourite movie scores — now I think I’ll try it with this one (haven’t drawn much for a while…)

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