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Review by Brad Green:
Let’s go back to the beginning. Not the first age of Middle-earth, but the Oxford professor creating new languages for his own amusement. J.R.R.Tolkien was an expert in the ancient tongues of northern Europe: Gothic, Old English, Old Norse. He also spoke Finnish, Swedish and Welsh. And no doubt Elvish. He was not secretive about the fact that the inspiration for his epic tales sprang from his linguistic inventions. Remarkably, Tolkien’s characters were created to fit his languages rather than the other way around.

More than just an academic philologist, Tolkien was passionate about language. He cherished its complexities, lyricism and music – the rise and fall of accent and cadence as well as etymological shades of meaning. He played with language in the same way a composer plays with pitch and rhythm.

Thus, there is innate music in Lord Of The Rings, and Howard Shore was an interesting choice to realise it. His is a burgeoning talent with a penchant for the exotic and avant-garde. For a story so profoundly suffused into the cultural psyche, a measure of restraint was obviously required. And Shore finds just the right tone, tempering his experimental urges with a reverence for the narrative.

Moreover, the addition of Irish songstress Enya to the mix is a masterstroke. Shore’s score evokes the great struggle of Middle-earth with all its Good and Evil players – its orcs and elves and wizards and dwarves and trolls and hobbits – while Enya sings like an angel. Her voice and melodies are quintessentially Celtic, and she has never sounded more ethereal and intoxicating.

Shore has a massive arsenal at his disposal. As the forces gather to battle for the One Ring, he marshals choir, full symphony and soloists, deploying each with careful balance and plenty of motif munition. The choral arrangements are dramatic and Germanic of course. Wagner and Orff have been so oft appropriated for any hint of screen heroism it would be ludicrous if their influence were not heard here.

But there is more to this soundtrack than weighty nobility. If the heart of the story is classic Good versus Evil, Light versus Darkness, then there are many colours in between. Flute and a single fiddle introduce the folkloric theme that represents the jollity, perhaps innocence of the Hobbit shire. It is the lighter side of the Anglo Saxon nuance, the rustic romanticism of the English shire, and the counterpoint to the heavy drama to come.

For the central, heroic motif Shore visits John Williams land with an epic fanfare. He gives it an extra boost of poetic grandeur to take us back to the distant Ages instead of Back To The Future. While the arrangements are intricate, Shore keeps his harmonies under control. Nothing jars on the surface, but there are unusual brass and string intervals layered between chorus and timpani in The Shadow Of The Past and A Knife In The Dark. The forces of good are clearly delineated in the story, but evil remains arcane, esoteric and murky. When the various elements are brought together for lengthy, seminal cues such as The Breaking Of The Fellowship a hymn-like quality arises, particularly with the final segue to Enya’s closing, haunting song.

The biggest compliment I can pay this soundtrack is that it faithfully evokes Tolkien’s world: that exemplar amalgam of Nordic myth and Medieval legend. The glorified enchantment of the saga, from the chilling darkness of Mordor, to the nobility of the Fellowship, to the seductive names and phrases of the Tolkien-invented tongues, is there in every bar. And that’s quite an achievement in anybody’s language.

Published December 20, 2001

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TITLE: Lord Of The Rings (The Fellowship Of The Ring)




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