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
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
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