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Leitmotifs in Howard Shore’s Soundtrack

December 26, 2002 at 3:16 pm by Tehanu  - 

Simon wrote in with some thoughts on the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings so far, which got me thinking about how Shore was approaching it as a kind of opera. I keep thinking of Wagner (not that it sounds like Wagner…not because Wagner did a Ring opera…..Look, I don’t even LIKE Wagner!) but because he was one of the first composers to rely on ‘leitmotifs’ or little musical fragments that represent and idea or character or thought in the story. Like Wagner, Shore’s music cues you in to important things in the story by the use of these motifs. Simon lists the ones he’s found so far.

In Simon’s words: “I was thinking about how great Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings has been so far, and began to wonder just how many themes there were, and how they progress throughout the trilogy of films. This is what I’ve found so far, if anyone out there is interested!

1) Gondor/Men theme – 9 note minor motif heard over the title of both movies, when Boromir goes for the Ring at the council of Elrond (extended version) and when the Fellowship pass by the Argonath

2) The Ring theme #1 – minor motif heard when Gollum has the One Ring, and when Gandalf talks about the Ring

3) The Ring theme #2 – minor motif heard when Boromir and Aragorn are tempted by the One Ring, sung softly by a boy‚s choir

4) Hobbiton/Hobbit theme – heard in Hobbiton at the beginning of ‘Fellowship’

5) Fellowship theme #1 – used a lot during Frodo/Sam’s scenes, such as when they leave the Shire for the first time (“If I take one more step, it’ll be the furthest from home I’ve ever been”) and when Faramir lets the hobbits go at the end of ‘Towers’

6) Fellowship theme #2 ˆ bombastic, heroic theme heard when other members of the Fellowship are together, such as when they leave Balin‚s tomb, and when Aragorn says “we will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death”, and when Legolas jumps on the shield at the battle of Helm‚s Deep; used in a minor key when, for example, Gandalf rides to Isengard

7) Isengard/Saruman/Uruk-Hai theme ˆ a 5/4 based theme in a minor key, consisting of 6 notes, heard whenever the Uruk-Hai are travelling, or when Saruman is building his army

8) Mordor/Sauron theme ˆ evil sounding theme, heard when we first see Mordor in ‘Fellowship’, when the different races argue at the Council of Elrond, and when Frodo and Sam first see the Black Gates

9) Ents/Treebeard theme ˆ heard when Merry and Pippin first meet Treebeard; a kind of low, slow, ominous theme, played on brass and wooden percussion

10) Gollum‚s theme ˆ a sort of eastern-flavoured theme, played on some sort of plucked string instrument; heard when we first see Gollum in ‘Towers’

11) Nature vs. Industry theme? ˆ sung by a boy soprano; heard first when Gandalf whispers to the moth when imprisoned in Orthanc, then more prominently when the Ents march on Isengard

12) Rivendell theme ˆ heard when we first see Rivendell, when the members of the Fellowship arrive, then when the Elves leave Rivendell in ‘Towers’

13) Lothlorien/Lorien Elves theme ˆ heard first when the Fellowship enter Lothlorien, then sung by a single female voice as a lament for Gandalf, then when Galadriel communicates with Elrond in ‘Towers’ then when the Lorien Elves arrive at Helm‚s Deep, then when the battle of Helm‚s Deep commences

14) Gondor theme? ˆ heard when Boromir talks about the “White Tower” to Aragorn in Lorien

15) Nazgul theme ˆ heard when the Nazgul are on screen, most prominently at Weathertop and when they break into Bree

16) Gandalf the White/Shadowfax theme ˆ triumphant theme heard when Gandalf the White rides with Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas to Edoras, then when Gandalf leaves Edoras on Shadowfax, then when he returns at the battle of Helm‚s Deep with Eomer

17) Rohan theme ˆ played most prominently on a fiddle of some kind, when we see Rohan for the first time, when we see Edoras, and when Kind Theoden takes up his sword again.”

UPDATE:

Shawna sent in some additions to the list of themes or leimotifs that Simon found in the Rings soundtracks so far.

The theme he’s talking about in #5 is actually more correctly thought of as “Frodo’s theme,” but also kind of a generic hobbits/Shire theme. Known as “The Breaking of the Fellowship” on the FOTR soundtrack, with the lovely boy soprano solo. Sam also now has his own theme: “Samwise the Brave” which is the beginning of that track on the TTT CD, before it switches over to “Frodo’s theme.” I suspect we’ll hear both those themes interwoven, enhanced, etc. quite a bit in ROTK.

Eowyn also has her own theme, which is frequently at the beginning of the larger Rohan theme (which is played on a Norwegian Fiddle, btw). It’s heard most notably when she storms out of the Hall after her confrontation with Wormtongue, and just after she and Aragorn spar. It should make a most lovely battle theme in ROTK. 🙂

There is also a Frodo/Bilbo theme, which is heard during their reunion in Rivendell, and during their interaction at the Party in the extended version.

There’s also the Balrog theme and the Nazgul theme, and a theme for Narsil which will probably be heard in ROTK.

Posted in Old Special Reports on December 26, 2002 by

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