J.W. Braun here. Readers of my book, The Lord of the Films, sometimes comment that I must have a musical background and that it’s obvious I’m a big fan of Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings. Well, both are true! I play the violin, viola, and piano, and I think The Lord of the Rings score is the greatest score of all time.
Today, the soundtrack for the first Hobbit film has become available in a two disc set. While it will probably take me months to truly appreciate it, here are my track by track thoughts today.
My Dear Frodo (8:04)
Reminiscent of “Days of the Ring” from The Return of the King, this track has lush strings leading us into the memorable Shire themes. It’s like we never left Middle-earth, or that we’re returning to its sanctity, akin to slipping on favorite, old pair of shoes. Then (after a repetitive triangle ding of all things) it gets darker to set the mood for the whole film, serving almost as an overture.
Old Friends (4:29)
This, again, takes us back to The Lord of the Rings, sounding very much like the music that backs Bilbo’s narration in the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, At the same time, there are variations, reminding us that these are new adventures. The friendly, homey hobbit theme is in full force, but like the previous track, it turns darker before the end.
An Unexpected Party (3:52)
“Like and yet unlike” as Gimli might say. This one is dark and different – with unexpected starts and stops. Yet it fits right into the musical universe Shore created for The Lord of the Rings. In the second half of the piece, Shore plays around with a 3/4 chromatic theme, like a medieval dance song – which will reappear throughout the soundtrack.
Axe or Sword (5:59)
This one reminds me of the music in Moria as Gandalf talks with Frodo about Gollum. It’s not the same theme, but it’s a slower number that combines light and darkness in a similar way to fill the soul with a longing to see the wonders of Middle-earth.
Misty Mountains (1:43)
A standout to be sure. Richard Armitage and the Dwarves are great, and the tune is out of this world, being deep, dark, and majestic and expressing an importance that’s moving. Tolkien would have been proud. The song sells the whole point of the film, setting up the deep meaning the quest holds for Thorin. It’s just so… Dwarvish. This will probably be remembered as the signature song for The Unexpected Journey. The song’s melody is a cornerstone to the Hobbit soundtrack, reappearing throughout.
The Adventure Beings (2:05)
This one has a beginning that sounds similar to the music that follows Aragorn’s tumble over the cliff in The Two Towers – when Legolas and Gimli are looking for him. Then it spills into a quick uptempo frolicking number reminiscent of when Sam and Frodo run into Merry and Pippin in Farmer Maggot’s field. It’s easy to imagine what’s going on in the film here. An unexpected journey to be sure!
The World Ahead (2:20)
Bright and cheery, this track is like seeing the world for the first time, full of innocence and happiness, with strings, brass, and woodwinds trading the spotlight. It continues to play with that chromatic theme before working its way into the “Misty Mountain” theme.
An Ancient Enemy (4:58)
With its high strings, percussion, and choir (and 5/4 time) this one is sure to bring back memories of The Fellowship of the Ring. This is one of those dark, evil pieces sure to scare the kiddies. It even has a hint of that descending third motif that Sauron loves so much. It’s reminiscent of Weathertop and Isengard… as if the two had a child.
Radagast the Brown (4:55)
Like Bilbo’s song (from the closing credits of The Return of the King), this one uses a children’s choir to deliver a sweet melody. Unlike Bilbo’s song, it has a demented side (and a bit of a jig). Once it gets going, it moves swiftly and is full of rhythm, including an ascending motif and what almost sounds like a ticking clock.
Roast Mutton (4:03)
Beginning with tremolo and then adding pizzacato, this suspenseful piece will remind you of the music from The Return of the King as Pippin is trying to light the beacon! It has a different theme but the same mischievous smile to its phrasing as it builds up the suspense – like the beginning of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.
A Troll-hoard (2:39)
Just a mood setting piece, this one is dark and ominous but not really noteworthy, lacking a soaring melody to take center stage – probably on purpose.
The Hill of Sorcery (3:51)
This has a bit of “I wish the Ring had never come to me” music to it before reprising Radagast’s theme. It’s quite a percussive little piece, building suspense with a dark tone.
As opposed to Radagast’s ascending theme, the evil forces have a descending theme, backed by a quick beat, plenty of high strings and percussion. This track is certainly an action piece, full of suspense and thrills!
The Hidden Valley (3:52)
This one begins somewhat similar to the music in the background when Aragorn is looking at the entrance to the Paths of the Dead. There’s a timeless or ancient quality to it that demands respect but simultaneously creates a feeling of unease. And then we get that familiar Rivendell music in all its glory! (Brings a tear to my eye.) The piece ends with an uptempo march with ascending strings.
Moon Runes (3:20)
This slow, somber number uses the various instruments of the orchestera to fill out some very long phrases that build the uneasy mood.
The Defiler (1:14)
Here we have one of them there evil pieces, with tremolo strings and deep brass creating tension above a percussive underscore. It would fit right into The Two Towers, but it doesn’t last long.
The White Council (7:38)
This has some of the same themes as “The Hidden Valley” and “Moon Runes” and is more of the same, sounding ancient and majestic – with an occasional choir part thrown in and a tremolo ending.
After “The Misty Mountains” motif, LOTR fans will jump out of their seats as the track works its way into the Lothlórien theme, the opening notes of The Lord of the Rings prologue! It even has a bit of the Shire theme, stylized the same way as the end of The Two Towers when Frodo tells Sam he wouldn’t get far without him (before telling him to go home in the next film). The track begins subtle and quiet before working its way into a more exciting tone, featuring stringed arpeggios over the Misty Mountain motif.
Harry Defeats the Dragon (4:54)
What the? Oops… accidentally switched my ipod on shuffle. My bad. Let’s move on.
A Thunder Battle (3:55)
This is one of those “truth in advertising” tracks. It’s a battle! The strings climb upwards, built on a swift matching beat (like that in the background of the Siege of Minas Tirith), and the excitement we expect from a Peter Jackson movie builds throughout this piece.
Under Hill (1:55)
We keep the swift beat but change the meter to really crank up the tension, with different parts of the orchestra working their ways in and out of the spotlight and to create one of the most exciting pieces on the album. You can almost feel the Goblins breathing down your neck as a repetitive 5/4 ascending motif plays.
Riddles in the Dark (5:21)
Not surprisingly, familiar music from LOTR pops up here, with the “History of the Ring” theme taking center stage. But there’s another quality about this track that makes it new and different. There’s a sad innocence and naivety to the music, with the strings and woodwinds playing simple lyrical lines – like the back half of The Fellowship of the Ring’s prologue.
Brass Buttons (7:38)
This is a suspenseful piece that will have listeners on the edge of their chair, with various bits that move and out of leitmotifs previously established. It’s clear we’re approaching the end of the film! Much like the Dwarven chorus for Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring, deep voices chant a foreign tongue to set the mood before the (long) piece ends with a slower part with a more gentle choir.
Out of the Frying Pan (5:55)
Full of brassy urgency and staccato strings, this number is reminiscent of the great battles from The Lord of the Rings, with an uptempo pulsing rhythm and more edge of the seat excitement. This again uses a choir (and distortion) to accent the drama, with a hint of the “nature’s reclamation” theme from The Two Towers.
A Good Omen (5:57)
Full of hope and featuring the choir, this song is… well, a good omen. It has a swift 4/4 tempo and makes you feel like you’re soaring through the air!
Song of the Lonely Mountain (6:01)
Neil Finn is wonderful, singing this “Misty Mountains” song in his tenor voice. (It’s done as more of a pop song of course.) Guitar and strings serve as the background. It also fittingly includes an anvil being struck.
Dreaming of Bag End (1:57)
This Celtic inspired track conjures up images of the Shire with its whistle and strings, giving the soundtrack a happy ending.
These bonus tracks are available with the special edition:
A Very Respectable Hobbit (1:22)
With its spritely version of the familiar Shire theme couched in the newer themes of The Hobbit, this is a bright, cheery fun track with that begins in 4/4 time with a heavy downbeat before switching to 3/4 time for a coda featuring the chromatic theme.
Texturing the background with a rhythmic pulse, this is an exciting piece foreshadowing the coming adventure. It reminds me of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in some ways, actually. However, unlike the Potter soundtrack, this features uilleann pipes to give it a Celtic feel. Very short, but fun.
The Dwarf Lords (2:02)
Reminiscent of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, this track will bring back memories of the men of Edoras and Minas Tirith preparing for war – and yet it has its own charm as well.
The Edge of the Wild (3:34)
String arpeggios lead us into a bright version of the “Misty Mountains” music, conjuring up a spirit of adventure.
There can be no doubt that this a strong start for The Hobbit. There’s just the right blend of innocence, familiarity, and excitement. It feels like Middle-earth but also has a new sense of adventure and discovery we weren’t introduced to in The Lord of the Rings. It captures the spirit of Bilbo, the dwarves, and the forces of light and darkness in one complete package. Great job by all!
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