While McCreary has crafted Season One’s score, Shore’s contribution to the show is the title theme. Shore has won three Academy Awards for his music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit feature film trilogies. McCreary is an Emmy and BAFTA winner for his music scores on Outlander and God of War.
In this new segment, two of our Discord regulars, Reading Room Moderator DrNosy and composer Mike T, debate the show’s title theme and whether it is ‘musically’ suited to the score of The Rings of Power.
The French horns.
It is that instrument that I closely relate to the music of The Lord of the Rings, particularly in the soundtrack Prologue: One Ring to Rule Them All. Hearing them again, in the first second of the Main Title, I was immediately pulled back towards the story and events that launched the Third Age — Sauron with the One Ring in hand laying waste to the armies of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves.
However, as I keep listening to the track, I start to feel something is off. This music sounds like a watered-down version of that track from The Lord of the Rings. A “lite” version of The Lord of the Rings is absolutely not what the Second Age should sound like. It is also almost completely at odds with the rest of the themes in the album.
Listening to the entire album, it is clear that McCreary (following in Shore’s footsteps with the film tracks) has created a succinct soundscape for the Second Age, complete with themes for each character and narrative arcs for the events of Season One. Shore’s theme does not seem to fit with any of McCreary’s tracks.
I think this might be the biggest thing driving negative reactions to Main Title, as well as the opposing negative reactions that favor the theme over the score, and it’s definitely a misstep on the part of the people behind the show, but is it a problem with the music itself?
Not from where I stand: both composers have done what they were tasked with, and done it well.
If there is a question to ask, it’s this: why wasn’t part of that task, for either of them, to strive for more musical unity with each other. For now, it seems pointless to speculate on that.
Perhaps we’ll get more insight into the circumstances of the composition eventually, or maybe we’ll even have a situation where Bear does start to weave some of Shore’s ideas in. In any case, some of us just seem more willing to “bridge the gap” ourselves, and to take Shore’s theme as a welcome bit of torch-passing that will nicely frame each episode of the series.
While I take your point about “bridging the gap” between the films and the show, I simply do not see how or why they should be linked in Main Title itself.
Main Title’s fairy-esque tones simply do not fit with the characterization of the factionalized, bloodied, and catastrophic ending of the many races of Middle-earth in the Second Age. Not to mention how it completely seems to miss the themes and leitmotifs of the other peoples of Middle-earth, i.e., the Dwarves, Harfoots, Númenor, and Orcs.
I appreciate Shore’s use of the musical leitmotif representing Galadriel (ethereal ‘Elven’ feminine vocals at 0:35), but that moment also rings along the lines of a ‘fairy lady in the woods singing to the birds’, which is closely followed by ‘evil has come to the woods and it threatens the lady and her birds’ (0:53). It is the ultimate mischaracterization of the Galadriel of the Second Age, especially as the Galadriel we meet in The Rings of Power is an Elf at war with herself.
Why is it that we don’t hear that conflict in Shore’s theme?
As you noted at the outset, from the very first notes heard it is clear, from both the voicing of the chord and the way it is orchestrated, where this music is supposed to take us. It follows exactly the rhetorical and stylistic precedents Shore first set over 20 years ago. And yes, his writing is indeed always committed to very tightly-woven leitmotivic processes. His Main Theme does in fact seem to make reference to a number of musical structures that are present in his previous Middle-earth music, related to the various story elements you mention.
Whether this is explicit enough for every listener, I certainly can’t decree… but there is an argument to be made for their presence (the specifics of which I will not bore readers with here!).
As for your feeling that the theme mischaracterizes Galadriel, I would simply argue that the vocal element in question is not meant to represent Galadriel in the first place. It sounds to me more like an incidental orchestration choice by the composer, rather than being intended as a direct evocation of anything or anyone previously associated with that specific color, and likewise, the darker turn you mention is a more abstract musical turn to represent the overall tumult of the events of the Second Age, not anything specific to Galadriel’s arc.
The whole piece in fact centers around this dramatic “triptych” structure, in which we are introduced to familiar-sounding material which begins confidently but then takes a darker turn, and is briefly restated in a more pure way before ending in a quite unresolved place.
This feels like an apt encapsulation of what we’re going to see play out here, a sort of grand overview of events rather than a focused musical commentary on specific characters. Does it do so in weighty enough tones for what we will experience in the substance of the show?
Again, I can’t decide that for everyone, I can only explain the possible thinking behind things.
I see Galadriel as the main protagonist of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power.
If the feminine vocal element isn’t Galadriel, it would seem that Main Title doesn’t weave any element of McCreary’s sounds for the Second Age, which is curious to say the least. I was also disappointed how Main Title drastically falls short of iconic sounding title themes we hear in other fantasy/epic shows such as A Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, The Witcher, Westworld, His Dark Materials, The Sandman, and others.
The whole purpose of title music is to leave a lasting impact or memory of the show on the audience every single time they tune in to watch. I still remember how I binged the entire glorious Season One of The Crown in one night. At that time, I did not dare to skip the titles (even to save time) because of my need to let the music (and title sequence) wash over me as I savored and reflected on the episodes I’d watched previously. I did the same with The Witcher, His Dark Materials, and The Wheel of Time.
It is hard to ignore the impact of ‘good’ and ‘catchy’-sounding theme music, especially because its sole purpose is to transition the audience from the opening events of the episode (or even the previous episode) into the central story arc.
I find myself forgetting Shore’s title track music even after having listened to it about 20 times now.
It’s true, there are ways to open with a bang and to set up a musical hook that will immediately grab the audience. It may simply be that Shore’s approach as a composer tends more towards subtlety than the expectations formed by the examples you mention, for better or worse.
There are surely important musical structures in Shore’s prologue to “The Fellowship of the Ring” which, if not for the subsequent hours of music building on them, might not be clear to us as meaningful, and which would not grab us by the heart, so to speak, without that reinforcement.
I think we have a situation similar to that hypothetical here. Nothing of Howard’s new theme is, at least based on what we’ve heard so far, built on in Bear’s score.
Those elemental structures are not reinforced. We go right from an echo of the Middle-earth sound that we know, to a younger and more vibrant Middle-earth, with no real bridge between that and the grand but poignant “civilization in decline” soundworld we’re used to.
The power of familiarity shouldn’t be underestimated though. Given what I’ve seen happen with some other scores’ themes over the years, I’m willing to bet that quite a few of those who are currently unimpressed by and unattached to this one will feel differently once they’ve heard it fifty or so times accompanying each episode, when this new journey reaches its end.
About our chat participants
DrNosy is a scientist (physical science), scholar, and Tolkien enthusiast. Her primary interests lie in review and analysis of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. She is an active contributor and Reading Room Moderator on TheOneRing.net Discord where she also hosts live open-forum panel discussions on The Rings of Power, The Silmarillion, and a variety of Tolkien-related topics. You can reach her on Twitter.
Mike T is a composer and near-lifelong Tolkien aficionado. After obsessively relying on TORn for spoiler reports during the early 2000s, and pursuing a musical life in large part due to the experience of hearing Howard Shore’s scores in darkened theaters dozens of times, he is delighted to find himself back amongst the TORn community for this new journey through Middle-Earth. You can listen to his music at https://michaeltrapasso.bandcamp.com and reach out to him on Twitter.
Editor’s Note:we reported in September last year that McCreary was being brought onboard to work with Shore on scoring the series. It was rumored at the time that Shore didn’t “necessarily want to compose the whole series”. We now know that Shore and McCreary ended up composing the music separately.
It appears that some, uh, overly enterprising leakers thought they could make a quick buck by posting the full OST of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power to YouTube.
It was quickly caught and deleted. But, in the meantime, we were able discover a little over half of the track titles — and they provide interesting hints of what’s soon to come. Of the 37 tracks on the OST, the title theme is composed by Howard Shore, while the other 36 are by Bear McCreary.
Below are the titles of the first 19:
01. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Main Title
04. Nori Brandyfoot
05. The Stranger
09. In the Beginning
10. Elrond Half-elven
11. Durin IV
12. Harfoot Life
13. Bronwyn and Arondir
15. The Boat
16. Sundering Seas
17. Nobody Goes Off Trail
18. Elendil and Isildur
19. White Leaves
We can also now add the remaining track titles
20. The Secrets of the Mountain
21. Nolwa Mahtar
23. A Plea to the Rocks
24. This Wandering Day
25. Scherzo for Violin and Swords
26. Sailing into the Dawn
27. For the Southlands
29. Water and Flame
30. In the Mines
31. The Veil of Smoke
32. The Mystics
33. Perilous Whisperings
34. The Broken Line
35. Wise One
36. True Creation Requires Sacrifice
37. Where the Shadows Lie
TORn does not condone piracy. Remember that the official release is around the corner, folks. You’ll very soon be able to stream the music to your heart’s delight via your favourite service, or even pick up a copy on physical media.
Deadline and Fellowship of the Fans (FOTF) are carrying separate reports that Howard Shore is in the frame to compose soundtrack music for the LOTR on Prime series. FOTF reports the deal is, in fact, already inked and, additionally, that Shore will be joined by American composer Bear McCreary.
For those living under a rock (yours truly, for example), McCreary is best known for his work on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, as well as Outlander and The Walking Dead. He also composed the music for the God of War computer game.
The choice of Shore offers more evidence that Amazon Studios is exerting a lot of effort to create a synchronicity between the LOTR on Prime Second Age-focused series and the aesthetics that Peter Jackson established with his own renditions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
In 2019, Shore expressed in an interview with Loot Crate that he’d be open to and interested working in the Middle-earth milieu again.
I spent so many happy years traveling through Tolkien’s world. If I was able to return and explore a bit more in a creative environment, I would be very interested to do so.
It’s also worth noting that in September 2020 TORn Tuesday revealed a rumour that Shore and Amazon were in discussions. Staffer Justin reported that Shore didn’t “necessarily want to compose the whole series”, but was keen to be involved in the design and development of the themes. This would tend to bear out FOTF’s report of a dual-pronged appointment and the involvement of McCreary. You can watch that TORn Tuesday episode here (Shore discussion starts around 9 mins 50 secs).
Chance Thomas is a composer who has worked in film, television and video games, including when he transported readers to Middle-earth in the game Lord of the Rings Online. He is a Tolkien enthusiast and was happy to do an interview with TheOneRing. We sat down, broke bread and talked Tolkien.
Thomas was involved in several editions of LOTRO including, “Riders of Rohan,” “Mines of Moria,” Shadows of Angmar,” and “Mordor.” I watched recently as fans geeked out at the chance to meet the man who provided the music for the game they loved so dearly.
He has a long list of credits including other Peter Jackson games and an Academy Award winning short film “The ChubbChubbs!”
Chance Thomas: When I was a child, my mother was always singing in our home. She took me to the symphony, we listened to records and sang along with the radio. Great music was always around and it always lit me up.
As I grew older, good friends would often introduce me to cool new bands and recording artists. We would get together just to share new songs we liked with each other. I also started playing in orchestras and rock bands and wrote songs and made recordings. After college, my wife and I entertained together on cruise ships and wrote pop songs.
Really, I have loved music for as long as I can remember.
TORn: Where did your involvement with Tolkien come from?
CT: I read the Hobbit as a tween, but didn’t tackle The Lord of the Rings until I was in my 30s. When I did finally read the trilogy, it was like an eruption of joy and discovery inside of me.
Oh, how I loved it! The world, the characters, the fantasy, the pacing, the descriptions … and the music! Everywhere across the world there was mention of music. Songs, instruments, voices; it was wonderful. As a result, I began to codify all of the references in the book and their inferences about music into a document, “The Tolkien Music Style Guide.” The intent was to keep me authoritatively focused as I composed, so that the music I wrote would resonate with the source material, as if drawn from some sub-dimensional embedding of music in the very literature itself.
TORn: As a composer, do you get a lot of emotional feedback on your work? Do you hear from people?
What a great question. (Thanks Chance!)
Media composers like me generally get very little feedback on the work we do. But that’s not uncommon in the professional world. For example, a plumber who lays pipes and fittings in a new home will likely never get feedback from the people who buy the home unless there’s a problem.
It’s hard for me to imagine a homeowner tracking down a plumber, calling him up, and saying, “Hey man! I just want you to know how much we’re enjoying the water pressure in our shower. It’s amazing!”
Likewise, most of the people who hear my music are busy playing the game or watching the TV show, or going through the VR experience. They’re gleefully consuming the entertainment, enjoying it as a total experience. It’s not often that people will go to the extra effort of tracking a composer down to give feedback on the music.
Having said all that, the one notable exception comes from “The Lord of the Rings Online.”
Players of this game have been unusually active in finding me online and sharing their enthusiasm for the music I’ve written for them. It has been incredibly gratifying, as you can imagine, to have people find me and share how much the music has meant to them over the years.
And actually, now that I think of it, “DOTA 2” players have been great that way too.
TORn: Who are some of your music heroes and also heroes in your more specific field of soundtracks?
CT: Kansas, Boston, Elton John, Billy Joel, Toto, James Newton Howard, John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman, Loreena McKennitt, Earth, Wind and Fire, Quincy Jones, many more.
TORn: For those of us who can’t compose music, how does it feel to complete a piece of music ?
It’s surprisingly dynamic, really. You can feel an incredible rush of adrenaline and satisfaction at times. You can also feel complete contempt, disgust, and self-loathing. And the pendulum can swing from one extreme to the other fast enough to make your head spin. I had that kind of reaction when I wrote the theme for Rohan. Still do. Sometimes I think it’s a really great tune. Other times I think… meh.
I’m not saying that composers are neurotic, but we can tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with our own creations. Sometimes that pendulum can even swing all the way across an entire score. I never was really sure how I felt about my first DOTA 2 score.
TORn: Are there certain pieces you find that you love more than others? You have compared them to children in previous conversations.
CT: I write a ton of action music. Creating action tracks can be super fun. It’s loud, it’s bombastic, its aggressive. It gets the adrenaline going. But more often than not, if I’m just in a listening mood, I prefer the more thematic pieces, the thoughtful tracks, the music with some emotional movement in it. Here are a couple of examples from that part of my composing style. First the thematic afterture I recently composed for Warhammer:
And here is an older one, the tragic hero theme I composed for King Kong:
TORn: Can you watch films or the like and not focus on the soundtrack?
Absolutely. I’ve always been drawn deeply into films. Sometimes my wife laughs when I’m watching a movie because I may physically duck and dodge during fight scenes. In the process of being entertained, I typically consume the music as part of the overall experience. But when the music is meant to stand out and be featured, I dial in to that too.
TORn: What types of projects do you hope to do down the road?
CT: As a fan and as an artist, I adore deeply developed fictional worlds. I love working in them, creating music so that people who love those worlds can be drawn in ever more deeply.
I’ve been privileged to compose music for many such worlds, including The Lord of the Rings, James Cameron’s Avatar, Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, Marvel, King Kong and many more.
Down the road, I hope to continue to contribute to these kinds of fantasy worlds, at higher and higher levels, with broader and broader reach. Composing for the Avatar film sequels or the LOTR television series would definitely be at the top of my list
Larry, thanks for the interview. It’s always a pleasure. May the road go ever on and on!
When our friends from within the Tolkien Community heard we’re having a special birthday they sent us these lovely messages as part of our celebrations. So Happy 20th Anniversary TORn! Here’s to many many more!
Kia Ora TORn,
Happy 20th Anniversary, well done on making this wonderful achievement! We have been involved with TORn through one of your founding members Erica Challis, from New Zealand since 2002. We have enjoyed the fantastic Premier movie parties that Red Carpet Tours has provided and TORn attended, along with the stars from the films. Looking forward to future calibrations and hopefully a great Lotr TV series for all the fans. Congratulations again on 20 years! Best regards, Julie James and the team at Red Carpet Tours.
Happy 20th Birthday to TheOneRing.net from The Brisbane Tolkien Fellowship. We hope you continue to have another successful 20 years at least sharing the news of all things Middle-earth.
Dear Friends at TheOneRing,
Congratulations on reaching the ripe old age of 20 ; ) Thank you for all the support and love you’ve given us all.
When I took the job of playing Ori in The Hobbit, I didn’t think I’d collect so many chums. Like the cast, you too are part of my extended dysfunctional Tolkien family!
Have a great celebration – drink, be merry… and avoid the green food! See you all soon. Adam x
A big happy 20th anniversary to TheOneRing.net ! All this time you have been delivering to us critical and wonderful news regarding the world of JRR Tolkien, from the books to the films to the Collectibles and everything in between. May 20 more years be forthcoming!
Cheers, Jerry Vanderstelt
Our good friend Donato Giancola also has given us a mathom to offer to you all! For the next ten days, you can get 50% (!!) off on all of Donato’s incredible art prints. Just use the coupon code TORN at checkout. Take a look at the wonderful prints on sale, here. Thanks so much, Donato!
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years already – it’s been an amazing community to have been a part of, and all good wishes to everyone involved, from everyone at Welly-moot!
Jack Machiela Welly-moot.com
We will be adding more messages to this post as and when we receive them, so do check back! Thanks to everyone who has sent greetings and anniversary messages!