I was once asked to write an article on the subject of ‘The
Symphony and Film Music.’ I will confess I did not welcome this
commission. Either the publishers had no idea of the purpose
and nature of film music which is hardly conducive to a formal
musical style but more necessarily attuned to the exigencies
of the screenplay or they might have been inferring an attitude
only too common among the musical establishment, that of looking
down on the genre of film music. Alas, this attitude has not
completely disappeared, I fear.
The classical description of the Symphony could hardly fit the
informal, patchwork and more rhapsodic nature of film music.
Film music cannot be strait-jacketed. It cannot conform to the
architecture of the Sonata; to the classical symphony’s first
movement’s exposition, development and recapitulation pattern.
Admittedly, the looser form of the Late Romantic Symphony comes
closer to film music. There have been flirtations between the
two genres. One of the most obvious examples is Vaughan Williams’
Sinfonia Antartica which began life as the music for
the 1948 British film Scott
of the Antarctic.
Note the title ‘Sinfonia’, not Symphony, as though the composer
might have been reluctant to designate it full symphonic status
- in fact, at the time there was discussion whether it was a
symphony or a symphonic poem. This same argument could justifiably
be applied to this The Lord of the Rings Symphony
- a collection of symphonic poems rather than a symphony? While
we are discussing such matters it is worth remembering that
cross-fertilisation between the symphonic and film music genres
can work the other way too. Take, for example, Nino Rota’s Symphony
on a Love Song (composed in 1947 and included on Chandos
CHAN 10090 -
review); the composer mined this for music for
two films: The Glass Mountain (1949) and Visconti’s
masterpiece, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) (1962).
Interestingly, the booklet notes for The Lord of the Rings
Symphony states that the conductor John Mauceri encouraged
Howard Shore to construct the work from nearly twelve hours
of music written for The Lord of the Rings
films. Mauceri and Shore worked together on fusing the scores
into the six movements that reflect the three books (each in
two parts) of Tolkien’s celebrated creation. Mauceri is a well-known
champion and recorder of film music and in a splendid TV documentary
for Artsworld, some years ago, argued persuasively
that film music should be respected just as any other musical
To this 2 CD set itself. The most striking and memorable themes
for the whole trilogy of films occur in the two movements that
comprise The Fellowship of the Ring. The opening ‘The
Prophesy’ is a grandiose offering featuring the choir and huge
orchestra and includes the main theme; probably the most memorable
motif of the whole edifice. Immediately following is another
theme that is heard numerous times – that is the rather endearing,
bucolic music for ‘Concerning Hobbits’. Much of the rest of
the first movement concerns the darker or heroic elements of
the first book of Tolkien’s saga. This might be said of the
whole work, so such darkness and overwhelming noise can seem
unremitting. Thankfully, movement Two thankfully begins in relative
tranquillity and introspection for ‘Many Meetings’ – one of
the most memorable stretches of music in the whole symphony.
Calmer, exotic music, too, is in evidence for the Shangri-la-like
Lothlórien - surely one of the most magical creations of both
books and films – in which Kaitlyn Lusk, a singer with an extraordinary
vocal range, shines in more senses than one.
What follows through the following movements are mostly variations
and embellishments of the music of the opening two movements,
according it a symphonic stature of sorts. The music for The
Two Towers and The Return of the King
is striking sonically and emotionally and dramatically involving
– the sheer force of this music from such a large ensemble is
prodigious. However, for this reviewer, few motifs really stand
out. Nonetheless, there are numerous interesting and arresting
moments such as the slimy, slithering figures for ‘The Taming
of Sméagol’. The whole impresses by the remarkable colour range
of the orchestration.
This is not a work to be absorbed at one sitting. It may impress
as a whole in the ambience of the concert hall - it seems that
the Symphony has received over 140 performances world-wide -
but for home listening I would suggest that the movements are
best appreciated in separate listening sessions. Appropriately
the world premiere of Shore’s The Lord of the Rings Symphony was
given in Wellington, by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and
Chorus conducted by the composer. The film was largely shot
in New Zealand.
One of the most irritating things about this set is the omission
of sub-tracks indications. By this I mean that unless you are
completely addicted to the music and its marriage to the on-screen
action, there must surely be some doubt as to which episode’s
music is being heard. Take Movement One, for instance. I was
never sure when I was listening to ‘The Shadow of the Past’
or ‘A Short Cut to Mushrooms’; never mind ‘The Old Forest’ music.
I am rather uncertain about the appellation, Symphony but this
is a powerful, colourful, noisy work and certainly one that
you can’t expect to sleep through.
Movement One - The Fellowship of the Ring:
The Prophesy; Concerning Hobbits; The Shadow of the Past; A
Short Cut to Mushrooms; The Old Forest; A Knife in the Dark
Movement Two – The Fellowship of the Ring:
Many Meetings; The Ring Goes South; A Journey in the Dark; The
Bridge of Khazadûm; Lothlórien; Gandalf’s Lament; Farewell to
Lorien; The Great River; The Breaking of the Fellowship.
Movement Three - The Two Towers: Foundations
of Stone; The Taming of Sméagol; The Riders of Rohan; The Black
Gate is Closed; Evenstar; The White Rider; Treebeard; The Forbidden
Movement Four – The Two Towers: The Hornburg;
Forth Eorlingas; Isengard Unleashed; Gollum’s Song.
Movement Five – The Return of the King
Hope and Memory; The White Tree; The Steward of Gondor; Cirith
Movement Six – The Return of the King:
The End of All Things; The Return of the King; The Grey Havens;
Into the West.