The Lord of the Rings: Episode 101
In this new series of blogs, I explore the musical details of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, with one entry for each episode of the series’ first season. For a comprehensive introduction to my approach and my creative experience, start with my introductory four-part “Appendices:” Part 1 “Journey to Middle-earth,” Part 2 “Themes of Middle-earth,” Part 3 “Forming a Fellowship,” and Part 4 “There and Back Again.”
SCORING EPISODE 101
“A SHADOW OF THE PAST”
SPOILERS AHEAD: J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium takes place in a universe that was birthed in an event called the Music of the Ainur. Though that formation is not depicted in the beginning of this series, fittingly, the show still commences with music: the audience’s experience of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power begins simply with gentle echoes of a children’s choir over a black screen. I wanted to use this enigmatic opening to establish the first of many musical themes that will guide the narrative experience of this epic story.
THEMES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS
My score to The Rings of Power is built around musical themes, or leitmotifs, which represent cultures, characters, or concepts in the story. I spent my first six weeks on the project painstakingly crafting more than fifteen themes. I mapped out musical traits such as meter, intervals, color, and emotional tone, to create a variety of themes, each distinct enough to stand on its own.
I wrote for the narrative’s various societies an iconic musical anthem – “Khazad-dûm” for Dwarves, “The Southlands” for Low Men, “Númenor” for High Men, “Harfoot Life” for the Harfoots, “Nampat” for the Orcs, and “Valinor” for the Elves. Characters within each society have themes that feature their respective culture’s iconic musical traits. My goal for each theme was three-fold: first, each would be distinct enough to be identified in a handful of notes; secondly that each would be performed by unique musical voices or instruments; thirdly, each would convey essential narrative information about the theme’s subject.
The first cut of the premiere episode I saw began with four seconds of black before Galadriel’s voice-over, and I thought it narratively appropriate to try to use this opening to introduce a musical theme. But, four seconds simply did not provide enough time to communicate anything musically significant to the audience. So, I proposed to the showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, along with Lindsey Weber, Justin Doble, and Callum Greene, that we extend the black image before the voice-over to seventeen seconds. To my shock, they recut the picture to make this possible. This interaction, one of our first creative collaborations, set the tone for how closely all the producers and writers would collaborate to integrate score into the narrative.
Experienced over a black screen in the premiere episode’s opening seconds, the first theme heard is the Valinor Theme.
The Valinor Theme teaches us the musical vocabulary of the Elves, leaning on ethereal choral writing and French impressionistic harmonic progressions. The melody and chords are lilting and lyrical, like a lullaby, and yet the third chord in the progression is unexpectedly distant from the first (Db major, a tritone away from our G major tonic). That strange reach in the harmonic progression was by design. For the purposes of this story, set predominantly in Middle-earth, Valinor must feel far away, a place one metaphorically reaches for, but can never touch. The Db major chord is as far away harmonically from the tonic G major as a chord can possibly be, a tritone chordal progression rarely heard in popular music because it can feel so unexpected and alien. The harmony still sounds beautiful, but it also suggests a distance between this place that our characters can never overcome. This strange chord offers a sense of mystery, befitting an immortal race of Elves.
Here in Valinor, the Elven vocal presence is defined by a children’s choir. The children sing a gentle melody in Quenya, one of two Elvish languages featured in the score. (Generally, Elven choral passages will be sung in Quenya, unless they pertain to Silvan Elf characters, such as Arondir, in which case the text will be in Tolkien’s other primary Elf language, Sindarin.)
Mélamar, eldamar, kene kala lessen
Yo hapan lirilve
Home, Elvenhome, light us-in
Our holy place, cloud home
As one we sing, as one
This unique sound foreshadows that we are about to witness our protagonist’s youth, in an idyllic and innocent place, where she is nevertheless teased by her peers. As Galadriel rises to defy these bullies, she demonstrates she has strength of conviction, and is not intimidated when she knows she is right. Here, the audience hears a solo flute whisper our first quote of one of the most significant musical themes in The Rings of Power, the Galadriel Theme.
The simple arrangement for this introduction to her theme, solo flute with gentle harp, underscores her youth. Even when she grows up to be a battle-hardened warrior, between soaring brass variations of this melody, her intimate thematic quotations will often reach back to this opening sequence in Valinor. No matter how difficult her journey ahead, a solo flute and gentle harp will always remind the audience of the little girl she once was.
Like most of this score’s primary themes, Galadriel’s Theme opens with a unique musical interval, not shared with any other themes. The minor seventh leap up in the first two notes here will become iconic to her, and will always signify Galadriel’s Theme.
In the opening scene, as the child Galadriel places her origami boat in the water an undulating string ostinato (repeating musical pattern) suddenly picks up, emulating the ripples of the water. This pattern is the Galadriel Ostinato.
The urgently undulating figures of the Galadriel ostinato contrast starkly with the long, soaring tones of her theme. This scene with the paper boat marks one of the only times her ostinato will appear in this pure form, with long legato string notes. For the majority of the first season, this ostinato will be played in tremolo strings, combining it with another theme, one the audience will hear shortly.
Her brother Finrod stops her from inflicting injury upon her tormentors. He picks up the remains of her mangled origami boat with a knife that will have major narrative significance. Here, the Galadriel Theme returns, performed by a lonely, distant French horn. Future score cues will reference this moment throughout the season, when a solo French horn melody subliminally reminds the audience of Finrod and his knife. A soaring quotation of Galadriel’s Theme during the epic reveal of the Two Trees of Valinor solidifies the importance of Finrod’s relationship with Galadriel.
As Galadriel’s voice-over tells how the great foe Morgoth destroyed the Two Trees, the score is instantly punctuated by a new, urgent string ostinato. This relentless string pattern permeates throughout the entire score for The Rings of Power. This figure, representing Evil for our narrative, is the Sauron Ostinato.
These furious low strings buzz around the score like a swarm of bees, creating a dangerous cloud that blackens the soundtrack with menace. Because much of the score for The Rings of Power is defined by long lyrical melodies and emotional chord progressions, the Sauron Ostinato stands out as something altogether more propulsive and dangerous.
It would be easy to mistake the lyrically swirling strings of the Galadriel ostinato with the urgently metered tremolo strings of the Sauron ostinato. The truth is that while these two character ostinatos are technically unique, I wrote them both to be easily confused for one another. I did this because we never actually see Sauron for the majority of the season, as we mostly experience the idea of him through Galadriel. For the first season, Galadriel’s defining character motivation is her relentless quest to find and crush Sauron. I wanted the score to suggest that her thoughts of Sauron are always on her mind, always influencing her decisions. (This idea foreshadows events in the season finale when Sauron will literally infiltrate her mind.)
The Galadriel and Sauron ostinatos share a similar contour of upward moving minor scales, though they are each rhythmically and structurally distinct. Galadriel’s ostinato tends to be played by legato strings, while Sauron’s is almost exclusively played by metered tremolo strings. Ultimately, there is a simple litmus test to know which theme is which. If the musical motor is in an even 4/4 meter, it represents Galadriel. If it is in the uneven 7/8 meter, it represents Sauron.
At the start of this prologue, a retelling of Tolkien’s First Age, our series antagonist Sauron was the devoted servant of a greater foe, Morgoth, who makes a brief appearance onscreen, before he is defeated. For the sake of musical and narrative simplicity, I scored both characters with the same music – a theme to represent their shared evil. There was simply no narrative need to create a distinct Morgoth Theme for this season.
After describing the horrors of The War of Wrath, Galadriel makes clear that Morgoth was defeated, but his evil endured, under the leadership of Sauron. As the camera whirs past an army of Orcs to reveal their master, the score quotes the first two phrases of the Sauron Theme.
Sauron’s theme changes meter frequently, alternating between 4/4 and 7/8, heightening unease and discomfort in the listener. Sauron’s Theme slithers through the score for the entire season, underscoring his ever-present threat.
Ash gul ishi ghash
Agh ash gul krimp-at ishi ghash
Death into darkness
One phantom in fire
Death into darkness
And one phantom to bind them in fire
Most often sung by low choral singers, Sauron’s Theme text is always set in Tolkien’s Black Speech. In Tolkien’s writings, as well as Peter Jackson’s films, the use of Black Speech has a sinister, magical effect, creating what Tolkien described in The Fellowship of the Ring as “a menacing … shadow … harsh as stone” around those hearing it. When recording sessions for The Rings of Power began, I felt the same ominous effect at the Synchron Scoring Stage every time our choir sang the Sauron Theme.
Dialect coach Leith McPherson recorded detailed pronunciation guide tracks for every cue and articulated clearly how important the consonants were to Black Speech. After they studied Leith’s pronunciation, the choir recorded the first take. Their performance was shockingly louder than the music notation requested. To pronounce the words properly, the singers intuitively felt it necessary to increase the aggression and the volume of their voices. Tolkien’s language itself changed the way the choir sang my music!
The remainder of the episode’s Prologue features warring fragments of the Galadriel Theme and the Sauron Theme, clashing back and forth as the audience is introduced to the adult Galadriel, played with steely grit by the brilliant Morfydd Clark. She leads her band of hunters into the frozen north of Forodwaith to discover an abandoned stronghold. With one final burst of Sauron’s theme, the camera pushes in on his mysterious icy sigil frozen in stone before smashing to black. Here, at seventeen and a half minutes in, we see the episode’s title card. The choir sings a mysterious progression of Dm to Abm, over an ominous low D pedal tone. This fragment is our first tease of an important musical theme I will discuss in further detail later.
The narrative jumps to Rhovanion, where we meet a nomadic people called the Harfoots, whose descendants will eventually form the Hobbits of the Shire from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After a pair of menacing human hunters pass through the territory, Harfoot community elder Sadoc Burrows emerges from the reeds and sniffs the air. Here, the suspenseful silence is broken by a bouncy, though uneven, 11/8 groove performed by wooden percussion instruments, including West African balafons, marimba, log drums, and claves: The Harfoot Ostinato.
The Harfoot Theme is the second cultural musical language presented in The Rings of Power. In his iconic scores for the Peter Jackson films, composer Howard Shore used British and Celtic inspired folk music to represent the Shire where the Hobbits are safely ensconced. But the Harfoots are wanderers, unrooted to any one place. Harfoots migrate with carts, carrying their entire society with them. I wanted their music to feature a similar connection to British and Celtic folk music, but also include natural sounds created by interacting with nature.
Wooden percussion here implies that the Harfoots create log drums and marimbas out of wood they acquire on their journeys. A primary color featured in their theme, West African balafons are mallet instruments fashioned out of wood with gourd resonators hung underneath to amplify the sound, covered in a paper-thin membrane to create an iconic buzzing sound. (The gourds were traditionally covered in spider’s-egg sac filaments!)
The moment Sadoc gives the “all clear” the valley comes to life with dozens of Harfoots emerging from hiding, revealing their entire caravan-based society was hiding in plain sight. Here, bagpipes offer a simple folk-inspired melody: The Harfoot Theme.
The Harfoot melody is usually played by Irish uilleann pipes over an accompaniment of small Scottish bagpipes, both performed by my longtime musical partner and friend Eric Rigler. Both instruments are relatively small, and produce a simple sound that feels connected with nature. I feel it plausible that Harfoots could have constructed such instruments out of leather, pipes, and reeds.
I further represented the struggle of Harfoot life with an uneven meter in the Harfoot Theme: 11/8. This strange alternation between 5/8 and 6/8 makes the Harfoot Theme more recognizable, and also subtly tells the listener that their simple life is nevertheless fraught with peril. This musical phrasing gives the listener the feeling that perhaps one of their great cartwheels has a crack in it, and rumbles unevenly along the forest floor. The uneven meter is masked by joyous grooves from an Irish bodhrán frame drum, provided by my brilliant longtime percussionist Bruce Carver.
The Harfoots face many dangers on their migrations, but none more immediately threatening then the wolves. The presence of wolves is represented in the score by a breathy, overblown woodwind effect, created on the shakuhachi by Zac Zinger. Originating in Japan, the shakuhachi creates a unique set of harmonic overtones when overblown, almost like a gale blowing through reeds. These unpredictable shakuhachi flutters add a sense of spooky menace to the wolves, and will recur as episodes progress.
For each society in this show, there exists an outlier, a character who struggles to fit in with their cultural norms. These characters are represented in the score by themes that utilize the essential components of their society’s theme music, but also branch off into their own distinct identities. (Galadriel is such a character – her theme contains elements of Elven music while veering off into its own heroic territory.) In the Harfoot community, we meet another such outlier character, in Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot, when we see her lead her friend Poppy Proudfellow and several children to a field of juicy blackberries.
Nori is loyal, driven, clever, and curious about the world outside Harfoot wandering paths. I represent these traits with a beautiful melody, usually performed by Eric Rigler on an Irish tin whistle, over a dreamy pattern of harp and hammered dulcimers. This melody is the Nori Brandyfoot Theme.
Nori’s Theme is connected to the Harfoot Theme through the subtle presence of the wooden percussion, balafons, and bagpipe drones. But, musical emphasis is placed on her Celtic inspired melody, supported by lush string chords to create a hopeful, uplifting innocence. Though the Harfoot Theme certainly has the potential to be heartbreaking (and indeed it will break your heart before the season ends), there is generally much more harmonic and melodic material to Nori’s Theme, as compared to that of her people, implying she has potential beyond her station in life.
Nori’s inherent curiosity will put her at odds with her people, notably her stepmother Marigold. The two Harfoot musical themes clash in a later scene, as Nori wistfully asks Marigold if she’s ever wondered what else is out in the world. Here, a fiddle and Irish whistle plaintively sigh the Nori Theme. Marigold offers in rebuttal that adhering to tradition keeps them safe. To emphasize that tradition, the score pivots to an emotional statement of the Harfoot Theme, the uilleann bagpipes supported by warm orchestral strings.
This simple dialog scene is a good example of the kind of thematic writing I employ throughout this series. One character, Marigold, represents the establishment, so her perspective is underscored with the anthemic music of her culture. The other character, Nori, represents the cultural outlier, so her perspective is represented by her own theme, one which is musically connected to her culture, but distinct enough to stand on its own. The two themes spar in the soundtrack as the characters interact. This kind of writing is only possible with the intuitive and believable performances from actors like Sara Zwangobani, Marigold, and Markella Kavenagh’s remarkable performance as Nori.
This simple musical leitmotif technique repeats throughout the season, forming the foundation of my entire creative process. The score always reminds the audience who they are seeing, where the action is taking place, and what the subject of the scene is. To maintain this scoring approach as the show progressed, the musical complexity in my job increased exponentially.
ELVES OF THE WEST
From Rhovanion, the narrative jumps to Lindon, the capital city of the Ñoldor, the High Elves. Here, we meet Elrond drafting a speech in a glade, as the score introduces the Elrond Theme. Elrond is an idealistic diplomat, and a displaced orphan – a person of Elven and human heritage who struggles for identity while living in the shadows of his mythically successful father and brother.
Of all the themes in The Rings of Power, none presented as big a challenge as Elrond’s. I struggled for weeks on the Elrond Theme, drafting version after version, and yet none really moved me. Eventually, time ran out, and I was forced to move forward scoring the first episode with the best theme I had landed upon for Elrond, though I knew deep down it was unmemorable in comparison to all the others.
Though I spent my first months on this job writing themes, I never played any of my theme sketches for the showrunners. When they first hear my demos, I want filmmakers to have the same, authentic experience that audiences will have, so I don’t arm them with any knowledge of my intended themes before showing them my scene work. A good theme will always win out. With that in mind, I went into the first The Rings of Power music review with showrunners confident I had most of the themes nailed down. Without having heard any of my theme sketches in advance, the producers immediately picked up on themes for Valinor, Galadriel, Sauron, Harfoots, and Nori, all heard for the first time in narrative context.
We played the scene where Elrond is introduced, and his theme was heard three times in quick succession. Afterwards, the producers expressed a muted enthusiasm. “That’s really… good,” they said hesitantly. “So… do we have an Elrond Theme?”
My heart crashed. Of course there was an Elrond Theme, but it failed to make an impression on them. And I knew they were right. “There is an Elrond Theme in that scene,” I explained. “But, if I have to point it out to you, it’s not a good one.”
I knew I needed to start over on the Elrond Theme. Thankfully, showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were especially helpful to me in crafting a new theme, as they walked me through his narrative arc for the season, and the series. (I am always grateful to collaborate with filmmakers who help me become a better composer!) I had to forget all my memories of the stern, authoritative Elrond in the Peter Jackson films, and embrace this new vision of the character, so I could underscore his long journey ahead, where he will grow to become the Elrond I remember from the films.
I returned to writing, and leaned heavily into Elrond’s optimism, his quiet wisdom, and his warmth. A completely new theme for Elrond emerged from my brain in the following days. Though Elrond’s Theme went through more drafts than any other, by the end, it became one of my favorite themes in the entire score.
Like all themes for Elven characters, Elrond’s Theme draws upon choral textures and beautiful harmonic progressions. He does, after all, yearn to fit in with Elven society. His folk-inspired clarinet melody is built on a strange chord progression that begins in a major key, but twists around on itself, ending on a minor version of the same chord. This subtle change implies he is lost and searching for where he belongs, and it gives his wistful optimism a sense of hidden sadness. These subtle emotional layers were the missing ingredients from all my early Elrond Theme drafts, and I believe are the key to expressing his character in music.
Elrond’s Theme will act as the primary musical material for the Elves of Lindon for this season, soaring in the soundtrack as we visually establish this gorgeous region. For Gil-galad, High King of the Elves of the West, I composed a regal choir and percussion processional for the ceremony where he rewards Galadriel and her hunters with a return to the Blessed Realm.
Kalanen asëava envinyataina
Calima enyalie, siluvat silmësse
Koivelúmeli namárië ambarello
Ter lúmë, lasta
Mélamar, eldamar, kene kala lessen
By the Light of Athelas
Bright memory, they will shine starlight
Many lifetimes, farewell from the world
Through time, listen
Home, Elvenhome, light us-in
This choral performance blurs the line between score and in-world source music. It could very believably be emanating from some off-camera choir in the scene, or could simply exist in the soundtrack for the audience’s benefit. (I have a more specific theme for Gil-galad planned, but it does not occur in the first season.)
Elrond’s scenes with Galadriel in this episode resonate with statements of their individual themes sparring or embracing to support the dialog. Perhaps my favorite of their musical moments occurs at their reunion before a golden tapestry depicting a boat at the gates of Valinor. Here, Elrond says “I hear it said that when you cross over you hear a song, one whose memory we all carry” while the choir whispers a gentle refrain of the Valinor Theme. This musical quote is both an echo of the episode’s prologue, and a foreshadow of its forthcoming climax. This simple scene alone is packed with so many interwoven threads of the Elrond Theme, the Galadriel Theme, the Valinor Theme, and the Sauron Theme, that the soundtrack practically bursts.
HUMANS OF THE SOUTHLANDS
The cultures represented in The Rings of Power are not all fantastical beings. We are also introduced to two races of humans. The “High Men” of Númenor are descended from humans who aided the Valar and the Elves in their war against the great foe, Morgoth (there will be more to say about this culture in Episode Three). The “Low Men” of The Southlands are descended from humans who sided with Morgoth and lost the war.
I wanted the score to draw a clear distinction between these two races of humans. The Low Men of the Southlands live meagerly as peasants, under the ever-present eye of Elves who have occupied and supervised their lands for generations. Southlanders live with the shame of their ancestors. I strove to imbue their theme with melancholy isolation. Their intervals are not large, or heroic, but have a sense of upward movement, offering an aspirational tint to the music. To represent The Southlands, I featured Nordic folk instruments, including Hardanger fiddle, nyckelharpa, and hammered dulcimers, on the Southlands Theme.
The nyckelharpa and Hardanger fiddle have a storied history of performance in the rustic and emotional folk music of Northern Europe. Both instruments are built with unique resonating strings, designed not to be played, but to simply exist and naturally amplify the resonance from nearby strings. These strings are, in effect, an acoustically engineered natural reverb generator!
For The Southlands Theme, I leaned on my frequent collaborators Erik Rydvall, on nyckelharpa, and Olav Luksengård Mjelva, on Hardanger fiddle. Having played together before, they have a combined musical shorthand that results in a blend so precise that they sound like a singular soloist. Most viewers will probably never realize the iconic sound of the Southlands is achieved by a duet!
Just as Galadriel and Nori are outlier characters from their societies, so too do we meet an outlier from the people of the Southlands, Bronwyn. She harbors feelings for a Silvan Elf named Arondir. Their illicit romance is underscored by shared musical material, the Bronwyn and Arondir Theme.
First introduced in their intimate scene at the well behind Waldreg’s tavern in the village of Tirharad, the Bronwyn and Arondir Theme is most often performed by an English horn or oboe. I wanted to evoke the romantic classics of old Hollywood, drawing inspiration from Nino Rota’s “Romeo and Juliet” and his iconic love theme from “The Godfather.” I wanted their theme to soar with an achingly romantic longing that communicates the depth of feeling between them, beyond what they are able to convey to one another in public. The score serves to amplify the beautiful, subtle gestures provided by actors Ismael Cruz Cordova and Nazanin Boniadi, as they show forbidden affection.
The construction of their melody is designed to heighten their unresolved romantic tension. The opening leaps of a sixth then a fifth jump upward with aspiration, suggesting say, Romeo’s arms reaching upward toward Juliet’s window. These first two leaping gestures repeat, further underlining their importance.
Later, the Southlands narrative introduces Bronwyn’s son, Theo, as he and his rebellious friend Rowan scurry to Waldreg’s barn with mischievous purpose. Here, the soundtrack blasts a furious rendition of Sauron’s Theme, drawing a subconscious connection to his music and the distant mountain peak in the background. The boys are running into the barn, but the framing of the image suggests they are running towards Doom itself. In the barn, Theo steals a mysterious sword hilt hidden under the floor. Every filmmaking technique imaginable suggests this item is pure evil, so the Sauron Theme permeates the entire scene. It is an unambiguous harbinger of dark events to come.
THE BOAT AND THE METEOR
All of the aforementioned themes swirl throughout the score as the premiere episode of The Rings of Power cascades towards its climax, in which Galadriel leaps from the boat heading into Valinor, as a meteor tears across the sky. In this climactic sequence, the Valinor Theme is heard in angelic voices echoing across the sea as the clouds part and the light of Valinor shines through. Then, Galadriel’s companions pick up a verse and sing it together in harmony, fulfilling Elrond’s prophecy from earlier that this song is “one whose memory we all carry.”
This musical performance on the boat was one of the biggest challenges of the season. I proposed that this scene would be more effective if the music being sung here were a melody that the audience had already heard, during the prologue and at the tapestry scene with Elrond and Galadriel. This is the classic “Rule of Threes” in drama: three occurrences of an idea are the bare minimum to communicate a pattern to an audience.
There was, however, a challenge. By the time I was hired, this scene had already been shot, with actors singing along to a gorgeous piece of music written for production. Showrunners had hired the talented musicians from Plan 9 in New Zealand to contribute music for production, in part because of their brilliant musical contributions to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations. (I am a huge fan of Plan 9, and was honored to later to collaborate with them later in the season on “This Wandering Day,” and I also greatly enjoyed their rowdy Númenórean drinking songs!) Plan 9 had written a truly beautiful choral song here, but it did not have the musical attributes I felt were necessary to function as the theme for Valinor. I felt this climactic vocal song needed to change in order to communicate the story as effectively as possible.
How could we change the music in the scene, and still have the on-camera singing performances match? I collaborated closely with the post-production team, and together we painstakingly went through the dailies, looking at the timing of performance in each take, and formed a catalog of shots that could be repurposed to fit my new melody and new lyrics. (The new lyrics were crafted to fit this ‘in world’ performance by the characters, for this ritual of returning to Valinor. The words are slightly different than the lyrics in the primary version of the Valinor Theme.)
Mélamar, eldamar, kene kala lessen
Yo hapan lirilve
Mélamar, eldamar, kene kala lessen
Etsir amna, vanyalyë
Sirya tumne lisselyanen
Home, Elvenhome, light us-in
Our holy place, cloud home
And as one we sing, as one
We will come to you
Returning upon the hour
Home, Elvenhome, light us-in
Near the rivermouth, you depart
Flow deep by your grace
By combining clever picture editorial, VFX work, and composition, we created a new marriage of music and visuals that worked seamlessly. To create the effect that Galadriel’s companions sing The Valinor Theme took about a month, but the resultant narrative and musical continuity across the episode was worth the effort.
This sequence features one of the best examples of Galadriel’s and Sauron’s ostinatos being blurred into a single idea. As Galadriel recalls what her brother said to her in Valinor, and she makes the fateful decision to abandon the boat, a furious string ostinato emerges. Metered tremolo strings suggest Sauron’s Theme, however, the pattern is not set in his iconic 7/8 meter. Instead, the rhythm is in 4/4, as the contour follows Galadriel’s ostinato. This moment is like a musical Rorschach test: audiences might perceive a Sauron ostinato or a Galadriel ostinato quotation, and there exists a strong case for both. I hope the score here implies that Galadriel is making her own decision, because she feels her quest for Sauron must be completed.
This climactic sequence also showcases one of my favorite orchestral gestures in the score. As a mysterious meteor rips across the night sky, a solo clarinet slices through the soundtrack from its lowest to highest register. This is an exotic orchestral color I borrowed from Stravinsky and have heard in film contexts frequently from John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. Modern filmmakers often bristle at the inclusion of woodwinds in contemporary orchestral scores. I wrote this clarinet solo here in order to secretly test J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. If they let me keep it in the score, I knew they truly wanted a symphonic score in the style of the old masters.
Thankfully, J.D. and Patrick practically leapt out of their seats with joy when they heard it! From this point on, I unleashed all the beautiful orchestral colors I have loved from the classic scores of my youth: breathy alto flutes, reedy bass clarinets, muted trombones, stopped French horns, expressive bassoon solos, vibraphones, harp glisses, and more. My imagination was unshackled.
MORE MYSTERIOUS MELODIES
During the End Titles, we are treated to a new piece of music. This theme, called “Where the Shadows Lie,” is always supported by a unique harmonic chord progression that alternates between tritones and major seconds. This chord progression has been hinted at twice already in the episode, first over the Main Title Card, and again when Elrond meets the legendary Elven smith Celebrimbor.
We only hear the actual melody of this enigmatic theme over the episode’s closing credits. While this iconic chord progression will continue to permeate the score in subsequent episodes at significant narrative moments, audiences will not hear this melody again until the season finale, where its true narrative purpose will be revealed.
Violin virtuoso Sandy Cameron created a creepy cello-like effect for this melody by detuning her strings to play pitches normally out of reach for the instrument. The result is otherworldly and eerie.
In a normal television series, the first episode would introduce the audience to all the major characters and set up the plot. And I have already introduced as many themes as most of my scores ever need. The Rings of Power, however, is just getting started. Audiences will need two more episodes to meet all the major characters and regions portrayed in this season. As a result, the second and third episodes expand the score with even more unique themes, and distinct cultural colors, to help guide audiences through The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Many more musical themes await.