The Lord of the Rings: Episode 108

In this series of blogs, I explore the musical details of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. 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.” I also blogged about scoring episodes 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, and 107.

SCORING EPISODE 108
“ALLOYED”

SPOILERS AHEAD: In the summer of 2021, I began scoring The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. In my original creative video conference with the showrunners discussing the premiere episode, I had one crucial question. “Where is Sauron?” That was the tightly guarded secret of the season finale, but the producers recognized my need for a complete understanding of the entire story.  They sent me the script to the final episode, “Alloyed.” My jaw dropped to read this episode, one packed with tension, drama, and revelation. I knew then, even before I had written a note of music, that I would need to tailor certain musical themes specifically for the shocking twist.

THE REFLECTED THEME

I began this massive project by generating seventeen musical themes to be incorporated into the tapestry of the score. Each of these would support the branching narrative arcs for the major characters, and their cultures. My chief priority was to ensure that each theme was musically distinct from all the others so that each evoked its own emotional signature for the audience. To achieve this, I focused on three musical traits: musical colors, narrative intent, and musical intervals.

Musical Colors: If a theme were performed by a signature instrumental or vocal sound, and that sound did not appear anywhere else in the score, the theme’s sound would stand apart.

Narrative Intent: I wanted to be clear on the narrative intention for every theme. Each character’s theme should tell the listener how that character fits (or not) into their respective society.

Musical Intervals: I strove to create a unique interval between each theme’s first and second note, so listeners would be able to identify that theme in only two notes.

In my second The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power blog entry, “Themes of Middle-earth,” I explored these traits and this creative process in detail, as well as the lengths I went to keep those themes differentiated. But, when I published that blog entry in late September, I could not be altogether forthcoming with my readers. I knew crucial story information that the audience did not yet.

Now that “Alloyed,” the season finale, has streamed, I can share the truth of my process – I spent intense creative energy ensuring that two particular themes, Sauron’s and Halbrand’s, echoed one another, for these characters are revealed to be one and the same.

Ideally, their two musical themes would be subtly and secretly entangled, two sides to the same dramatic coin, always reflecting one another. I wanted to forge a musical connection between Halbrand and Sauron that would resonate on a purely emotional level for viewers. If it were too obvious, the music might spoil the dramatic surprise. However, if too subtle, it would be lost on the audience entirely. Forging this connection was merely not a music theory exercise, but a crucial narrative device needed to guide the audience through the story. An inspiring undertaking, yes, but also terrifying.

I worked on Halbrand’s and Sauron’s simultaneously. I felt they should share no more than each theme’s first five notes. (These introductory notes are the ones the audience hears most often and would resonate.) My goal was to craft two phrases that would share signature qualities, without being too obviously connected. This proved to be a tremendous challenge.

I could not use the same musical colors for the two themes. Instrumentation would make it far too obvious. For example, if both Halbrand’s Theme and Sauron’s Theme featured a nyckelharpa and Hardanger fiddle duet, their link would be instantly clear.

Nor could I make any connection in narrative intent. These two characters are presented with completely opposite moral codes. Halbrand is introduced as a hesitant hero with a guilty conscience, but a hero nonetheless. But Sauron is pure evil. I had to separate their themes’ musical intents. For example, if Halbrand’s music seared with evil, or if Sauron’s music offered noble warmth, their relationship would again be obvious.

Musical intervals were the one remaining musical trait with which to tie these themes together. Here, there was great potential: a way to connect these themes so that the vast majority of the audience would feel it emotionally, but miss it intellectually. And so, the first phrases of both the Halbrand Theme and the Sauron Theme share the same intervals, inversed and reversed. They are palindromes.

A musical palindrome is the same as a visual one (like the word “racecar”), an idea that is the same whether read forwards or backwards. The Halbrand Theme is the Sauron Theme played backwards, and The Sauron Theme is the Halbrand Theme played backwards!

Writing an emotional musical theme that is also effective as a palindromic is a difficult task. Reversing melodies is a lot like reversing a recording of someone’s speech: the tone is similar, but all the meaning is instantly lost, resulting in a disturbingly familiar disfigurement. Every time I stumbled upon a fantastic Sauron Theme, I played it backwards for a potential Halbrand Theme, only to result in a jumbled mess. After weeks of trial and error, after being plagued with self-doubt and lost sleep, I finally landed upon a series of five notes that worked.

The Sauron Theme conveys sinister malevolence and is most often heard in low male choir vocals singing in Tolkien’s invented language of Black Speech. The first five notes look like this.

The Halbrand Theme conveys hesitant heroism, and is most often heard in rustic Nordic folk instruments, the nyckelharpa and Hardanger fiddle. The first five notes of Halbrand’s theme look like this.

At a cursory glance or listen, they may not seem related. (This is, of course, by design!) However, their themes are closely linked through musical contour, that is, the direction their melodies take. Instead of reading musical notation, look at them just as visual contour, and note that they are reversals of one another. They are related across a horizontal axis.

Furthermore, each theme can be divided in half at its center, resulting in the left and right sides being inverted reflections of one another. This inverted symmetry means that the themes are also related across a vertical axis. The Halbrand Theme is the Sauron Theme played upside down, and The Sauron Theme is the Halbrand Theme played upside down!

While this might seem a mere intellectual undertaking, I feared this musical connection would still be obvious to the point of spoiling the season finale’s revelation. If the two themes are playing the same notes dozens of times over, just in a slightly different order, might this not clue in even the casual viewer? Thus, I masked my trail with two subtle tweaks to Halbrand’s Theme to further differentiate it from Sauron’s Theme. Think of these changes as warps in a mirror that slightly alter its reflection.

I changed one note in Halbrand’s Theme, lowering it by a half step. This creates a majestic major third in a place where Sauron has a sinister minor third. I also tweaked the timing of the fourth note, giving Halbrand a little folksy rhythm where Sauron’s plays in a steady, ominous, marching rhythm.

These are two small differences, but substantial enough to throw most people off the trail. Still, this musical palindrome idea created one distinct trait for Halbrand that was unavoidable, one that I feared would tip people off: the lack of melodic leaps.

For all the main protagonists in The Rings of Power, I composed melodies that contain big leaps between notes, or large intervals. These reaching phrases always sound satisfying when performed by vibrato-laden orchestral strings, by full-voiced singers, or by punchy brass fanfares. (The first few notes of themes for Galadriel, The Stranger, Nori, or Bronwyn and Arondir are perfect examples. Sing them aloud and their upward ascending motion practically inspires you to throw your arms up in the air!)

In contrast, Sauron’s Theme is tight, constrained, and circular. In this regard, his melody is small. His introductory phrase is built from intervals of a minor third or smaller, and the leaps pivot around each other, forming a circle (or perhaps a ‘ring’) around a central point. Sauron’s melody suggests a mighty musical power held within a confined space – a fitting sonic analogy for a Ring of Power.

Because Halbrand’s Theme is simply an inversion of Sauron’s, his introductory phrase is similarly restrained, and ring-shaped. Therefore, it does not leap beautifully like the themes for all the other protagonists in the show. To offset this clue, I allowed the Sauron Theme and Halbrand Theme to diverge after their first five notes. After the first five notes, Halbrand’s Theme evolves into a “B Section” that does contain more traditionally heroic leaps. This “B Section” portrays Halbrand as more regal when necessary. Halbrand’s heroic “B Theme” is heard in several significant sequences, notably in “Udûn” when he bonds with Galadriel in the aftermath of the battle, and again in “The Eye,” as the Southlanders rally around him as he departs camp – scenes that develop and expand upon his character.

My goal was not to create a musical connection that was utterly impossible to find, but to make one that would initially elude, yet eventually reward, the average viewer. Once all episodes of The Rings of Power streamed, I watched social media carefully. For the first six episodes, very few fans commented on any musical connection between Halbrand and Sauron. But, in the two weeks leading up to the finale, fans started looking deeper. I began to see more and more theories drawing parallels between these two musical themes. I was excited to see that passionate Lord of the Rings fans were able to find the clues I had buried so deeply in the score, though grateful that most casual fans did not notice.

ONE THEME TO RULE THEM ALL

While Halbrand’s true nature remains the biggest narrative twist in “Alloyed,” the most significant musical revelation actually involves another theme, one whose true meaning has remained shrouded in mystery until now.

In the first episode, we heard mysterious chords over the first series title card, chords that reappeared enigmatically as Elrond was introduced to Celebrimbor, the legendary Elven-smith. Those chords then introduced a haunting melody played by violinist Sandy Cameron over the premiere’s end credits, a song named “Where the Shadows Lie.” Over the next few episodes, these mysterious chords recurred, revealing themselves to be narratively connected to Mithril, the powerful ore that the Dwarves discovered in deep, dangerous mines.

In the symphonic climax of “Alloyed,” this theme expands to represent The Rings of Power themselves. (Henceforth, when referring to this theme, I will refer to it as I had conceived it: The Rings Theme.) The final twist of the season is a musical one, as “Where the Shadows Lie” is revealed to be a song!

Ever since Peter Jackson’s timeless films, the musical legacy of The Lord of the Rings brings to mind ethereal vocals carrying lyrical melodies over evocative harmonies, so it was my natural inclination to compose such a song for The Rings of Power. One of my first ideas was to set J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic Ring-verse Poem to a song, to be featured in the finale’s end credits. Sketching it became a side project, and I toiled in secret for months, not telling the showrunners what I was doing. At last, I presented them with a demo of my concept: a song called “Where the Shadows Lie.”

To my delight, the producers and everyone at Amazon Studios loved the idea, and our next step was to find a singer. To embody these myriad story elements (the magic of Mithril, the Rings of Power, the sinister machinations of Sauron, and the land of Mordor) in one voice is no small task. Thus, I am especially grateful to have collaborated with legendary singer Fiona Apple, one of the definitive musical voices of her generation. I have been inspired by Fiona’s musicality for two decades, and have long hoped to work with her. Fiona brought new depths and narrative intention to the song. When I heard her first takes, I was in awe at how perfectly she captured the airy elegance of Middle-earth song, and yet infused the track with a powerful, full-voiced proclamation of Sauron’s malicious intentions.

Revealing the musical connection between Halbrand and Sauron, and the musical connection between the mysterious “Where the Shadows Lie” theme and the Ring-verse Poem were two of the bigger challenges I faced when scoring “Alloyed.” However, in addition, I also need to weave together many other important themes into a symphonic tapestry. “Alloyed” was the most musically layered score of the entire season.

THE SERVANTS OF SAURON

“Alloyed” sees The Stranger finally cross paths with the mysterious Mystics, who have tracked him for several episodes. They confront him, telling him that he is, in fact, Lord Sauron! Nori and her fellow Harfoots come to his aid. These dramatic sequences play out with longing variations of The Stranger’s Theme, melded with Sauron’s urgent musical intensity, and increasingly aggressive whispered chants of The Mystics Theme.

As The Mystics declare him “Lord Sauron,” the full might of London’s best brass players proclaim the dreadful march of the Sauron Melody. Between the ominous brass fanfares, octaves of orchestral violins answer with statements of The Stranger’s Theme. As debris flies around them, under the magical command of The Stranger, the anthemic score declares these melodies boldly, assuring the audience The Stranger must indeed be Sauron. (Whether the audience believes this or not is immaterial, because all will be made clear soon.)

Meanwhile, the four Harfoots, Nori, Poppy, Marigold, and Sadoc, attempt to rescue him. The following sequence bristles with suspense, underscored with exciting orchestral colors combined with the iconic wooden percussion and Celtic instruments of Harfoot music to keep up the unflagging tension.

Faced with the prospect of losing Nori, The Stranger comes to her aid. The Stranger charges up a blast of magic by slamming his fist into the earth. His magic knocks two of The Mystics back, but The Dweller remains. An octave of stabbing trumpets pierces the soundtrack as she snaps her head up to face The Stranger, and choir supports her menace with a foreboding Quenya text, “Ulca rauco,” meaning “Sinister demon.”

The Dweller overpowers The Stranger and terrorizes the Harfoots. The Mystics Theme culminates as The Dweller blows waves of flame across the trees, turning the forest into an inferno. Here, the signature text of The Mystics Theme graduates from creepy whispers into full-throated screaming chants from the choir, leaning heavily on the male singers. This type of gruff vocalization has historically been reserved only for The Orcs (for example, the chant “Nampat!”). We know now, from the music, that The Mystics are an unmatched foe.

As The Stranger’s world burns, Nori offers him The Dweller’s staff that she cleverly stole during the commotion. She offers him hope, but he has none for himself. The celli offer pleading statements of The Stranger’s Theme, as if the orchestra itself is begging him to rise up and fight! A sad, ethereal choir passage takes over the soundtrack as The Mystics close in on the doomed Harfoots. The mournful Quenya text says “Nier etta talandas,” meaning “Tears of sadness.”

Suddenly, The Dweller loses her magical flame, revealing that The Stranger has risen to confront the trio, all set to a heroic fanfare of his theme. An ominous low male choral descending line offers a foreboding text in Black Speech, as The Mystics step forward to confront him.

Black Speech:
Krimp-ishi burzum mad
Ash sha ghash, thrak-at u nampat

English:
Bound in shadow land
One with fire, brought to death

A massive, heroic brass fanfare of The Stranger Theme blasts across the soundtrack, within a hurricane of swirling orchestral strings, as he raises his staff and unleashes the full might of his magic. The choir cheers him onward with a rousing Quenya text.

Quenya:
Calambar, alcarinquë kallo
Nolwa aráto, alcarinquë

English:
Light-fated, glorious hero
Brave champion, glorious

The Mystics are obliterated. The relief in the music undergoes a melancholy shift, however, when Sadoc reveals he has been mortally wounded. Here, my longtime friend and musical partner Paul Cartwright offers a heartbreaking rendition of The Harfoot Theme on his fiddle as Sadoc shares his last moments before sunrise.

Sir Lenny Henry, who plays Sadoc, gave a beautiful lull in his performance. The orchestra drops to a single note, briefly, to give his character space to take one last breath, before returning once more to offer a rich, final chord progression for the scene.

WISE ONE

The Harfoot story line for the first season concludes towards the end of the episode, with an extended sequence back at the grove, scored with a continuous ten-minute cue that expands and contracts to hit all the emotional beats. The majority of the cue is a symphonic variation on Nori’s Theme, underscoring her saying goodbye to her community and her family.

Her iconic Irish pennywhistle plays her theme as she says goodbye to her father. The Irish whistles and bagpipes of her theme are always performed with expression by my longtime friend Eric Rigler. I alerted him that this moment, in particular, needed to stand out – it had to be heartbreaking! I believe Eric delivered, even though the necessary secrecy surrounding the project still prevented me from telling him what score he was playing on.

Orchestral strings pick up her emotional “B Theme” as Nori turns to bid farewell then to Marigold. This touching exchange between mother and daughter marks the first time in the body of the score that Nori’s “B Theme” appears in the score. Finally, strings and Irish whistle offer a swell of emotion with Nori’s “A Theme” once again as the Brandyfoot family embraces for one last time this season, and perhaps the last time ever. Though Nori’s melody was initially introduced on a playful pennywhistle, here it brings the heartfelt symphonic impact I secretly designed it for.

Nori ascends the hill and meets The Stranger, as the music comes alive with electric energy. Trilling strings and woodwinds evoke the extended impressionistic harmonies of Debussy and Ravel, building suspense and intrigue. This entire sequence is shockingly emotional, due in large part to the chemistry between the brilliant Harfoot actors, in particular Markella Kavenagh’s Nori and Daniel Weyman’s evolution as The Stranger.

The Stranger picks up a sweet smell on the air. He says with a smile, “When in doubt, Elanor Brandyfoot, always follow your nose.” With that familiar line, Eric Rigler’s penny whistle carries Nori’s Theme over an epic, rousing orchestral swell, echoing over the hills as Nori and The Stranger wander off into the East, towards the promise of new adventures, to be told another day.

BLACK FLAGS OVER NÚMENOR

The season’s story of Númenor comes to a bleak conclusion in “Alloyed.” The Faithful Theme recurs first for Eärien, in her signature Renaissance recorder sound, as she sketches the king for a proposal for his tomb. The theme returns again, in a touching scene with Elendil and Míriel.

Elendil approaches a recently blinded Queen Regent Míriel as she practices counting her steps in the hold of the ship that is taking her defeated army home. These two characters find surprising strength in one another to keep going, despite their crushing personal losses. The score here is supported by The Faithful Theme, performed by a breathy alto flute, a new color for this theme that suggests the fate of The Faithful may be altered by the bond forming between these two characters. Míriel leans against Elendil, and he supports her, almost as if in an embrace. Actors Lloyd Owen and Cynthia Addai-Robinson filled the screen with gravitas, grief, and resolve, and I felt the score merely had to frame them and stay out of their way.

A call from the deck informs them the harbor is in sight. An ominous march of The Númenor Theme, set in a minor key, forms from low strings and Middle Eastern frame drums with dark French horns and trombones adding solemnity.

Almost as if responding to the music itself, Míriel implores Elendil to tell her what is wrong. As the camera pivots to reveal black flags hung across the harbor, a massive, tragic variation of the Númenor Theme fills the soundtrack:  Míriel’s father, the king, Tar-Palantir, has died. The choir offers a mournful lyric.

Quenya:
Metta et i ingaran, nienor lië

English:
End of the high king, mourning people

TO EREGION

The most profound plot line in “Alloyed,” from which the title is derived, involves Elven characters assembling in Eregion with Halbrand, and culminates with the forging of three Rings of Power. These scenes are woven together with dramatic statements of the Elrond Theme, Galadriel Theme, Halbrand Theme, and evolving variations of The Rings Theme, that culminate in Fiona Apple’s performance of “Where the Shadows Lie.”

The Elrond Theme and Galadriel Theme weave together beautifully in several scenes, as these two characters reunite for the first time since the premiere episode. Elrond’s melody appearances often in this episode on a solo clarinet. For him, the instrument has come to represent his vulnerability, underscoring nostalgic memories of his youth, or recollections of his father. The statement after he pulls Galadriel out of the Glanduin River is especially emotional, highlighting actor Robert Aramayo’s calming demeanor that brings Morfydd Clark’s paranoid Galadriel back from the brink.

The Halbrand Theme makes its first appearance when a Halbrand wanders into the massive forge and meets Celebrimbor. As Halbrand wanders starry-eyed through the workshop, his iconic Nordic instruments, the nyckelharpa and the Hardanger fiddle, offer warm, rustic statements of his theme suffused with charm.

I wanted to remind the audience that Halbrand aspired originally to be a blacksmith, so I brought back the same wistful theme variations from “Partings.” His theme will undergo a musical shift in this episode, becoming gradually more and more dissonant and weird, as Galadriel’s (and the audience’s) suspicions of him arouse.

At the end of the scene, Halbrand offers Celebrimbor his “gift,” the idea to use other metals as alloy to amplify the powers of the Mithril. The idea takes hold of Celebrimbor’s mind. As Celebrimbor reaches for the Mithril, the score shifts suddenly, introducing a swirling ostinato of triplet string phrases, The Forging Theme.

I felt I needed a musical motor to propel the action forward in “Alloyed,” music to embody the progression of events leading to the creation of The Rings of Power. This exciting motor energizes these fiery sequences at the forge, twisting and whirling through the soundscape like steam writhing up from the forge itself.

A POWER OF THE UNSEEN WORLD

The seductive power of The Rings Theme is on full display in a later scene when Gil-galad consults with Celebrimbor, Galadriel, and Elrond. Now having spent some time with Halbrand, Celebrimbor is excited, bordering on anxious, as if overcome by ambition, traits brought to vivid life through actor Charlie Edwards’ dynamic performance.

The scene plays out with simmering tension, underscored by the Rings Theme, goading him with ominous string textures and breathy, dissonant alto flute solos. Celebrimbor lets slip that he wants to make a power “Not of the flesh, but over flesh. A power of the unseen world.” Galadriel instantly recognizes these as the very words the captive, malevolent Adar had said to her back in Tirharad! The push-in close-up of her sudden recognition is supported by a mysterious harp gliss, bowed waterphone, and bristling string tremolos.

Later, the forge bustles with activity, energized by the rippling triplet string lines of The Forging Theme, now expanded into increasingly dazzling flourishes. However, Galadriel does not altogether share her companions’ enthusiasm. Haunted by Celebrimbor’s words, she covertly sends an Elf to dig through the archives of the catacombs, seeking records on the lineage of the kings of the Southlands.

When she later encounters Halbrand in the courtyard, he is buoyant, awe-struck to be working with the celebrated smiths of Eregion. His light energy is supported by the lively tones of his theme played by nyckelharpa and Hardanger fiddle. However, the score gradually evolves more eerie dissonance, as her suspicion grows. This peaks as Halbrand places a hand on her shoulder and ominously whispers “You pushed me to heights that no one else could have. I will never forget that. And I’ll see to it that no one else does either.” The string orchestra plays our first truly weird statement of the Halbrand Theme – each note a glassy, shrill violin harmonic. The score now unambiguously supports Galadriel’s growing suspicion that he is not who, or what, he claims.

THE BROKEN LINE

The episode’s shocking twist comes as Halbrand reveals himself to be Sauron. He whisks Galadriel away to a dream-state or vision, summoning her memories as he tries to seduce her to join him. This sequence’s score is built from clashing variations of the Galadriel Theme and ever-evolving statements of The Sauron Theme.

When confronted, Halbrand makes no further attempts to hide his identity, and the score adjusts as quickly as he does, following actor Charlie Vickers’ brilliant performance. His signature Hardanger fiddle states one last statement of the Halbrand Theme – the last time the audience will ever hear it in the same context, before he proclaims “I have been awake since before the breaking of the first silence. In that time, I have had many names.” Here, an eerie solo soprano vocal from Sladja Raicevic states The Sauron Theme, joined quickly by his urgent string ostinato.

Suddenly, Galadriel is whisked away to memories of her childhood in Valinor, as the audience saw in the first episode. Acting as if on Sauron’s behalf, the score quotes a gentle children’s choir rendition of The Valinor Theme. However, here the calming and sweet young voices are set atop a ghostly bed of drones, that will grow throughout this sequence. This once calming and ethereal melody is reframed to be unsettling, even subtly horrifying.

Galadriel hears her beloved brother, Finrod, behind her. She turns to him, as a solo flute states the same child-like variation of the Galadriel Theme that the audience first heard in the opening minutes of the entire season. The music tells us that Galadriel feels again like that little girl from the prologue, as she is returned to the tree where she sat with her brother, who is now a glassy-eyed apparition. I laid across the entire scene an uneasy, queasy bed of icy, increasingly dissonant strings and ambient synths. For the ambient layer, we recorded a quick choir phrase, and digitally time-stretched it to be more than a hundred times slower. So, one quick little phrase is now stretched like taffy over several minutes. The resultant effect emulates the beauty of Valinor but also feels wrong, alerting the listener that a manipulation is taking place – both in the narrative and in the music.

This time-stretched vocal is just the background layer. I wrote isolated phrases of the Valinor Theme for the children’s choir to perform as Finrod speaks, with each phrase starting seductively on his close-ups. On the cuts to Galadriel’s responses, I wrote increasingly dissonant violin and viola flutters, where every member of the ensemble alternated randomly between a prescribed set of pitches, speeding up and then slowing back down. With Galadriel’s every response, the strings articulate faster, their intervals grow wider, their pitch clusters clash more intensely.

A solo French horn playing Galadriel’s theme has always represented her relationship with brother, underscoring Finrod, his sacrifice, his memory, and most crucially, his dagger. I was careful never to use a French horn while this Finrod apparition was onscreen, because this is not actually him. The score here stays with Galadriel, and follows her intuition. At last, French horns quote the Galadriel Theme as she rises and turns her back to this false brother.

Sauron is not finished with her, though, and she finds herself floating on the raft with Halbrand, as they were in “Adrift.” Pleading for empathy, Sauron, as Halbrand, tells her he feels liberated from Morgoth’s vile influence, and asks her to join him as queen. I supported his genuine offer with a unique version of the Sauron Theme. For the first time, I reharmonized Sauron’s melody, moving the chord beneath it to minimize dissonance, and maximize a strangely elegant consonance. Sauron thinks himself a ruler, and this cue, sung here in a regal fashion by the low male choir, suggests how he might hear his own nobility from his own perspective.   

In between each regal phrase of the Sauron Theme, a solo cello offers an emotional phrase of The Halbrand Theme. This passage is the first time the Halbrand Theme and the Sauron Theme are presented simultaneously, making their musical connection obvious, and supporting actor Charlie Vickers’ compelling performance. (I edited this cello solo out of the Season One soundtrack album, to prevent narrative spoilers. It can be heard in the “Alloyed” album.)

The sea turns to glass, literally reflecting for Galadriel a tempting vision of a possible future. Here, Sauron’s melody floats above a dark low string pedal in a haunting performance by child soprano, Laura Maier. The score begins to darken with ominous colors as Sauron makes his final case to her.

Tolkien fans will recognize much of this dialog from Galadriel’s unforgettable scene with Frodo at her Mirror, in both the book and the film of The Fellowship of the Ring, making clear that this scene with Sauron on the raft will haunt her for thousands of years. The choir supports this brooding passage with an eerie text.

Quenya:
Insangarë, anta mina írë, i cilmë et estë

English:
Temptation, give into desire, the choice of peace

A dark storm now figuratively and literally closes in. The urgently chugging strings of the Sauron Ostinato ignites the soundtrack like a hurricane, followed by his ominous melody, restored to its foreboding character and biting Black Speech text. This is the final statement of the Sauron Theme for the season, and it ramps up to a lightning strike that transports Galadriel back under the water, sinking to a miserable, watery grave in defeat. As heard in this same sequence in “Adrift,” soprano Sladja Raicevic returns to offer a haunting rendition of the Galadriel Theme, echoing into the depths.

Galadriel awakes from this nightmare as Elrond pulls her abruptly from the Glanduin River. With her new knowledge, she runs to Celebrimbor’s forge. There, she tells him that they cannot proceed with making two magical items, that they must make three, to balance the distribution of power. Here, a haunting English horn solo states the mysterious melody of The Rings Theme, also called “Where the Shadows Lie,” marking the first time the melody has been heard in full outside the premiere episode’s end credits.

Celebrimbor informs Galadriel and Elrond that he needs gold and silver from Valinor to forge the three rings. Triumphant trumpets and horns proclaim Galadriel’s Theme as she holds Finrod’s dagger and realizes she must sacrifice the last actual object by which she can remember him. Musically, the Rings Theme and the Galadriel Theme have finally crashed together, as was their destiny.

THREE RINGS FOR THE ELVEN KINGS

The last seven minutes of the first season of The Rings of Power are presented in an entirely operatic manner. The story is told visually, leaning on the gifted cast, clever direction, visual effects, sound design, and a sweeping, symphonic score to communicate the nuanced, climactic narrative.

As Galadriel relinquishes her brother’s dagger, and the blade melts down beneath the searing heat and pressure, child soprano Laura Maier returns to the soundtrack, offering a innocent rendition of the Galadriel Theme, sung here with a unique Quenya lyric.

Quenya:
Néya amna kala, néya á amna te
Alcarinquë-anyalie envinyataina

English:
Once near light, once being near them
Glorious memory renewed

Next, Elrond must make a similar sacrifice. He holds above the liquified silver and gold swirling in the forge, the tiny Mithril fragment, his last connection to his friendship with Durin. Here, orchestral strings quote the Elrond Theme, empowering him to let go.

He drops the Mithril into the glowing liquid, and The Forging Theme kicks in, swirling as liquid gold, beneath ethereal female singers carrying the haunting chords of The Rings Theme. The singers offer a ritualistic Quenya lyric, “Airëa fra kala, lámina fra kala,” meaning “Blessed Eternal Light, echoing eternal light.” During this montage of crafting, an instrumental version of “Where the Shadows Lie” moves to the prominence, the once-wispy melody now presented with brassy confidence. As Elven smiths toil, the low male singers offer a prophetic text, “Úva i lú, i metta,” meaning “The time draws near, the end.”

Elrond paces uneasily outside the workshop, his mind unsettled. The Forging Theme strings swirl behind him, representing the work being accomplished nearby. And yet, he struggles with  questions about Galadriel. A solo flute pierces the strings, repeating a single note – slowly at first, the speed increasing rapidly, almost like a woodpecker against a tree – until it flutters furiously. This flute represents the daggers in Elrond’s mind, tormenting him with anxiety and foreboding.

Elrond returns to the Glanduin River, from which he had pulled a nearly-drowned Galadriel. The Forging Theme is now energized by a second octave from the violas, sounding fuller and more urgent. Elrond is drawn toward an object in the river. Compelled by Bernard-Herrmann-inspired muted brass and a timpani roll, he picks up the scroll, and a terrifying understanding dawns on him. Here, in one of my favorite musical passages of the entire season, the orchestra drops out and the choir crescendos with staggered entrances, amplifying an increasingly horrific tone cluster on the fitting Quenya words “hróva alastima,” or “dark secrets.”

Elrond urgently races back to the forge, as a new frantic string line builds up The Rings Theme chords. The audience gets their first glimpses of magnificent jewels being set in shimmering rings, as the choir offers a spiritual text, surging over symphonic chords.

Quenya:
Airëa telpë amdir
Lámina fra calambar, quelië

English:
Blessed silver hope
Echoing eternal light-fated, fading

Elrond bursts into the forge just as the master smith of Eregion places a third ring on the stone slab. The audience soon sees what Galadriel and Celebrimbor have been observing with awe: Narya, Nenya, and Nilya, the first three Rings of Power. Here, the score reaches a climax, as orchestral strings swell with expressive vibrato, soaring the Rings Theme. (One can practically already hear in the melody the lyrics proclaiming “Three Rings for the Elven Kings!”)

Galadriel averts her gaze from Elrond as The Forging Theme swirls for one final time. The music builds into an epic, triumphant final fanfare as Celebrimbor smiles with a tinge of satisfaction at his creation, unaware that the choir already heralds the consequences of his hubris with a prophetic text.

Quenya:
Airëa fra kala, lámina kala
Néya á amna fra kala, sina ná i yesta

English:
Blessed eternal light, echoing light
Once being near eternal light, this is the beginning

The climactic image of the three rings dissolves into an eye, reflecting the fires of Mount Doom. Sauron stands on the border of Mordor, The Land of Shadow, as the haunting chords of The Rings Theme swell beneath him. Gone are the theme’s ethereal female vocals. These signature chords are now sung by the tenors and basses, in thick triads at the bottom of their vocal ranges. Dark, brooding brass chords support them, while a sneering muted brass chord smears the tonic note across the dissonant tritone chords, adding complexity and menace. The mystery and intrigue of The Rings Theme has been supplanted, overtaken by horror and darkness.

Sauron steps forward. Lighting strikes the mountain. The first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power ends exactly as it began, with strains of vocal music piercing the darkness of a black screen. Fiona Apple’s haunting, resonant voice brings out the depth and the foreboding inherent in Tolkien’s timeless text.

Bear McCreary

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