I make no secret of my enthusiasm for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s a lot to love about them: a convincingly detailed imagined world, a respectful but surefooted screenplay adaptation, an outstanding ensemble cast, and quite a few genuinely bravura sequences. But more than anything else, what made the movies cohere was Howard Shore’s operatic score.
Once you include the extra footage on the DVD Extended Editions, Shore wrote ten hours of music for the trilogy. There may not be a single wasted note anywhere in it. The scores have dozens and dozens of themes and motifs, each with specific thematic associations, all joined together in a web of interrelated musical material. Shore employs any number of exotic instruments, soloists, and choirs to give each moment the precise timbre it needs. The scores are operatic in their grandeur, drama, and depth.
As the movies came out, each was accompanied by a one-CD soundtrack album. These limited versions were great as highlight reels, but the abridged format necessarily sacrificed a lot of the richness of Shore’s compositions. Over the last three years, though, Shore and film-score musicologist Doug Adams have produced a true set of complete soundtrack albums. Each comes on as many CDs as the job takes—four in Return of the King’s case! Now that the complete set is available, you can hear every note that made it into the films, and even a few that didn’t. With this proper treatment, the scores breathe naturally. These complete editions make it clear that Shore’s Lord of the Rings music is one of the great all-time achievements of film scoring.