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While this month's column is rather short, it does represent many hours of listening pleasure. With so much hype surrounding the release of the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, we thought it might be interesting to review some of the older (and one or two newer) recordings which were inspired by the writings of Tolkien. So we spent several hours listening to some of our collected recordings.

The Lord of the Rings, by Leonard Rosenman

The Lord of the Rings, by Leonard Rosenman

The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1978)

Released on vinyl by Fantasy Records (2160-1111) and on CD by Intrada.

Available on CD at

At Intrada's Web site, you can listen to a sound clip of "Helm's Deep".

The sound track album for the 1978 animated movie The Lord of the Rings (directed by Ralph Bakshi) was produced by Leonard Rosenman and Saul Zaentz. The first track, "Theme from The Lord of the Rings," immediately brought back fond memories. We loved the music -- one of us remembered thinking it was the best part of the movie at the time. It has a very 1980s feel, and in some ways seems almost too nice for the movie. The opening theme suggests a very happy story, light and bouncy, with a happy ending. While the series does have a happy ending, the story is much darker in many ways than is suggested by the music. The following tracks evoke a darker, more suspenseful feeling (except when the theme music is repeated). The music is visual, in that we could "see" various scenes unfolding as we listened.

"Escape to Rivendell" immediately reminded us of the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey during the travelling through the star field -- it had a "spacey" feel to it. The track "Mithrandir" represents the elves singing about Gandalf. While the use of children's voices at the beginning of the song suggests higher-pitched elven voices, the tone feels somehow wrong, especially given the actual age of the elves in the books. Older voices join in later, adding a richer texture to the song, but it is the opening verse which leaves the strongest impression. "Following the Orcs" unfortunately reminded me of music from an old Tarzan movie: specifically a scene involving natives dancing and preparing for war.

Overall, the music is very full and three dimensional, and is very evocative of the movie. It is definitely "sound track" music, as opposed to incidental music used throughout the movie. It's a nice listen for a Saturday afternoon, though I recommend that you watch the movie first. The biggest disappointment (for me) is the fact that the second movie never came about: this movie only covered half the story, ending halfway (or so) through the second book.

Symphony No. 1, by Johan de Meij

The Lord of the Rings: Symphony No. 1, by Johan de Meij

Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Warble.

Released on CD by Madacy Records (3193).

Available on CD at, where you can also hear sound clips of each movement.

This symphony, written between March 1984 and December 1987, won first prize in the Sudler International Wind Band Composition Competition in Chicago, and was later awarded by the Dutch Composers Fund. There are five movements: I. "Gandalf (The Wizard)," II. "Lothlorien (The Elvenwood)," III. "Gollum (Smeagol)," IV. "Journey in the Dark," and V. "Hobbits," each of which is meant to illustrate a person or event in the books.

This is a full, lush recording, with some extremely visual elements. Our favourite piece was "Gollum." We felt it nicely captured his dual nature, with the comical alternating with the dark and devious. "Journey in the Dark" skillfully evokes the travel through the Mines of Moria, with the monotonous drums in the background enhancing the sense of menace and danger represented by the Orcs. The final movement, "Hobbits," attempts to capture the carefree nature of the Hobbit folk, as well as their inherent nobility. However, one of us found it similar to music from a western, while it reminded another of rousing adventure music (similar to something perhaps from Raiders of the Lost Ark). We also heard overtones from The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber (probably a coincidence, since both may have been written at about the same time).

Side note: we suspect that the individual who wrote the two paragraph summation of The Lord of the Rings (in the liner notes) may not actually have read the books.

Journey of the Dunadan, by Glass Hammer

Journey of the Dunadan, by Glass Hammer

Released on CD by Arion Records.

Available on CD from

Glass Hammer's Web site has several sound clips: click on "Sounds" and scroll down until you come to this album.

This is very much like British "Prog Rock" -- an interesting concept album, combining quotations and readings from the books with various instrumental and vocal pieces. It's sort of like Yes without Rick Wakeman. There is liberal use of synthesizer and drums, and we felt as if we were listening to a rock opera. It is obviously a labour of love by true Tolkien fans.

Interestingly enough, Glass Hammer has just released another Tolkien album, entitled The Middle Earth Album. Glass Hammer's Web site features a special offer -- both Tolkien albums plus two bonus items all for $30.

The Starlit Jewel, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kristoph Klover, and Margaret Davis

The Starlit Jewel: Songs from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kristoph Klover, and Margaret Davis

Performed by Broceliande.

Released on CD by Flowinglass Music (FM007).

Available on CD from

Flowinglass's Web site has several sound clips.

Of all the recordings we listened to, this one sounds most like music that might actually be performed in Middle Earth, as opposed to music composed to accompany the story, or to symbolize various aspects of it. These are Tolkien's poems set to music, and the blend of instruments and voices nicely captures the lyrical essence of the books. All pieces were performed with acoustic instruments, making the sound "feel" right.

For a more in-depth discussion of this album, see Strange Horizons' review and interview with the artists from November 2001.

Obviously, we have just scratched the surface here. For more reviews of these and other Tolkien-inspired recordings, visit this Digital Media FX site, or for an exhaustive listing of recordings containing any sort of Tolkien reference, check out The Tolkien Music List.


Reader Comments

Peggi Warner-Lalonde is Senior Music Editor for Strange Horizons.

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