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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Lord of the Rings:
The Beacons, the Music, and Aragorn's Story

Harold.of.Whoa
Rivendell


Apr 13 2012, 7:22pm


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  [This is a rewrite of a topic I posted on another website’s LotR movie forum a while ago. It was suggested by an online friend that I should consider posting it on TORn. The thesis grew out of a long-time fascination of mine with the music of the film trilogy and the thematic architecture within that music. I hope some of you find it interesting and are willing to share your thoughts. Be warned that it's a little lengthy, but there is no math involved! Smile To the two people here that I know have read this before, I have revised it pretty extensively and added some end notes, so it might be worth another look.]

The Beacons, the Music, and Aragorn's Story

The lighting of the beacons sequence in RotK is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie trilogy. It seems many people respond strongly to the scene, and I find this interesting in light of the actual content the scene contains. The beacons advance the plot only slightly, there is not really much action involved, and on a surface level there is no significant emotional content. Of course there is beautiful cinematography, and the idea of sending a message over a distance in this way is kind of cool, but I think the principal element of the scene that makes it resonate with viewers is the music. This is yet another moment where the score is meant to be front and center in the consciousness of the audience, and Howard Shore delivers something both stirring and relevant. I am struck by the way the music builds; it seems to evoke a sort of kindling effect, and as it progresses there is an element of relaying of the melody between different sections of the orchestra, as of a relayed message.

Beyond this, one may interpret the lighting of the beacons as being rather heavily symbolic. In fact, this is one of a series of scenes that seem to be connected musically and which outline Aragorn’s journey of character development in what amounts to a musical narrative. This narrative spans at least from the Council of Elrond to the coronation.[See Note 1] The points of the film that tie together most strongly with the lighting of the beacons, musically and thematically, are 1) the Council of Elrond, 2) Boromir’s soliloquy in Lothlórien , 3) the presentation of Andúril, and 4) Aragorn’s coronation. At the thematic center of all those scenes, with its own separate musical identity, is Boromir’s death. All of this, of course, is in reference to the movie storyline, not the book.

Back to the beacons, there is some significance in the first beacon fire being lit by Pippin at Gandalf’s direction. This seems like a contrivance at first blush - a way to keep Pip involved in the story action. (The entire event, of course, is very different from the book, in which Gandalf and Pippin observe the beacons from afar as they ride to Minas Tirith, a portent of impending war.) In the film, Denethor is already so in the throes of despair that he will not call for aid. Gandalf takes it upon himself to engage Rohan, but he enlists Pippin to start the actual fire. By his own statement, Pippin is in service to Denethor in honor of Boromir, inspired by Boromir’s death defending the young hobbits. Pippin is, in effect, a surrogate for Boromir in Minas Tirith. The message of the beacons is initiated by Pippin and is received by Aragorn, who literally takes up the call for Gondor in Edoras. This symbolically echoes the final exchange between Boromir and Aragorn at the end of FotR.

As for the musical connectivity, as one beacon after another blazes up, the culminating theme that plays is the first of two Gondor-related themes that were introduced back in FotR. Both of these motifs from FotR occur during speeches by Boromir about his land, his people and his father, and Aragorn is a central figure in both scenes. These scenes are markers in Aragorn’s development/transformation within the movie trilogy. The first occurrence is at the Council of Elrond, and it is this theme that reoccurs so forcefully during the beacons. The second of these two Gondor themes originates as Boromir speaks to Aragorn in Lothlórien, and its counterpart presentation in RotK accompanies Elrond’s delivery of Andúril to Aragorn at Dunharrow. There are some striking similarities between the beacons scene and the Andúril scene, not the least of which is this use of the Gondor motifs from FotR. Note that, as the beacons begin to light, a message in flame from Gandalf to Aragorn, the wizard exclaims “Hope is kindled!” Elrond is the messenger who later brings the Flame of the West to Aragorn, invoking hope by saying “I give hope to men.”

There is more to this if you care to read on.








Consider the dramatic arc of development of the movie character of Aragorn and how that development was connected with, and enhanced by, the use of specific music, in particular those two themes associated with Gondor, and by the repetition of certain key words of dialog. Obviously the characters and themes differ substantially from Tolkien, for better or worse. I am referring to the theatrically released versions of the LotR films unless otherwise noted.

My favorite resource for sorting through the intricacies of the LotR music is Magpie’s site, http://www.amagpiesnest.com, a wonderful reference for anyone with similar interest.

The filmmakers used two musical themes for Gondor to highlight key moments of Aragorn’s character journey. This character journey is, in brief, his transition from reluctance and doubt to acceptance of his destiny and duty to bring about restoration to the world of Men. It is the transformation from Ranger to King. The fulcrum of Aragorn’s transformation is his relationship with Boromir, and this is emphasized in music, even well after Boromir’s death. Five scenes (two in FotR and three in RotK), notably employing these two particular themes, serve as key markers on this transformational journey.

The two themes in question both originate in FotR during moments where Boromir is the primary speaker. These motifs are among the themes associated with Gondor. Each is used only once within FotR.

At the Council of Elrond is heard the first of the Gondor themes, played in the background as Boromir intones the struggle of his people against the forces of Mordor. You would probably consider this one the main Gondor theme. The accepted nomenclature for this theme is “The Realm of Gondor,” but for this discussion I would like to call it Gondor Extant.

The other Gondor theme used in FotR appears in the scene in Lothlórien between Boromir and Aragorn. Here is a spare and wistful setting of a motif that is officially named “Minas Tirith,” but for now I’d like to call this one Gondor Ideal.

Excluding the opening credits, the next time one of these Gondor themes is heard concurrently with Aragorn onscreen is in RotK, during the lighting of the beacons, and prominent is the Gondor Extant motif (again, my name for it.) Aragorn spots the last beacon and delivers the message to Théoden at the conclusion of this rousing musical moment.

Next is the presentation of Andúril by Elrond at Dunharrow. The score here uses a powerful setting of Gondor Ideal in association with Aragorn taking up the sword of Elendil reforged.

Finally, at Aragorn’s coronation there is meaningful usage of both themes, at this point altered and merged, and ultimately incorporating a variant of Aragorn’s own theme.





Dual Themes, Dual Concepts

One thing I notice about these five usages of the two themes around Aragorn is the symbolic association with the development of the character from Ranger to King. Another is the apparent avoidance of directly attaching either one of these themes to Aragorn until his coronation (except for a bit of battle music on Pelennor Fields.) Even though he is identified in FotR as the “heir to the throne of Gondor” during the Council of Elrond, other themes are used in specific connection with his onscreen action, most often some variant of the Fellowship music, or, more sparingly, his own Strider/Aragorn theme music. With these two Gondor motifs, however, the usage seems to be more in the fashion of presentation to Aragorn rather than association with him. Also, in each instance there can be found an association with Boromir, direct or indirect.

The musical progression begins with the CoE. (Remember that I am looking at the theatrical version.) Boromir, in advocating for the use of the Ring, invokes his father and “our people.” When Boromir dismisses the objections of a Ranger, Legolas identifies Aragorn and his bloodline, but Aragorn tells Legolas to sit down. Boromir, incredulous that Aragorn is Isildur’s heir, flatly rejects the notion of his kingship. In essence, this scene amounts to a mutual rejection. The underlying music here is Gondor Extant, and the sparse simplicity of the arrangement is very effective in augmenting Boromir’s account of Gondor’s long and lonely stand against Mordor, not to mention Boromir’s solitary position on the Council. The melody is first carried in a solo French horn line; as the same theme is repeated by other instrumental voices, it seems almost in opposition to the first line. The final somber iteration of the melody in low strings casts a moody shadow just as Elrond proclaims that the Ring must be destroyed.[Note 2]

The scene in Lothlórien has a much different tone (no pun intended.) Boromir, troubled by his encounter with the Lady, is bidden to rest by Aragorn, but he can find no rest. The two men have become friends through struggle and hardship, and Boromir seems eager to open up to someone. Again he refers to his father (twice) and “our people”, but now Galadriel has pushed him closer to the heart of the matter…”hope.” He claims he can’t see any hope, but we may wonder if he feels it. He begins to wax poetic about his magnificent city. This is where the music of Gondor Ideal rises softly and wistfully. Again, the simplicity of the arrangement is its strength, giving it a hint of loneliness and longing. There is something aspirational in this melody, rather than merely nostalgic. Doug Adams describes the piece as a dialogue between French horn and trumpet.[Note 3] On the screen, Boromir is clearly making some sort of opening or invitation when he says “One day our paths will lead us there,” but Aragorn still seems reticent.[Note 4]

The Gondor themes are conspicuously absent at Amon Hen for Boromir’s death and the breaking of the Fellowship, not even hinted at among the gorgeous music that surrounds the action at the conclusion of the first film. The scene between Aragorn and Boromir is, of course, critically important to the Aragorn narrative, but the music here is focused on Boromir’s noble end, until Aragorn bids him to be at peace. From that moment, once again, the music attached to Aragorn is not of Gondor but of the Fellowship. His path leads elsewhere for a while, but he has undertaken a pledge to Boromir not to let the White City fall, or “our people” fail.

Throughout TTT, Aragorn and the Gondor themes do not mix. This is not surprising, as his mission is not directly associated with Gondor. The Fellowship theme follows him closely throughout the second movie, with his own theme also used, again sparingly. Obviously, music for Rohan is prominent throughout. There is also some significant character establishment in flashback with Arwen and Elrond, and with that is music associated with Arwen and the elves. Aragorn’s status in TTT is as a brother and a captain, but not yet as a king.

Moving ahead to RotK and the lighting of the beacons, the musical theme in question is no longer in the background. Gondor Extant cannot be ignored, and Aragorn is now spurred by Gondor’s dire need. His path is officially redirected toward Minas Tirith, as, in fact, all of the divergent stories of the Ring begin to converge again toward a single resolution. As mentioned before, the early strains convey a feeling of kindling; Gandalf sees Amon Din flare in the distance and says “Hope is kindled;” later Aragorn’s urgency suggests that a fire is now within him. When the full melody of Gondor Extant is presented by one section of the orchestra, then picked up and carried by another section, it is like a message being relayed; the call for aid is literally taken up by Aragorn. This becomes the moment when he begins to fulfill his pledge to the dying Boromir. With what strength is in his blood, he must keep the White City from falling, and for now that means giving strength to Théoden for what lies ahead. As mentioned earlier, Pippin’s role in the lighting provides another echo of Boromir’s role in Aragorn’s journey.[Note 5]

It is noteworthy that both of these usages of Gondor Extant (CoE and the beacons) are associated with military struggle and conflict.

Next, at Dunharrow, Elrond presents Andúril to Aragorn. The significance of this scene in the context of Ranger-to-King is self-explanatory. Here the Gondor Ideal theme is revived in a glorious setting. Music of Rivendell lays an accompanying foundation, but one that is changing - evolving. This is not the music of battle or warfare. When this motif was introduced in Lothlórien, Boromir spoke of the restoration of the glory of Gondor. The music speaks of honored past and promised future. Elrond is urging Aragorn to be who he was born to be. Elrond is presenting the Flame of the West, after which he states “[I give hope to men.]” Much as with the beacon lighting, Boromir has a hand in this symbolically (pun intended.) Think of the FotR scene with the Shards of Narsil. This moment has truly been consecrated with Boromir’s blood from his very first scene. Aragorn’s transformation is almost complete, and soon he will proclaim himself. Once again, his path will change, and this music is a marker of that change.[Note 6]

Note that with both of these significant usages of Gondor Ideal (Lothlórien and Anduril), there is a thematic element of restoration in the scene.




Unification

Finally, there is the coronation. At the opening of the scene we hear the opening four notes of Gondor Ideal, now woven into a new melody. After Gandalf places the crown on Aragorn’s brow, the score again features Gondor Extant, but it, too, is modified in its concluding phrase to incorporate Aragorn’s own theme. These two new versions are officially "Gondor Reborn" and “The Realm of Gondor in Ascension,” respectively, but I think a more poetic name for the entire movement might be “The Days of the King.” Again, both Gondor themes go hand-in-hand with a presentation to Aragorn (two presentations if one includes Arwen,) but now the music is directly attached to Aragorn. Much that was wrong has been set right. The Passing of the Age is at hand. Aragorn recites Elendil’s oath. The glory of the past and the hope for the future are restored to balance with the present.[Note 7]

One other thought about the coronation scene concerns the singing of the oath. This oath was first recited by Elendil upon leaving doomed Númenor to found the new kingdom in Middle-earth. In the movie, this taking of the oath by Aragorn represents a near-perfect closure to the movie character’s arc, and the fact that it is sung by Viggo Mortensen, rather than spoken, is truly a gift to the musical narrative of which I spoke at the beginning. Having Elessar’s Oath within the soundtrack forms an end cap to what becomes essentially a hero’s cycle in music.

I understand that many fans of Tolkien do not approve of the change the filmmakers wrought on Aragorn’s character, making him more typical of a modern movie hero who must overcome doubt and “find himself,” but I think they made the new conception of him work well in its own way. There is a very strong integration of Aragorn’s own story with other characters’ stories and with the entire length and breadth of a trilogy of movies. The music helps give poignancy and power to specific moments of Aragorn’s story, of course, but it does much more than that. It ties that story together from beginning to end and gives added depth to the relationships and connections within.

NOTES AND CUES

1. It is probably most accurate to define the beginning of this musical narrative as Aragorn’s first scene in the Prancing Pony, but I have chosen to confine my discussion primarily to the Gondor-specific themes. FWIW, the Aragorn motif as heard in the inn is very subtle - in the shadows, you might say - and is not prominently placed until the battle on Amon Hen. That theme is ultimately joined with the Gondor themes at the coronation.

2. Doug Adams, The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films (South Korea: Carpentier, 2010) 188

3. Unfortunately, the Gondor music from FotR was not included in the Original Sound Track (OST) release, and the only way to purchase it today is to buy the entire Complete Recordings (CR) disc set. The cue for Gondor Extant, more properly “The Realm of Gondor in Decline” theme at the Council of Elrond, is FotR CR Disc 2, Track 8, 0:00-1:28. The track title is “The Great Eye,” and one might be able to find a posting of it on popular video hosting sites by searching that title. For any edition of the movie, the music can be heard in its entirety during the Council of Elrond, beginning with Boromir saying “Long has my father....” and ending concurrently with Gimli saying “Then what are we waiting for?”

4. Again, this is only included in the CR, not the OST. The cue for Gondor Ideal, properly identified as the “Minas Tirith” theme or, occasionally “Silver Trumpets,” is FotR CR, Disc 3, Track 3, 0:00-1:03 (the track is called "The Mirror of Galadriel".) On any edition of the movie, the scene begins in Lothlorien when Aragorn says “Take some rest,” and the music begins when Boromir says “My father is a noble man...” and plays contiguously through “One day, our paths will lead us there.”

5. This music is included in the RotK OST in a track on called “The White Tree;” although not identical to what is presented on screen, it is very representative of the beacon lighting music and brings out the key elements forcefully. For RotK OST Track 4, 1:28-2:34 represents the “kindling” effect (most strongly at 1:28-1:47); the relaying of the melody is most pronounced at 2:47, but can be discerned at 1:54 and 2:40 as well. (The entire beacons sequence can, in fact, be imagined as a sort of conversation between low brass and high brass.) The OST cue for Gondor Extant itself is 2:34-3:06.
For the RotK CRs, Disc 1, Track 15 is the location. “Kindling” effect occurs 3:53-4:15 (strongest 3:53-4:06); relay of the melody is best represented at 5:09, but also present 4:16 and 5:02. The theme plays 4:56-5:22. The RotK CRs, at least, can be purchased on an individual track download basis.

6. Andúril, as with the beacons, is included on the OST, within a track of the same name. This is also a very rich performance that differs marginally from the film version, but brings out the principle elements beautifully. RotK OST Track 10, 1:15-1:55 is the theme I have called Gondor Ideal. For RotK CRs, seek Disc 2, Track 7, 2:07-2:47.

7. The coronation music is included in the OST track entitled “Return of the King.” I can discern no difference between the relevant parts of the OST and the CR, or the on-screen music, for that matter. OST Track 17, at 2:15 are the first four notes of Gondor Ideal, and continuing 2:15-2:39 is a new melody roughly based on Gondor Ideal which is, in reality, called “Gondor Reborn;” 2:44-3:13 are phrases of Gondor Extant augmented by the Strider/Aragorn theme; the first Strider/Aragorn augment occurs at 2:52-2:59, and another is heard 3:06-3:13, and the combination is officially “Gondor in Ascension.” The same music, with the same cues (give-or-take a second), is found on RotK CR, Disc 4, Track 4. On-screen, the music is heard, frontally and continuously beginning as the scene shifts from Frodo’s bed to the courtyard of Minas Tirith. The four opening notes of Gondor Ideal play as the camera flies upward towards the courtyard, Gondor Extant coincides with Gandalf lowering the crown upon Aragorn’s brow, and its Strider/Aragorn augmentation happens immediately after “...the days of the King,” and again right after Aragorn stands and takes a deep breath before facing his subjects.

Random Final Thoughts

Listen to the Gondor music during the Council of Elrond. The music almost seems to track line-for-line with the dialogue during that period of the CoE. (Remember, I am citing the Theatrical, but it still matches with the Extended once you get past the Black Speech part.) First come Boromir’s opening arguments and the complete statement of the motif in solo horn. Then the revelation of Aragorn’s identity and the bold and noble, but somewhat darker restatement of the first half of the theme in low brass. Exactly concurrent with “[Sit down, Legolas]” and “Gondor has no king,” the theme is cut off and replaced by a series of darkling and dissonant chords--chords which go nowhere and have no resolution. The statement of kingship is interrupted by ambivalence and rejection, in dialogue and musically. The final phrase of Gondor Extant is lower still, and in Shore’s usage, low is generally not good.

Listen closely to the Gondor music in Lothlórien, particularly instruments that carry the solo melody of Gondor Ideal. The music again begins with solo French horn as Boromir speaks, then shifts to trumpet when Aragorn says that he has seen the White City. Perhaps coincidentally, this again appears to track with who is speaking. At any rate, what seems to develop musically is a call and a tentative answer.


Subject User Time
The Beacons, the Music, and Aragorn's Story Harold.of.Whoa Send a private message to Harold.of.Whoa Apr 13 2012, 7:22pm
    I may or may not... dijomaja Send a private message to dijomaja Apr 14 2012, 2:11am
    Excellent post Shelob'sAppetite Send a private message to Shelob'sAppetite Apr 14 2012, 1:43pm
        You're right, of course Harold.of.Whoa Send a private message to Harold.of.Whoa Apr 15 2012, 1:05am
            A great example Shelob'sAppetite Send a private message to Shelob'sAppetite Apr 15 2012, 7:31pm
    what a work of love Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Apr 15 2012, 4:11pm
        Thanks Harold.of.Whoa Send a private message to Harold.of.Whoa Apr 16 2012, 12:46am
    Excellent read! One Ringer Send a private message to One Ringer Apr 16 2012, 12:50pm
    great analysis HappyHobbitess Send a private message to HappyHobbitess Apr 20 2012, 9:07pm
    that was a great read, thanks! weaver Send a private message to weaver Apr 27 2012, 12:44am
    In all honesty sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Apr 29 2012, 4:46pm
        Excellent! Harold.of.Whoa Send a private message to Harold.of.Whoa Apr 30 2012, 4:42pm

 
 
 

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