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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
The Beethoven Connection: A Brief Analysis of the Cellular Structure in Azog's Motif


Jul 9 2013, 11:11pm

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The Beethoven Connection: A Brief Analysis of the Cellular Structure in Azog's Motif Can't Post

There hasn't been much discussion here about Howard Shore's music lately, so I thought I would offer up a brief and semi-formal analysis of Azog's motif, which is, for me, one of the more memorable new themes from the AUJ soundtrack due to its simplicity, angularity, and musical structure. NB: This post will only pertain to the music and it's extraopus connections, and function in the film's story; at the moment I am setting aside my personal feelings about Azog's inclusion in the film.

To begin let's examine Azog's motif (figure 1). The motive is comprised of two descending thirds (G-Eb, major third; F-D, minor third). This is followed by what I will be referring to as "the tail." The tail features three notes (Eb-D-C#) which descend chromatically (i.e. by half-step). Having the tail of the motif descend chromatically helps to increase tension as the motif reaches the final note C#.

This ending note is of some importance in itself when compared to the beginning note of the motif, G. G and C# share a special relationship in that they are six half-steps apart; this distance is referred to as a (tri-tone) and is considered to be one of the more dissonant and jarring intervals in traditional Western music. For a while it was considered "diablos in musica" (the devil in music) and a compositional system was devised to avoid the interval entirely. Yet here it is present in Azog's motif in order to aurally cue us in to the character's "devilish" nature.

I have briefly touched on the main structural features of Azog's motif and how the range it spans (a tri-tone) is related to his character. Now I will dissect the motif to highlight some extraopus influences that I have noticed, and I will try to tie these influences together into the character's role in the film.

Howard Shore's work on LOTR and TH is typically compared to the music of Wagner through his use of repeating leitmotifs. However, for my analysis I will be focusing on cellular structure (i.e. smaller motifs made of a few notes as opposed to lengthier themes). Well, one might ask, "Azog's motif is so short, doesn't that qualify it as a 'cell'?" Well that's the tricky thing about musical analysis, there's no set rule for how big a cell or a theme or a motif has to be.

Here I will be highlighting the two cells that form Azog's motif (hint: I already mentioned them). These two cells are the pair of descending thirds and the chromatic tail. Here you can see how I have parsed the motif, placing a red box around the descending thirds, and a blue box around the tail (figure 2). I chose to divide the motif as such because the first four notes follow a similar pattern which is then broken by the chromatic tail. Rhythmic unity in the first four notes (all half-notes save for the one at the end) followed by a sudden change to descending quarter notes also led to my feeling that dividing the motif in this way is completely justified.

Now that I have explained and justified my cellular division process I will explain the extraopus influences on them. What extraopus means is any force outside of the composition that may or may not have influenced it. (DISCLAIMER: I will not state that Howard Shore had in mind exactly what I am going to say. I do not know everything he had in mind. This is my own independent analysis.)

Let's examine each influence and how it pertains to its corresponding cell in turn.

First: The descending thirds pattern (G-Eb-F-D). These notes, in succession, stick out to me like a sore thumb. They are part of one of the most ubiquitous motives in Western music history, the two statements of the opening motive from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (G-G-G-Eb, F-F-F-D) (figure 3-boxed in red to correspond with figure 2). This motive is arguably a cell in itself due to its simplicity (G-G-G-Eb). Beethoven's motif is commonly referred to as "fate knocking", because of a disputed account from Anton Schindler who stated, long after the composers death, that Beethoven referred to the motif as: "Thus Fate knocks at the door!" This account may or may not be true, but due to its "door knocking nature" and because he was composing the fifth symphony while he was coming to terms with his hearing loss, this monicker has remained. This "fate knocking" motif can also be heard in an altered form in his Op. 57 which was written around the same time (1805-1807ish).

We can clearly see that Shore has streamlined the two statements of the motif, fusing it into one cell (G-Eb-F-D) and removing the "door knocking" rhythm, replacing it with heavy thuds, like someone descending a staircase. I have shown the first extraopus influence: descending thirds from the fifth symphony, now on to the second.

Second: The second cell, the chromatic tail (Eb-D-C#), can also be found in an equally important moment in Beethoven's music, Symphony No. 3 (opening of the first movement) (figure 4-boxed in blue to correspond with figure 2). To understand the importance of these three notes let's start at the beginning of the movement to put them into context. An interesting aspect of the third symphony is that it begins with an ending, two strong declamatory chords which establish the key of the piece, Eb. After these two chords the primary theme of the first movement is presented in the cello, it is tonally pure and arrpegiates an Eb chord (Eb-G-Eb-Bb-E-G-Bb). This simple theme becomes complicated at the descending line Eb-D-C# which begins in measure 6. Once landing on the C# the chord changes from Eb major to G diminished (G,Bb, C#) (a chord which is not native to the key of Eb). This change from familiar tonality to a jarring, dissonant, and unexpected sound creates tension and foreshadows the tumultuous nature of the entire movement (and would have been a big surprise to audiences in 1805). Give a listen to it yourself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-uEjxxYtHo

In comparing this brief cell from the third symphony's primary theme to the second cell in Azog's motif, the only difference that is notable is the altered rhythm (Beethoven placing more emphasis on the Eb by using a half note, whereas Shore applies a quarter note to it).

Okay, so where does this leave us? We have two cells that can be tied to Beethoven. The first: fate; the second: tension. Azog's sole purpose in these films (as given him by the screenwriters) is to "wipe out the line of Durin." He will stop at nothing to kill Thorin and will most likely see to that during the Battle of Five Armies. It is Thorin's fate that he come to the tragic end that he does, due to his greed and nearsightedness, and Azog represents that fate which is barreling across Middle-Earth "astride a white waarrgguh." He is coming for Thorin and will pursue him as far as the edge of Mirkwood, and we know that some of his cronies will pursue Thorin & Co. into Laketown. Screenwriting 101 says that now that the screenwriters have established Azog as Thorin's primary enemy and the whole vendetta each has for the other, that they must face in combat again. At this point Azog can't simply be taken out by anyone before the showdown at the BoFA. It's Thorin's fate. And of course the inclusion of Azog provides tension and urgency to the early stages of the journey, and will most likely provide an identifiable villain at the BoFA (besides Bolg).

I have provided an analysis of Azog's motif, performed a justifiable cellular division, found extraopus influences, and tied them into the storyline. Fate and tension are two very Beethovenian concepts, and they are present in not only the music, but also the story as well.

I'd like to hear what others think about Azog's motif. I have presented one way of looking at, and analyzing it. Other viewpoints could highlight similarities between Azog's motif and the other motifs associated with Middle-Earth villains (an intraopus analysis Tongue) (e.g. use of a "tail", descending thirds associated with Mordor, etc.).

If none of this makes sense or you have a question, just ask and I'll try to answer. I just want to warn others that music analysis is NOT science.Unimpressed 1+1 does not always equal 2, and there are never truly right answers.

Subject User Time
The Beethoven Connection: A Brief Analysis of the Cellular Structure in Azog's Motif bungobaggins Jul 9 2013, 11:11pm
    Nice swampB Send a private message to swampB Jul 10 2013, 12:52am
        Thanks! bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 1:12am
            Resemblance proven Timdalf Send a private message to Timdalf Jul 10 2013, 3:30pm
                I agree bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 3:43pm
                    Understood... Timdalf Send a private message to Timdalf Jul 10 2013, 4:43pm
    It's basically a variation of the IMPENDING DOOM MOTIF from LOTR Lieutenant of Dol Guldur Send a private message to Lieutenant of Dol Guldur Jul 10 2013, 12:43pm
        Exactly Imladris18 Send a private message to Imladris18 Jul 10 2013, 2:27pm
            Unleash your rage! Lusitano Send a private message to Lusitano Jul 10 2013, 4:17pm
                Goood. bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 4:39pm
                    To cheer you up Lusitano Send a private message to Lusitano Jul 11 2013, 12:24am
                        Well now I know what I'm doing for the next ten hours! bungobaggins Jul 11 2013, 12:37am
    Wow, great analysis Lothwen Send a private message to Lothwen Jul 10 2013, 4:10pm
        Thanks! bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 4:35pm
            The key? Timdalf Send a private message to Timdalf Jul 10 2013, 4:54pm
                As with most film scores they probably will remain unpublished. bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 5:07pm
                    That's too bad... Timdalf Send a private message to Timdalf Jul 10 2013, 7:43pm
                    From the interviews I've seen with Shore entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Jul 10 2013, 9:47pm
                        But shouldn't others try to find those influences. bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 10:29pm
                            Oh, I agree entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Jul 10 2013, 10:44pm
                                Of course. bungobaggins Jul 10 2013, 11:59pm
                            To be fair ... Doug Adams Send a private message to Doug Adams Jul 11 2013, 12:25am
                                Cool swampB Send a private message to swampB Jul 11 2013, 3:20am


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