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Featuring Renée Fleming; Music by Howard Shore; Words by Philippa Boyens.

The procession of the Elves of Rivendell winds its way through the forests as the former caretakers of Middle-earth travel to the Grey Havens. Reluctantly, Arwen Undómiel has joined her kin. But on her journey the noble woman of the Elves experiences a vision—a potential future spelled out before her eyes. Though she was led to imagine her future on Middle-earth as fraught with death and isolation, she learns that that same future was to hold a son, Eldarion, for her and Aragorn. The beautiful voice of Renée Fleming introduces Shore’s new maturation of the Evenstar theme, the melody that once spoke to the gulf between the two lovers now come to represent the distance between disparate futures.

Fleming’s appearance in The Return of the King is indicative of the subtly modulating vocal sound of Middle-earth. The music of The Fellowship of the Ring embraced the pure, almost folk-like tones of vocalists such as Enya and Isabel Fraser. The palette in The Two Towers became more varied and exotic. Vocal performances from Emilana Torrini, Sheila Chandra and Isabel Bayrakdarian underscored the emphasis on Northern European, Eastern Asian and Eastern European tones. The Return of the King represents the peak of this progression—The Lord of the Rings’ vocal music at its most developed and resplendent. Renée Fleming’s voice is that of a coloratura soprano, one of the most revered and complex tones in music. Says Shore, “She has such an amazing voice, but i couldn’t have used her in Fellowship. I couldn’t start there—I had to get there as the story became more complex.”

Arwen, stunned by her vision, turns Asfaloth back towards Rivendell, back towards her father. Strings absorb the Evenstar melody, weaving beneath it the Rivendell Arpeggios. Arwen accuses her father of denying her the full truth. Elrond concedes, “Nothing is certain.” Tender woodwinds elaborate the end of Evenstar as Arwen begs Elrond to help mankind in the only way he can. The orchestra again stirs with the Rivendell Arpeggios. Elrond turns away and Arwen collapses. He comes to her, only to find her hands cold, her Elvish immortality having been surrendered. Fleming’s voice returns with an even gentler, more sober reading of Evenstar as Elrond is shocked, but moved. His daughter’s gesture can only be honored if he is to act.

The Rivendell theme begins in earnest, swelling and rolling as in the theme’s prime. The shards of Narsil are brought before Elvish metalsmiths. They will be reforged and returned to the World of Men. Shore’s Minas Tirith theme is rhythmically compressed, as if it too is born anew and yet to stretch its limbs.

But the Fellowship is still to reach Minas Tirith, though Gandalf and Pippin are charging towards it. An excitedly muscular Fellowship theme presses the duo across Middle-earth until, via Shadowfax’s swift footfall, they cross into Gondor. Horns and strings immediately announce their arrival with a proud summoning of the Realm of Gondor theme. And yet their first view of Minas Tirith is met by an odd inversion of the Gondor theme. All is not well in the White Tower and Gandalf knows it. Over the rails of rhythmic string patterns, brass charges forth with a canonic examination of the Gondor theme, and Gandalf and Pippin ascend the great burgh. As Shadowfax’s hooves meet the city’s stones the Realm of Gondor theme again crystallizes, clarified into a march-like rigor. But the theme ends differently than it has in the past, rising, after its opening, with down-and-back-up three- note figures. The Fellowship has finally brought Gondor’s aid: a worthy interim leader. Gandalf the White’s arrival temporarily shifts Gondor in Decline to Gondor in Ascension. The same down-and-back shape that opens the Fellowship theme, and forms the basis of the Geroics of Aragorn and Gandalf the White (in the Fellowship) now closes Gondor’s theme. Gondor has suddenly – if momentarily – remembered its place as the seat of justice and decency in Middle-earth.

Gandalf’s arrival at the top of Minas Tirith earns the climax of Shore’s crescendo, a rich A-major chord sounding in all ranges of the orchestra. But this opulence is short-lived. At the summit, Gandalf and Pippin find a wilted tree, the same tree from Pippin’s palantír vision. As Gandalf explains the significance of the White Tree of Gondor, Shore returns to a mournful, recollective setting of the Minas Tirith theme, now all the sadder compared to the rousing version heard back in Rivendell. Gondor, whatever its potential, is as weak as the steward who currently oversees the throne. Like distant war, drums rumble under a thin string cluster, and Gandalf and Pippin head into the throne room to meet with Denethor, the Steward of Gondor.

Text by Philippa Boyens
Sindarin Translation by David Salo
Ngil cennin eriel vi | I saw a star rise high in the
Menel aduial | Evening sky,
Glingant sui mîr | It hung like a jewel,
Síliel mae. | Softly shining.

Ngil cennin firiel vi | I saw a star fade in the
Menel aduial | Evening sky,
Dûr, dûr i fuin | The dark was too deep and so light died,
Naenol mae. | Softly pining.

An i ú nathant | For what might have been,
An i naun ului | For what never was.
A chuil, anann cuiannen | For a life, long lived
A meleth, perónen. | For a love half given.

© The Annotated Score (The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films)

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