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Sam and Gollum separate from Frodo for a minute, falling behind his pace on the winding stairs. Gollum encourages the hobbits, and the orchestra breaths in and out in musical sighs. The composition begins with A minor and F minor harmonies, the opening harmonies of the Pity of Gollum, but the theme does not materialize. Even in subservient mode, Gollum is wittingly leading the hobbits to their death. The harmonies complicate as Sam pushes Gollum’s back to the rocks. If he has any reason to suspect Gollum’s treachery, any reason at all, Sam will not hesitate to finish him. Gollum’s rotted teeth protrude past his curled lips, sneering at Sam’s threat, emboldened by the cor anglais’ four-note Evil/History/Evil Times hybrid motif.

In the streets of Minas Tirith, another hobbit is about to begin a perilous climb. Gandalf, having seen Minas Morgul’s signal, has sent Pippin on a mission. He is to light the city’s beacon and summon Rohan’s aid. Throughout the beacon lighting sequence, Shore strikes up a churning rhythmic patter, which constantly refers to a four-note motif consisting of an arpeggiated triad (either major or minor) and a flat sixth, a half-step above the triad. In fact, this figure is woven through numerous themes in The Lord of the Rings. It represents Tolkien’s recurrent theme of a fall from grace and a subsequent redemption. In this sequence, its purpose is crystallized. Gondor’s star in Middle-earth has fallen, sunk under the weight of its own decadent history. But it still embodies the greatest hope among Middle-earth’s assets. With a swell of brass, Pippin dashes down Minas Tirith’s streets, off to fulfill his mission.

Atop the city, ensconced in the throne room, Denethor berates Faramir, his youngest son. The One Ring was within his grasp, and yet he sent it away with the hobbits. The steward is outraged. He claims he desires the Ring for no other reason than to keep it from the Enemy; he’d only have used it “…at the uttermost end of need.” His eyes stare deeply, the Evil/History theme revealing that his mind, too, is already bent on the Ring. For a moment he hallucinates, seeing Boromir approaching him. A tragic ebb of strings dissolves along with Boromir’s image. Denethor tells Faramir to leave.

Outside, Pippin continues his climb. The four-note Weakness and Redemption figure spins through continual variations, darting through accompaniment and melodic lines alike. The hobbit has reached the peak of Amon Dîn and the first beacon fire. He stumbles at first, but manages to light the beacon. The orchestra tautens, and one of The Lord of the Rings’ signature musical moments begins. Machine-like, woodwinds and strings churn, beginning the machinations of Gondor’s salvation. Weakness and Redemption braces the low brass, underpinning constantly modulating chords in the French horns and trumpets. With a lattice of rising figures, the brass steels upwards, emerging in a powerful, magniloquent statement of the Gondor theme. Yet, the phrases still end with the Gondor in Decline figure. This is Gondor both summoning its pride and calling for help.

The message is carried across Middle-earth, one beacon at a time joining the relay. Finally it reaches Rohan. Aragorn is the first to see it, and with a giddy series of Weakness and Redemption lines, he bursts into Meduseld to inform King Théoden.

Théoden hears the news and pauses in thought. Should he provide aid to Gondor, which so recently failed to send help to Rohan? A sforzando tremolo string chord awaits his word. Théoden, unlike Denethor, understands what must be done—he will muster the Rohirrim and ride to Minas Tirith. The Rohan Fanfare erupts in the brass over martial percussion and strings.

Aside tender string and horn writing, Aragorn and Éowyn share a few parting words, during which he discovers a sword hidden beneath her horse’s saddle. She may have more in mind than simply offering the men a farewell.

Merry seeks out Théoden amidst the din. He offers his sword to the service of Rohan. Pippin may have unwittingly enlisted himself in Gondor’s defense, but Merry understands what he’s asking. Solo piccolo intones the stepwise motion of the Shire theme, but supported by the more worldly harmonies of the Fellowship theme. Théoden accepts the gracious offer, dubbing him Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan.

The Rohirrim begin to ride, but it is not the Rohan Fanfare that carries them. Middle-earth’s cavalry sets out to battle Sauron’s industry to the tones of Nature’s Reclamation, as if Nature itself has now accepted the Horse-lords as allies. The theme begins a steady build, rising unfettered through the orchestra’s registers. With a final twirl of the Rohan Fanfare, Théoden’s troops are on their way.

This composition was written to the film’s original edit, which featured several sequences in a different order. Originally, the start of Pippin’s quest to light the beacon was immediately followed by Denethor and Faramir’s first encounter. Eventually, the Denethor and Faramir scene was moved to well after the beacon lighting sequence.

The original version of the beacon music can be heard on The Return of the King’s 2003 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD, and features a different harmonization of the Gondor theme—notably stressing major modes. The composition was reharmonized in the finished film to increase the dramatic tension and underscore Gondor’s dire situation. Heard here is the film version.

The OST performance, incidentally, was the first music recorded for The Return of the King. It was the London Philharmonic’s first take on the first day of the sessions.

The final statement of the Rohan Fanfare, which ends Disc One, was not used in the film.

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

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