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Vast armies of Orcs stand before the gates of Minas Tirith, moving their attack towers into place. But of more immediate concern is a single horse dragging its unconscious rider towards the city. The gates part and Faramir’s body is brought inside. He is alive, having survived the slaughter at Osgiliath, but stuck with arrows and in grave condition. Shore’s composition opens with leaping fifths, attempting to find Gondor’s theme in the glowering madness, but unable to form it.

As Gothmog prepares to lead the Orcs at Minas Tirith’s base Faramir is brought before his father at the city’s peak. A steady cadence stiffens the orchestra fatalistically, these coincident events serving to unnerve Denethor and deprive Gondor of any leadership (just or not) in its hour of greatest need. The Orcs load their catapults and lob a volley at the Gondorian foot soldiers—their gory ammunition, the heads of those who fell at Osgiliath. Actions this black-hearted can only be motivated by Sauron’s Black Hand, so Mordor’s Descending Third motive begins the march to the pit of Gondor’s despair.

Denethor, still reeling from the sight of Faramir, staggers to the outer rim of his courtyard. The orchestra builds and gathers into a brisk, grotesque allegro. For the first time, Denethor is drawn from his sulking stupor and understands that he has left Gondor bereft of leadership as its enemies moved against it. Legions upon legions of Orcs, Trolls and Wargs mar the Pelennor. The Orcs load their catapults with heavy rock now, and begin toppling Gondor’s towers, the Descending Third following the collapse with a sickening literality. The orchestra’s climb continues in harsh atonal melodies, supported with ever denser orchestrations. His sense now irretrievable, Denethor cries for an impossible retreat. For Mankind, there is nowhere left to go, nothing left to do.

But for the wizard, now is the time to act. Gandalf brandishes his staff as a weapon and disables Denethor, knocking him to the stones of his own courtyard. Violins sustain a single pitch until, with a flash of bright orchestral color, the White Rider (in the Fellowship) sounds and Gandalf races to Minas Tirith’s lower levels. He will lead Gondor’s soldiers.

The tempo quickens once again, a primitive Orkish drumbeat struck beneath the pitched instruments. Unison brass plays an opaque setting of Gondor’s theme but, already at the battle’s onset, this is Gondor in Decline. The realm is unprepared for such an onslaught. The men use Minas Tirith’s trebuchets to launch the wreckage of their own towers towards the Orcs—it being the only ammunition readily available. Chromatic clusters mark the impact, but there is little lasting value. Mordor’s Fourth Age begins to dredge its way up from the ensemble’s depths.

Without warning, Mordor’s second Fourth Age theme descends from above. Mixed chorus (see The Nazgûl text) performs the Power of Mordor, the advancement of the Ringwraith theme. Built off the same secundal harmonies, this theme represents the Wraiths’ most ruthless, savage attacks. The line itself is streamlined and emphasizes sustained pitches over short punctuations. It too, however, is supported by the ceaseless mark of the Descending Third, representing Mordor’s ever-extending control. Upon the scaly backs of their fell beasts the Riders attack from the sky, clawing at the Gondorian soldiers, tearing their forces asunder.

Mountain Trolls move the Orcs’ towers into position. The Fourth Age Orcs of Mordor theme is again roused in the brass’ depths. The Orcs storm the city as an inverted setting of the Cruelty of the Orcs stings the orchestra’s middle range. The Orcs maraud towards Pippin, who is completely overwhelmed by the battle. Over the orchestra’s black pulsation, trumpets manage to seek out a few bars of the Fellowship theme and Gandalf rushes to the hobbit’s aid. But Gandalf turns his back for a moment, opening himself to an attack from the Orcs. Pippin returns the favor and, for the first time, stains his blade with Orc blood.

A battering ram is brought to the front gate, and again the Orcs of Mordor themes exacerbate the orchestra in canonic overlaps. Dissatisfied with the attack, Gothmog calls for Grond. Two mountain trolls and three horned beasts drag the Hammer of the Underworld into position, their heavy gait earning the return of the Five Beat Pattern, now laced with the Evil of the Ring. The Orcs chant, their Fourth Age theme tumbling out yet again, its profane enthusiasm undeterred.

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli watch the Corsairs’ ships continue to steal down the river. Unwillingly aided by Gimli, Legolas catches a directorial-looking bosun with his arrow. The Corsairs turn their attention to the three figures on the riverbank who have the incredible gall to strike their forces. They laugh ruefully until, with a smoldering wash of sharply dissonant clusters, a semitransparent force charges them, obliterating their fleet.

The Power of Mordor actually began life in the early cut of Fellowship’s Prologue. When the sequence was re-edited, Shore restructured his composition and this motif was removed. Hints of it can still be heard during the Council of Elrond, but the line does not appear in its full choral guise until The Return of the King.

Text by Philippa Boyens
Sindarin Translation by David Salo
Ristais dúath | Shreds of shadow
Nerchennin o chuil | Torn from life
Coll am | Borne aloft
Na waewath goeyl | By fell winds.

Tellin i Neder | The Nine have come.
Gurth renia. | Death has taken wing.

Meditha han phan, | He will eat it all,
Meditha ardhon. | Eat all the world.

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

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