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The Nazgûl has been turned away, the Uruks dispelled from Helm’s Deep and Isengard vanquished by the Ents. Middle-earth would seem to have granted its heroes a momentary respite from their ills, were it not for the broken hearts of two hobbits. Frodo and Sam lie collapsed at the base of the stone stairway. “I can’t do this, Sam,” the words fall weightily. Again it comes to Samwise Gamgee to carry Frodo over the precipice of despair. Shore’s divided woodwinds and strings create a gentle air, flute giving way to clarinet as chords drawn from the Shire’s reverent Hymn Setting take shape below. Sam tells his friend, “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come,” and the expansive simplicity of A Hobbit’s Understanding sings out for the first time since the two hobbits set out for Emyn Muil. “Fran felt it was important to tie this to the beach from Fellowship,” Shore recalls. Faramir overhears the hobbits and finally understands Frodo’s quest. The music offers a momentary sympathetic oasis as clarinet takes the Shire’s Hymn Setting, now fully formed over the steady and solemn chords, and Frodo, Sam and Gollum are set free.

Here begins a series of resolutions, each group of heroes tying up its story line. With a twitter of trilling strings and winds Gandalf, Aragorn, Théoden and Éomer force the last remaining Uruk-hai back into the forest where gnashing brass spring upon them and the Huorns finish the beasts once and for all. A dignified Fellowship theme and a series of humorously halting chords perfectly represent the bond between Legolas and Gimli, who competitively compare their respective totals of Orc corpses. And even after witnessing the Natural world spring to life, unleashing its unstoppable flow upon Isengard, Merry and Pippin are back to their old ways, scrounging for a good bite to eat… and perhaps a pipe-full of Old Toby. Both are discovered in Saruman’s storeroom, and with buoyant statements of The Shire’s Playful Setting and The Hobbits’ Antics—and the feathery tones of thewhistle—the hobbits could not be more in their element. Even Treebeard’s motive curls upwards like a curious smile, his interest piqued by the laughter and puffs of smoke now emanating from the storeroom.

Faramir sets Frodo and Sam off through an old sewer pipe that will take them out of Osgiliath and back to the woods. But he warns them of the dangers of Cirith Ungol, threatening Gollum with death should he bring harm to the hobbits. Could Gollum be leading them into a trap? Oboe appears, first presenting four pitches that we will soon come to recognize from “Gollum’s Song,” then segueing directly into his Pity theme. Strings continue, combining Pity and “Song” fragments as Sam speaks with Gollum, reminding him that Frodo has his best interests at heart. Gollum claims to understand, but the score’s instability sends mixed messages.

Having finished his business at Helm’s Deep, Gandalf the White turns his mind East to Mordor. He reminds all that this victory has only moved them one step closer to the greater threat of Sauron. The Fellowship theme appears one last time in a serious-minded vein, low in the orchestra. But hidden in the orchestra’s body, at the very bottom of its range, a solo clarinet joins the Fellowship theme. Gandalf states, “All our hopes now lie with two little hobbits, somewhere in the wilderness.”

The clarinet rises back to the key of D—the hobbits’ most common key—back to the Shire’s Pensive Setting and the score’s only pure reading of the Hobbit Outline Figure. Again Sam has given Frodo the strength to carry on, and Frodo takes a moment to acknowledge his friend. The line continues into the strings, which continue with the same Hymn material that became “In Dreams” at Fellowship’s conclusion. But the third member of their party bears no such warm feelings for his compatriots. Gollum, alone, skulks along the underbrush, trailed by a high dissonant violin line and the low grunt of contrabassoon and basses on Gollum’s Menace. “There is a little of the Gollum theme, and a little of Sméagol in here,” Shore explains. Sméagol is no longer free of Gollum, and though the Pity theme tugs imploringly at the strings, an even older theme reminds him of his true allegiance. Once again the Pity theme winds slavishly into the History of the Ring theme, and Gollum’s true master takes hold. Gollum decides the hobbits must die—the Ring must again be his. “We could let her do it…”

“I revised this composition a few times,” Howard Shore explains. “I go through quite a number of revisions on some of these pieces. It takes a while to make it feel natural.”

The first draft of “The Tales That Really Matter” featured much more direct, less tentative settings of the Shire material—including the whistle—as well as a number of Fellowship settings in its first third. However, it was eventually decided that the Fellowship theme had already been established as being specific to the Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf storyline, so the theme was scaled back when the composition was rewritten to give it a softer, more introspective shape.

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

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