In music, quite a couple of individuals seem to have been inspired to adopt names from Tolkien's works. This is observed in branches as distinct as Heavy Metal and New Age. A quick overview reveals for example "Shadowfax", "Marillion" (from Silmarillion, but the first syllable was lost, probably due to copyright considerations), "David Arkenstone", "Elbereth", "Morthond", "Gandalf", "Galadriel", "Isengard", "Cirith Ungol", and even "Morgoth"! Despite the names, it seems that most of the times they do not intend to illustrate Tolkien's writings, though "Summoning" has published an album "Minas Morgul", for example; but it is not clear how much they relate to the text. Only the band-leader of "Burzum", Count Grishnakh, maybe has turned his name into programme when he fatally stabbed the singer of a competing group...
The following paragraphs will only describe selected audio works which relate to Tolkien in contents. An exception is "Gandalf" who works in the New Age section, sometimes together with "Galadriel" as singer. Many of his titles, such as "The Old Man of the Forest", clearly refer to LR; he avoids direct quotations, though.
Here is an incomplete list of some music which attempts to illustrate Tolkien's books (usually LR. S does not seem to inspire many people?!?):
A quick shot evidently that tries to link itself to the M*vie hype. The producers may not expect to earn a lot, for that CD was sold in Germany for 2 € only. The result is remarkably good, though, comparable to the actual M*vie soundtracks. The tracks by Inishkea and Blaney, neither of them being otherwise known to me, are arranged in a more or less chapter-oriented sequence; sometimes, however, the connexion to LR seems rather marginal; very likely, the tracks were combined from other publications and the titles altered appropriately. Inishkea seems to concentrate on Celtic folk rock (why is LR so often getting connected to Celtic music? If there was anyone in Middle-earth playing Celtic, it would be the Dunlendings!), sometimes they feature reminiscences of the early Mike Oldfield. Andrew Blaney gives a strong contrast to that with a dramatic grand-orchestra music that could best be described as „Igor Strawinsky meets John Williams“ (inspirations by „The Firebird“ as well as the „Star Wars“ and „Harry Potter“ scores are clearly recognisable). Occasionally, for example in his musical description of the Morannon, the result is impressive. By any means, you don't lose much if you buy that one.
Two quite ancient tracks already, but they still can be found on Camel's recent "Best of" samplers. "Nimrodel", an instrumental theme, seems to illustrate the river rather than the Elf; it literally "flows", unfortunately, it is very short - perhaps they better should have chosen Gwáthlo? The other is a standard Seventies pop song rather loosely based on LR, except for an instrumental intro describing the White Rider's triumphant entry into Minas Tirith. On some releases, this intro has a separate title.
A single instrumental track, found on the Album "Shepherd Moon". There seems to be no particular reason why that one has that particular title, for there is mothing in it that would make it sound more Tolkienian than Enya's other songs. It sounds well, though, and for those who want to have everything... (See also the comment on her performance with Howard Shore below.)
Swedish composer Bo Hansson was one of the early
pioneers of electronic music. His album is entirely based on LR,
with a heavy bias on books I, II, and VI (III and IV are sweeping by
within 20 seconds!). The atmosphere of the entirely instrumental
tracks is very moody and, despite of its avantgardistic nature, well
associates with the narrative. Some special audio effects, new at
that time but maybe old hats by now, include the Nazgûl cries
in the Old Forest, the collapse of the Bridge of Khazad-dûm,
hissing bowstrings and sword clashes in "The Battle on the
Pelennor Fields", and at the end, in a surprising anticipation
of the then yet unpublished LR Epilog, published in HoMe IX,
the fading sound of the sea from the Grey Havens.
The CD edition was redubbed and slightly expanded in 1993; it also includes some tracks from two other albums, "The Magician's Hat" (which included two tracks illustrating Alan Garner's "Elidor"; only one of them, "Findhorn's Song", is also found on this CD) and "Attic Thoughts" with some audio illustrations of "Watership Down". In German stores the CD is available for a meager 2.5 Euro.
Though still rumoured to exist, I was to date unable to locate this one anywhere in Europe. It is said that it was once published by the German company Pilz; but since they have gone bankrupt long ago, this album will be very hard to find. Even the current movie hype seems not to have spawned a new edition (yet?).
*Note: According to a mail by Johan de Meij himself (sorry for misspelling „Meji“, Johan; it is an obvious mistake for one who is familiar with Slavic languages but not with Dutch), „there are several versions out and available“; for Germany he mentioned the company De Haske Deutschland. Research in our local CD shops still did not provide positive results, alas.
Actually a collection of four songs merged together, found on the album "Water Bearer". The cover says that the texts were adapted both from LR and S, but this is a very generous interpretation. Aside of the refrain "Three Rings for the Elven kings" (in some places audibly "king"!) and the mentioning of Lai-, Mori- and Calaquendi, there is little Tolkien found in them. And calling the Elves "makers of the earth and the wind and the sky" certainly is a heresy. More impressive than Sally is the voice of tenor Brian Burrows (courtesy for his identification to Chris Miller) accompanying her with unfortunately only a few lines.
The surprising title originates in the fact that
this is #14 of the boxed CD set of Brian Sibley's BBC radio-play
adaptation of LR (see below; section „Radio
plays“). In my opinion this is the currently most
convincing interpretation of Middle-earth music. Its style ranges
from minstrel ballads by the Rohirian bard, slightly reminiscent of
Beethoven's British songs (if you do not mind the occasionally wrong
stresses on the Sindarin and, I think, also the Rohirian names) to a
small Renaissance-style chamber orchestra for the Elven songs and
even an a-capella solo of Sam Gamgee. The selection of performers is
sometimes arbitrary: The Entwife is sung by a male chorus and Bilbo
by a little boy.
Very interestingly, the CD ends with a few seconds of a guitar solo that is not announced on the cover and seems not to bear any connection to the other music. Was the tape not stopped on time during the master recording?
This could probably aptly be called the musical equivalent of fan fiction. The cover claims the composers were „two lifelong enthusiasts“, and in contrast to Blaney's & Inishkea's „Music inspired by“ (see above) the connection between the music and the relevant book passages is very tight. Pearce and Prior feature impressive sound effects, for example track #4 „Flight to the Ford“ begins with credibly rendered approaching hoofbeats and horse-neighing. The tracks were apparently composed electronically; there seem no real instruments to be involved in. The mood begins with light-hearted, vaguely Celtic hobbitish and bree-ish tunes and later-on slowly turns to dark, avantgardistic, sometimes atonal arrangements that represent the Sauronian side of music. It is not something that you would listen to during a tea-time invitation but very likely at a gaming convention. In Germany it was sold for 4,50 €; a price for which I can recommend it to any collector.
The soundtrack of Bakshi's ill-famous M*vie.
Modernistic, sometimes slightly atonal; here and there too "American"
in flavour. Its mood is quite sinister, save for the recurrent
easy-going hobbits' theme. Still, the music is better than the
pictures! Most tracks are instrumental except "Mithrandir"
which apparently pretends to be an Elvish song, though not one based
on Tolkien's poems, and "Helm's Deep" which includes a
convincing, though uninterpretable, example of an Orcish or perhaps
Dunlendish war song (the word "hai" often appears).
The CD version has a few additional tracks not found on the LP releases. Its price on the German market, 23 Euro, is extremely overrated.
The soundtrack of Jackson's ill-famous M*vie. Except for a light "Irish" hobbit tune and two songs by Enya (which sound a lot like Enya but very little like Lord of the Rings), the music is for the most part as sinister as Rosenman's, featuring pathetic chorus parts and an often too big symphonic orchestra. Some included Elvish text lines have nothing to do with Tolkien. The score is, alas, also quite repetitive and could easily have been shortened by one third without losing anything. It may certainly find its supporters, but in general it is, like the M*vie it accompanies, a missed opportunity to illustrate LR. A more musical-style approach would have suited much better.
While resembling part I described above in many passages, the second CD musically tries to illustrate the Rohirrim by giving them a Scandinavian folklore-style tune. But alas, there is much too little of this! In general, this CD seems to be little innovative against part I, the mood is much the same, and there is no Enya this time. A certain Emiliana Torrini jumps in as a replacement, singing „Gollum's song“, though it is not evident what this song has gotten to with Gollum nor with Tolkien at all. And Emiliana performs so lovely that she could sing a Lúthien rather than a Sméagol.
The score of Swann's book by the same name. Swann
adapted some of the poems from LR and ATB and had the
melodies authorized by Tolkien himself - in the case of "Namarie"
he even used JRRT's own piano version! This therefore is the "most
authentic" Middle-earth music you can find. Unfortunately, the
MC does not include the song "The Road Goes Ever On" which
only entered the book in its third edition. In 1999, it was for the
first time seen as an official German release, outside of the foreign
The MC also includes poems from LR and ATB read by Tolkien.
These two CDs were subsequently produced by an audibly professional group of Danish singers - at least some of them seem to have opera experience -, using with authorisation by the Tolkien Estate selected poems from LR; a third CD is announced. The CDs come recently in a double pack - prices in Germany varying between 15 and 23 Euro from one shop to the next -, featuring in the by-pack a couple of excellent Tolkien illustrations designed by none less but Her Majesty, the Queen of Denmark! The poems taken from the books are partially the same as in Swanns' and the BBC radio-play's selections (see below), but the Tolkien Ensemble deliberately avoided to copy either; only in the Rohanese ballad "From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning" an - unintentional? - influence of the BBC version is recognisable. The first CD, "An Evening in Rivendell", gives, once you have passed a slightly dull Ring-verse introduction, a charming selection of Scottish (?!?) pub-style hobbit drinking songs contrasting with Elvish and Dunédainic ballads, including of course the inevitable "A Elbereth Gilthóniel". The second one, labelled "A Night in Rivendell", is more solemn, slower, and more uniform (to avoid saying dull), rendering p. e. the Rohirric war laments as slightly Gregorianic and hard to understand canons and featuring a surprisingly talented Gollum. Some more variety in style and mood would have improved the collection; as far as the Song of the Ent and Entwive goes, the version by Stephen Oliver is much better.
This is the third CD that was mentioned above as announced – and it mentions a fourth CD! This one is till now the most unique and in my opinion the best volume of the collection because Christopher Lee has now joined the Tolkien Ensemble and displays on the record how he could have acted if Peter Jackson had allowed him. Mr. Lee recounts the Ring-verse that was already found on CD I, but better, and not only narrates various verses from LR but also sings a few, convincingly demonstrating that he actually began his career as an opera singer. The other songs are now again closer in mood to the first CD with some Celtic-style hobbitish, Bombadil-ish and a few solemn Elvish tunes. Supposedly, with the 4th CD the Tolkien Ensemble will have all the verses from LR exploited?
This one I accidentally found in the Oxford Book Shop in Ljubljana; but recently it also was released in Germany. It retells the story quite faithfully; the patronising passages of the book have been replaced by dialogs between Bilbo and the narrator, an acceptable, though as well a bit childish, construction. Unfortunately, the director made no distinction between the races and peoples involved: Gandalf sounds like just another fellow Dwarf, and Elves croak as shrieky as the goblins, crows, and eagles, and are hence quite hard to understand.
The German equivalent of above. As well it retells all major features except Bombur's plunge in the Enchanted River. Remarkably, many Dwarves are actually spoken by the same person who convincingly gives each of them an individual voice, and German comedian Jürgen von Manger, otherwise known for performances in the characteristic Rhein-Ruhr dialect, gives a surprisingly convincing Gollum. In contrast to the BBC version, the Elves have gentle female voices throughout.
In general a well-accomplished task, though you have to know the books to understand some passages which are perhaps kept too authentic: if you fail to know how a snatching bowstring sounds you will have no idea what happens to Wormtongue. The events have been rearranged into more chronological order and more frequent changes of location, so that Gandalf's imprisoning in Orthanc is detailed already in part 1. A regrettable loss is the entire story of Tom Bombadil.
The music is of much diverse quality - some of the
Hobbits audibly cannot sing, and Bilbo, aware of his shortcomings,
only recites his own poems. Most of the speakers are well-chosen,
though. Only the Ents are in general talking too fast, and the
Witch-king sounds too much alive and human, I would say, not ghastly
enough (the other Nazgûl reveal their presence at the scene
throughout by a low, necromancing chant of the Ring-inscription in
Black Speech: A convincing way to present someone in a radio-play who
never gets a line!).
A surprising emphasis was put on the Mouth of Sauron who in the first part performs as Gollum's inquisitor (in the book an anonymous individual) but strangely also issues Sauron's orders to the Nazgûl. He certainly exceeds his authority here.
There are some amusing twirk occasionally, p.e. when the Rohirrim leave Dunharrow the sound of a horn is heard. However, the book deliberately says they left "without horn or sound"...
If you can, obtain the CD version. Contrary to some rather poor singing efforts within the radio-play the additional music edition by Stephen Oliver that was not included in the MC collection is superb.
An awful production, made for the quick money and without respect to the original. In the first part already, the Shire gets infested by storms and darkness as if it was anticipating the Dawnless Day. In spite of what Tolkien recommended for dramatisations, the action switches every other minute between the West and Mordor, often without evident break so that the unattentive reader may soon lose track about whom he is currently told. And worst: The pronunciation guides from LR are entirely ignored and Sindarin is throughout pronounced as if it was Italian - „Tsirrit Ungol“! This nuisance is sold as MC or CD collection for a whopping 50 Euros.
(Again, there seems to exist no S radio play so far?)
Of this I have heard only the beginning, but what I attended to of it sounded very satisfying. Other than in the radio-plays, the full text of the books is given. Mr. Inglish has the remarkable skill of giving even to each of the party guests a distinct voice. As for the poems, where available, he sings Donald Swann's melodies on them a capella. I was told he later-on does an excellent job on Treebeard and on Saruman's different voices - I wonder how he speaks Galadriel...?!?
This MC contains excerpts - mostly poems, but also some prose passages - from a private tape on which Tolkien once read parts of LR to himself. Not only a rewarding sample, but also scholarly interesting, for we learn some proper pronunciations ("Smeeeegoll") and intonations of names and words. This release covers books IV to VI; maybe there is also a cassette with excerpts from I to III around.
There is also a full four-CD set available, covering this MC, another one that covers parts of books I and III, and the voice of Christopher Tolkien telling in slightly abbreviated form the story of Beren and Lúthien from S.
List of Abbreviations