CAN you believe that in just a couple of months the third Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie will be upon us? I remember coming out of the cinema after Fellowship of The Ring and thinking that it would be impossible to wait for The Two Towers. Now the final instalment of the trilogy, The Return of the King, is coming.
There is no doubt that J.R.R. Tolkien’s works on Middle Earth stand astride the whole fantasy genre. But a lesser known effect of the man’s imagination is the extraordinary influence his themes have had on the world of music.
Yes, I know, when you think of music and LOTR, it’s Howard Shore’s orchestral music and Enya ballad’s, May It Be, that come to mind. Amazingly, by the time those recordings were made in conjunction with Peter Jackson’s epic films, more than a dozen albums had already been recorded by various artistes, all in praise of the series!
I actually got my first taste of LOTR-inspired music from hard rockers Led Zeppelin, whose singer/lyricist Robert Plant thought little of making random references to Tolkien’s works in his songs. Thus classics like Ramble On (“in the darkest depths of Mordor”) and The Battle of Evermore (“the ringwraiths ride in black”) hint at characters in LOTR, without really clarifying what they mean.
Led Zep, it appears, were about the only people who tried to tackle LOTR in a subtle manner. Other `70s rock bands like Rush (Rivendell), Camel (Nimrodel), Argent (Lothlorien) composed lengthy pieces in honour of some of the more fascinating places in Middle Earth.
Swedish keyboardist/guitarist Bo Hansson took the whole endeavour one step further and recorded an entire album in 1972 called Lord of the Rings, featuring a dozen songs which convey the majesty of the original stories. It became his most successful recording.
Another notable attempt to capture LOTR in the form of music was made in 1978: as accompaniment to Ralph Bakshi’s brave but ultimately flawed animated movie, Leonard Rosenman wrote a series of medieval-themed pieces for the soundtrack.
Of course, Tolkien’s influence spawned more than just musical works. The number of musical acts who actually derived their names from his writings is astounding.
As far as I know, US prog band Mithrandir, New Zealand folkies Lothlorien, `80s sensations (Sil) Marillion, jazz-fusion band Shadowfax, Austrian outfit Gandalf, Swedes Isildur’s Bane, Spaniards Galadriel and American prog-metallists Illuvatar represent just a few of the recording artists who have drawn inspiration from this seemingly bottomless well.
The early `90s saw another wave of interest in LOTR. German heavy metal-meisters Blind Guardian’s Tales Of Twilight World touched upon the trilogy. Across the border in Holland, Johann De Meij gained much attention with his stunning neo-classical composition, Symphonie No 1: Lord of the Rings. The latter work has been recorded a number of times but the performance by Pierre Kiujpers’s Royal Military Band (1994) is widely considered to be the one you should look for.
In recent years, New Age keyboardist David Arkenstone (Music Inspired by Middle Earth), Celtic folk outfit Broceliande (The Starlit Jewel), `70s rock legend Rick Wakeman (Songs of Middle Earth: A Tribute to the Lord of the Rings), and Tennessee rockers Glass Hammer (The Middle Earth Album and A Journey To Dunadan) have all weighed in with their own LOTR-themed albums.
Finally, there is the Danish-based Tolkien Ensemble, who devote their entire musical outfit to … well you guessed it … songs about LOTR. In the late `90s, the band, which features the compositions of one Caspar Reiff, released two acclaimed albums, namely A Night in Rivendell and An Evening in Rivendell.
After the release of The Two Towers, the Tolkien Ensemble re-recorded parts of their earlier albums for a new release called At Dawn in Rivendell. Besides the band members, the recordings feature Christopher Lee (who plays Saruman in the LOTR movies) reading poems and even singing a tune!
Martin Vengadesan, a music lover and history buff, combines his two passions in his fortnightly column. If you have any interesting stories you want him to research, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.