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UC Irvine Using Musical Themes to Elevate the Story in Cinema Discussion

UC Irvine Using Musical Themes to Elevate the Story in Cinema Discussion

UC Irvine Using Musical Themes to Elevate the Story in Cinema Discussion


The use of short, recurring motifs in orchestral music was not fully exploited until the 19th century in the operas of Verdi and Wagner. These passages came to be known as leitmotifs and were often related to specific characters, things, or situations. In recent decades, this technique has become common in film scores. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is perhaps the best example, having been repeatedly voted the best film soundtrack of all time.

The video below describes how musical motifs help to communicate the themes in the first book in the trilogy: Fellowship of the Ring (Links to an external site.). The Fellowship eventually includes 4 Hobbits, 2 Men, 1 Elf, 1 Dwarf, and 1 good Wizard. It sets off to destroy the demonic Sauron’s instrument of power, the One Ring.

This fantasy film epic is set in an ancient time reminiscent of the medieval era. Three cultures are featured: a simple rural folk called Hobbits, a tribe of prideful warriors called the Riders of Rohan and the decaying urban culture of the ancient realm of Gondor. Each culture is represented by a musical theme.

The video below is a sample (no action from film) of the Shire Theme.

In the scene called “Lighting of the Beacons,” Gondor is about to be attacked, but the ruler of the city has lost the will to fight. Gandalf, the good wizard, has asked one of the Hobbits to climb up and light a beacon that will create a chain reaction, signaling the Riders of Rohan to come to Gondor’s aid. When the beacon is lit, you will hear a musical theme that represents Gondor’s ancient culture reviving. How does this theme contrast with the theme of the Shire?

In the video below, your hear the horns of the Riders of Rohan as the Riders arrive on a hill outside Gondor and discover that the city is already under attack by Sauron’s army. Pausing briefly, the Riders realize that they may not survive the upcoming battle. The haunting Rohan theme plays as they charge, expressing the Riders’ warrior culture & choice of death before dishonor.

In the Lord of the Rings, the contribution of each of the three groups–the Hobbits, the citizens of Gondor and the Riders of Rohan–is needed to defeat Sauron. Much of the plot has to do with the unique qualities of each group and the difficulty of getting all three to understand the need for collaboration. How do the musical themes of the Shire, Gondor and the Riders of Rohan help us to understand the uniqueness of each group? Please upload your analysis (100 words) below. It is fine to simply compare how you felt while listening to each of the three themes. You may download a veen diagram to help you brainstorm in preparation for writing your comparison.

If you are unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings trilogy or would like to remind yourself of the plot, a link to 1) a written plot & character summary and 2) a description of music in The Lord of the Rings films are available below.……

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