Musical Analysis of The Two Towers

Analysis of Track 1: Foundations of Stone

First we hear the low brass slowly rising in a stepwise fashion while the strings accompany beneath. The chordal progression is very slow with a slight crescendo before each change. You can hear this by listening to the horns that are playing the melody. They play three notes while everyone else holds theirs, then when the horns play the next note in the next series, the accompanied instruments change to the next chord. Also, as we travel through this slow progression, there is a change in volume assisted by the percussion. The strings play a touch louder then back off on the next note played by the horns, i.e. 1-2-3(louder),1(soft)-2-3(louder),1(soft)-2-3. This combined with the rising horns creates a feeling of anticipation before the movie begins.

:32 We see the movie title and hear the temptation theme so we can be reminded of the ring’s power.

:50 Now we hear a continuation of the theme that we’ve never heard before as if the theme is growing in power along with the ring. This is playing while we are gliding through the misty mountains.

1:18 There is a dialogue between the strings and horns. The strings play a passage, then hold while the horns play a passage and vice versa.

1:43 Here we are traveling through the mountain and we hear, once again, the music used for the battle with the Balrog. To make the music seem primitive and savage, he uses the beat pattern; ONE two three four ONE two three four, with the horns attacking the note, backing off then doing a crescendo. This gives a sense of movement and tension as Gandalf fights the Balrog.

1:57 The percussion stops here as Gandalf uses his staff against the Balrog. The absence of the strong beat pattern creates a feeling of anticipation.

2:02 The horns enter one by one using a sforzando (LOUDsoft…louder….) approach to add to the already very dissonant chord and then they all do a BIG crescendo while Gandalf battles the Balrog until….

2:10 There is almost silence except for a low not that is held. This gives the sensation of being suspended in time while the Balrog falls. It also tells you that even though the dissonant chord stopped, something is not quite right.

2:14 When the Balrog catches Gandalf with his whip, the percussion suddenly enters with a strong and rather loud peat pattern accompanied by the low instruments. Combining the two gives us the sensation of Gandalf being doomed.

2:32 Gandalf lets go and the choir begins to sing then chant. The music in this section is based on the Phrygian mode in the key of D major. In other words, if we were just in the key of D, the scale would be D,E,F#,G,A,B,C# with the D as the tonic. The tonic is what the music wants to resolve to, i.e. the last chord would based on the tonic. For example, sing Merry Had a Little Lamb in your head but leave out the last note, snow. Sounds incomplete, doesn’t it? That’s because our ears have been trained this way even if you don’t know anything about music. The Phrygian mode in D will use the same notes as a normal D scale but the scale starts on the 3rd note instead of the normal tonic, like this: F#,G,A,B,C#,D,E. Having the F# as the tonic now makes the music seem off. The choir is also singing in parallel fifths, i.e. the lower voices are singing a fifth below the upper voices as they travel up the Phrygian scale. Parallel fifths are forbidden in traditional music because of the sound it creates. All of this makes the music sound off and primitive.

2:59 The horns play up a fifth and down a half step. By moving a half step down, it is now on the augmented fourth/devils interval if you compare it to the first note in the phrase and treat the fifth as an ornamentation. The church called it the devil’s interval in Medieval times because of the dissonance it created and banned composers from using it. That combined with the chanting choir gives a very eerie and disturbing feeling.

3:32 The heavy beat pattern and chanting stops here. All of a sudden we have very lyrical (sustained) singing of big, thick chords while we see Gandalf and the Balrog fall into a huge cave.

3:41 The percussion becomes louder here as our view changes and we see them falling away from us and landing in the water with a big crescendo.

- Talagawen