It is 2002. Howard Shore just finished scoring David Cronenberg's "Spider" and David Fincher's "Panic Room" before he stepped to the podium of the Kodiak Theatre to pick up his first, well- deserved Academy Award for "Fellowship Of The Ring". Film score enthusiasts all over the world wondered whether his success at the Oscars would affect the upcoming second part of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, "The Two Towers". After all, it wouldn't have been the first blockbuster to get destroyed by its success.
All worries were unfounded because luckily, Howard Shore is still one of the composers who prefer artistic integrity over success.
But the big question remained: after recording not only a tremendously successful score, but also an enormous work of Wagnerian proportions, how could you take that up a notch? It's simple, you don't. Two Towers is not a sequel to Fellowship, it is its continuation. This answer is deceptively simple, but understanding it is the key to understanding and fully appreciating The Two Towers. These scores can't be reduced to the term "film music", they go far beyond that - they are a mirror image of the story, they are subtext. With Fellowship Of The Ring, Howard Shore laid the fundament for the trilogy, he established the sound and many of the most important themes. And just like each film builds on each other, the music constantly evolves, develops its material, confronts itself and introduces new themes where needed.
So, for those who aren't familiar with the complete score, if there is one thing you should not expect from Two Towers, then it is any radical departure from Fellowship. That doesn't mean Two Towers is not different, though. The film is darker than part one, much more grim and complex. The score reflects that in so far as it is alot more introverted, with amazing subtlety, some really gutwrenching moments, and that makes Two Towers radiate a maturity that really rockets this score over the roof.
This has something to do with the shift of perspective. Where Fellowship Of The Ring dealt with the world of joyous hobbits and magical elves, Two Towers focuses on the decaying world of men, their desperate war against Saruman and Frodo's dreary journey through marshes and woods. Some lighter hobbit material provides a couple of comedic breaks during Merry and Pippin's storyline with Treebeard and the Ents, who are represented by a very particular sound texture of wooden percussion and a specific motif, which unfortunately mostly cut from the film, but which can be heard here in full form.
All in all, there are over a dozen new themes and motifs to fill in the blank spots for Rohan, Gondor, Fangorn, Gandalf The White and Frodo. Very noticeable, and very appropriately, in the score is the extensive exploration of the Isengard material, whose 5/4 pattern is very invasive, spreads throughout the score and tries to take over other thematic material. Orchstration and composition of the theme are expanded as well, it's not as isolated as in Fellowship anymore, it feels alot more active.
Connected to that is Gandalf's resurrection. In "Gandalf The White", which heavily features unused music, the White Rider theme is introduced, which sounds like a beautiful, soaring contrast to the Isengard motif.
Frodo and Sam's journey, as soon as they encounter Gollum, is slowly getting dominated by his music. The Pity Of Gollum theme, already present in more conventional form in Fellowship, gets some serious workout, and not only that; Howard Shore expands it and defines a distinct Gollum sound, together with the cembalon. This hammer dulcimer is the weapon of choice for Gollum's evil "Stinker" motif, one of the many new themes for Two Towers. It can be heard prominently in "Lost In Emyn Muil" and on bassoon at the end of "The Tales That Really Matter".
As I'm typing this review, I realise how impossible it is to adequately describe the unbelievable complexity in this score with so few words. This isn't even comparable to Fellowship Of The Ring, this is a quantum leap in scope. Already the first track "Glamdring" lets you know that this score is going to be alot more epic, but at the same time it's so personal and emotional.
What constantly blows my mind is how seemingly effortlessly Howard Shore shifts and swerves between various feelings, atmospheres and styles. From comedy to deepest sadness, from 20th century harmonies to deepest 19th century opera, the whole palette is amazing. Not to mention the spectacular choir work that is even more prominent and complex in Two Towers. With all the great solo performers, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Sheila Chandra, Elizabeth Fraser, Ben Del Maestro and Emiliana Torrini, Two Towers is not only a top notch orchestral work, it is even stellar in the vocal performances, which has also something to do with Howard Shore writing pieces especially for their voices. With so much mastery in composition, orchestration and execution, it is almost a by-product that the music matches the picture. But you shouldn't forget it, since that, amongst other things, is indeed what makes Lord Of The Rings extra- special.
Now about the presentation of the music. "The Two Towers" has three separate, intertwining storylines, and that's also how the music can be heard here. Not only does this serve the storytelling idea of these Complete Recordings, it also highlights Howard Shore's outstanding ability to build bridges between dozens of themes and bring them all together for some mindblowing climaxes, like in "Theoden Rides Forth" and "The Tales That Really Matter". These sets aren't called "Complete Recordings" for nothing, so be prepared! They give us the music how it was recorded, and that's not necessarily how it appeared in the film. There were plenty of edits in the film versions, and music that was left out even from the extended film has been moved to its proper place for this set, so be prepared for some brand new listening experiences!
Just like the Complete Recordings for Fellowship, this one also comes in a thick box with a 45 pages long booklet full of liner notes by Douglas Adams, a Shore expert, who provides an insightful, sometimes astounding analysis of the score.
Lastly, allow me to lose a few words on the price, which some are complaining about, and also about the existence of these Complete Recordings. All the useless, commercially driven releases affect the real gems in a very negative way because those are then also automatically branded as commercially driven.
I for one love it that we have the possibility to listen to every single note that Howard Shore recorded for the films - music for which he went through stress, worry, and god knows what emotions. For TTT, he's worked himself into the ground over a period that lasted well over six months with the firm will to create something worthy of remembrance, he had barely any sleep in those times, just to do Tolkien's book justice, to translate it into unbelievably complex music and to give us a bone- chilling experience - and I think that deserves at least an ounce of gratitude.
Our younger generation slowly has to get used again to the idea that quality isn't cheap.