Friday, April 25, 2008

A New Arrival (LotR Soundtrack)

So, Monday the mail from brought my copy of the soundtrack to the new LORD OF THE RINGS musical currently being staged in London. I wasn't able to see this when I was in England back in October/November, since I was based in Oxford and time in London meant time away from the manuscripts I'd gone over to see. I did pick up the artbook based on the play, which convinced me that (a) it was based more on the Jackson films than Tolkien's books and (b) the most impressive thing about it was probably the elaborate mechanical stage made up of multi-tiered platforms that morph into different configurations from scene to scene (and apparently within scenes as well). Not having a copy of the script, it was hard to tell how faithful or otherwise it was to JRRT's story, but there were signs that it leaned towards "or otherwise" -- for example, when including both Rohan and Gondor made the performance run long, they mashed them together into a generic "Kingdom of Men".

Still, I was curious about the music -- after all, the wretchedly bad Bakshi film had a decent, if unsubtle, score by Leonard Rosenman (channeling Richard Strauss for all he was worth) considerably better than the movie it accompanied (not that this wd be hard). Also, they'd had the odd idea of combining a group of Finnish musicians with an Indian composer, apparently in the hopes that this wd add an 'elvish' (Finnish > Quenya) gracenote coupled with Bollywood's ability to synthesize elements of western culture.

Surprisingly enough, the results aren't that bad. It's certainly listenable, if nothing Tolkien wd recognize as his own. For one thing, they haven't used his actual lyrics, taking care even when singing a song based on one of the songs in LotR to change the words at least slightly in almost every line. Thus "The Road Goes Ever On" becomes "The Road goes on/Ever ever on/Hill by hill/Mile by mile/Field by field/Stile by stile . . ."; "The Cat & the Fiddle" becomes "The Cat & the Moon" ("There's an inn of old renown/Where they brew a beer so brown/Moon came rolling down the hill/One Hevnsday night to drink his fill"). And at least half the songs have no direct LotR analogue at all. All in all, it sounds very, very Andrew-Lloyd-Webberish, so if you like Lloyd Webber's work you'll probably find this pleasant enough. The best songs, I think, are the three hobbit tunes: "The Road Goes On", "The Cat & the Moon", and "Now and Forever" (Sam & Frodo in Mordor evoke hobbit-heroes of the past), although the Bree dancing song does sound rather as if Boiled in Lead had been held hostage somewhere until they came up with a routine for a scene from 'Riverdance'.

One surprising feature of the songs is their linguistic variety. Thus we get songs in ordinary modern English as well as in Sindarin, Black Speech, Old English (what would Tolkien think of their Orcs chanting battle-cries in OE?), Quenya (I think), and '12th century Middle Welsh' (huh?); one song consists almost entirely of elves chanting the names of the Valar, another of lines from the Ring-poem ('ash nazg thrakatuluk'). The booklet accompanying the cd credits four people for helping with the lyrics in other languages, including Julian Bradfield (former editor of QUETTAR, famous in Tolkien circles for having first published elven numerals back in the early '80s) for 'Elvish Translations' and Tom Shippey for reviewing 'Hobbit Nonsense Lyrics', presumably meaning lines like the following, from the hobbit dancing song:

Hoo-rye-and-hott-a-cott-a ho
Hoo-rye-and-hott-a-cott-a ho ho

All in all, an odd production: it's not Tolkien, but it's not a horror to be shunned at all costs. The orc battle song is rather fun in an unsubtle way, starting as if a dozen taiko drummers were showing off before being one-upped by a tuba section, and "Now and For Always" does a good job of capturing hobbit-courage and the friendship between Sam and Frodo. As a whole it's certainly no stranger than, say, Bo Hansson's instrumental LotR concept album from the early 70s. And as a bonus it comes with an informative cd-sized booklet listing all the lyrics and summarizing the stage-story; the version I got also included a dvd that alas does not provide a film of the stage-show but instead still pictures from the production in a slideshow set to the soundtrack.



Vinny said...

>>the wretchedly bad Bakshi film<<
That's your opinion buddy! I got to meet Bakshi a few weeks ago, shake his hand, tell him how much his films have meant to me - and also tell him how much I appreciate his ambitious attempt to bring LotRs to the screen. The only thing 'wretched' about that production is how Bakshi was shafted by the studio, unjustly reviled by Tolkien fans & ripped off by Peter Jackson.

>>a decent, if unsubtle, score by Leonard Rosenman (channeling Richard Strauss for all he was worth)<<
One of my favorite film scores. Rosenman studied under Arnold Schoenberg, a different kettle of fish from Strauss (???) altogether, and if he was 'channeling' anyone in that score, it was Schoenberg.

David said...

Indeed, Bakshi was ripped off by Jackson. Consider this review: "Gems scattered amidst dross, set inappropriately, scarred and miscut ... The grotesque, the homely, and the comic are in easy reach of [the director's] grasp, but he fails utterly even to approach the noble. ... This constant intrusion of technique draws the attention away from what is being presented to how it is being presented."

This could be an observant critic on Jackson. But it's actually about Bakshi.

[The above from p. 47-48 of my essay on Jackson]

Now, Rosenman's dull, hackneyed, third-rate xerox of a score, that bears, as John suggested, the sole merit of being not quite as bad as the movie. Which Schoenberg pieces, I wonder, does the above poster think Rosenman was channeling? Pierrot Lunaire, perhaps? A Survivor from Warsaw? Not Verklaerte Nacht, that's for sure. Who Rosenman studied under is irrelevant to whom he's blatantly copying, and that's Strauss and Elgar.

David said...

Oh, and I should have added: the original Bakshi critic I'm quoting was Dale Ziegler, in Mythlore 19.

Vinny said...

Actually I was thinking of "Moses Und Aaron". You are free to have your own opinions, but I disagree with them. Jackson did rip shots off of Bakshi, and the film does have merits and is not, in my opinion, 'wretched'. And the score is in no way "dull" or "hackneyed" to my ears. And whom the composer studied under is certainly relevant, since serial composition and the twelve tone technique are not abstractions, they directly shape the sound of a composition - Rosenman is clearly using both approaches in his Rings score.

Thanks for commenting.