There is a vast array of music, both individual tracks and whole albums, which has been inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. For a really comprehensive list, take a look at The Tolkien Music List, but be warned that this discography is huge and can take a while to download. My own list is small by comparison, but I do actually own all the following albums and can therefore speak with a modicum of authority.
How good are these albums? That is purely a matter of taste and I will not attempt to allocate marks, but I will list them in rough order of decreasing appreciation. The first albums are among my favourites, and the last ones are merely OK.
If you have heard this dramatisation, you will remember the stirring, stately theme tune. Many other songs and snatches of music appeared throughout the 13-hour series. Steven Oliver has gathered together all these themes and songs into an 18-track album. The music is not taken directly from the radio broadcast, where often the actors sing snatches of melody in character. Instead, these songs are performed by qualified singers, mostly in a classical or even operatic style. Oilver's music brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the story.
Heavy rock, but some decent tunes. Sometimes the music comes across like a wall of sound, but there's plenty of passion and some thumping good songs. The words are loosely based on the characters and events found in the Lord of the Rings, but the music is modern rock and not at all what the inhabitants of Middle-Earth would find fashionable. Minor criticisms include the missing hyphen in the album title and the three-syllable mithriel which apparently was mined by the dwarves.
I grew to like this music fairly quickly and decided to research further. It turns out that Bob Catley was lead singer of a band called Magnum in the late seventies. I soon managed to acquire a few of their albums. However, shortly before discovering these albums I watched the classic film rockumentary This is Spinal Tap. The resemblance of style between Magnum and Spinal Tap is so uncanny that I can't take Magnum seriously - though their music is not half bad.
An attempt at authentic Middle-Earth music. The concept behind this album is that after the War of the Ring, some of the characters gather for an evening in Rivendell at which they perform some of the songs they have sung on their adventure. The instruments are mostly acoustic - such as guitar, oboe, violin and harp. The voices are rich and classically-trained. The ensemble is from Denmark, but there is little trace of any Danish accent, except for the chap who sings The Old Walking Song who can't seem to pronounce his Ds. Never mind, it adds a nice earthy but otherworldly touch. The arrangement of There is an inn, a merry old inn... is particularly fun with fiddle and spoons amongst the accompaniment.
Tolkien's lyrics set to music. A collection of lightly medieval folk songs. Seven out of the thirteen songs on this album were written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, who is better known as a fantasy author than as a composer. The whole range from the solemn (Lament for Boromir) to the silly (Bath Song) is covered.
Keyboard-based prog rock. The album contains some good moments, some pleasant riffs and even a few half-decent melodies, but overall it is still a strange beast. The dramatic and slightly pretentious narration here and there is delivered in an accent which reveal the album as American in origin. The interpretation of Tolkien is rather idiosyncratic, focusing on the story from Aragorn's point of view.
Sometimes the inspiration is clearly from Tolkien. One passage of narration speaks of "a vast shadowy plain", men "tall and grim with bright swords" and finally of one stepping forward with "a star on his brow". I thought this all sounded rather pompous until I realised it is in the book - a vision of the hobbits after their rescue from the Barrow-Downs. On the other hand, I do know that when the hobbits were called on to give a song in the Prancing Pony, none of them launched into a simple love song accompanied by acoustic guitar. Most of the album consists of instrumental music, though there is some singing and a few plain weird bits. The Barrow Wights' taunting seduction of Aragorn (no, I don't recall that in the book either) is unpleasant and unmusical but wonderfully captures the eerie, dead, wheedling, skin-crawling tone of voice the wights would have used.
A collection of songs that might have been sung in a Middle-Earth tavern. At least, this is how Glass Hammer imagine such songs might have sounded. It sounds to me a bit like a bunch of Americans pretending they lived in Ye Merrye Olde Englande. (Prejudice alert! I am in danger of making disparaging remarks about our cousins across the pond. My point is simply that the modern American conception of life in medieval England is not the same as Tolkien's conception - or mine come to that.) Having said that, the songs are pretty tuneful and quite fun. A folky style which is very different from the previously reviewed album by the same group. Like Bob Catley, they have mislaid the hyphen in the album title.
The first half dozen songs were recorded 'live' in an imaginary pub atmosphere, with heckling from a drunken audience, encouragement to sing along ("You all know this one!") and calls for an encore when the entertainment looks like finishing too early. So we are treated to such delights as The Old Troll and the Maiden, Dwarf and Orc and, making a return from their earlier album, The Ballad of Balin Longbeard. Some studio-recorded songs follow. The last track is another 'live' recording, this time sounding so much like Gilbert and Sullivan that it must be a deliberate parody.
Early 70s synthesiser intstrumental album. This was probably the first album to claim inspiration from the world of Tolkien. The music is OK I suppose, though if it wasn't for the track titles, I wouldn't be able to tell there was any connection with the Lord of the Rings. There are no real highlights and nothing all that memorable.
Modern classical symphony. This is presumably the composer's first major work. The symphony is not arranged for full orchestra, but for a brass and woodwind orchestra. The five movements do not follow a traditional symphonic pattern, but take as their themes: Gandalf, Lothlórien, Gollum, Journey in the dark, Hobbits. The last of these is the most tuneful, with a cheery hobbit bounce to it.
If you didn't know that there is now a film version of The Lord of the Rings, you must have been living on Jupiter for the last two years. This album is the film soundtrack. It's classical in style and majestically doom-laden in atmosphere. I didn't really notice the music when I saw the film. Not that it's bad music, just fairly unmemorable. Though it is growing on me ... very slowly.
Mostly harp music. The inspiration for this is The Hobbit, with the music matching the unfolding story. Kim Skovbye plays a range of stringed instruments and other people add percussion and stuff, but the most prominent instrument is the Celtic Harp. The whole album is gentle, undemanding and pleasant.
Light rock music with celtic seasoning. Apparently, Tolkien has long been an influence for this ensemble. So what with the film coming out and having a couple of weeks to spare with nothing better to do, they dashed off a quick album using a few existing tracks and lots of new tracks.
I've been playing it almost continuously for the last few days and still haven't got to recognise any melodies. It's certainly not unpleasant, even in the 'driving rock' moments. Much of it is charming and lightly relaxing. The infrequent vocals are OK. It's just that there's far more rhythm and riffs than sustained melody.
Competent computer-produced instrumentals. These days anyone with the right computer program can produce fairly professional sounding music. This album is the brainchild of two people I've never heard of. They have gone to some lengths to try and match the mood of the music to the appropriate place or incident in the story and have generally succeeded. One of the best moments is the opening track, which is suitably rustic and partyish with a whoosh or two of fireworks, but is less than one minute long.
Acceptable instrumental album. The Classic Rock Orchestra, despite its name is only half a dozen people who play sax and mandolin in addition to the other usual rock instruments and computer wizardy. The music is varied and pleasant enough.
The composer and chief musician, Alan Hitt, tries to depict the story of The Fellowship of the Ring through his music. (Two more albums are planned.) But he has chosen to leave us to form our own interpretation by not providing helpful track titles. All we have is an overture and four movements. Somewhere on his web site he claims that if he puts this music on and closes his eyes he is transported to Middle-Earth. My own experience is that if I put this music on and close my eyes I think, "Ah, some music."
A sequel to An Evening in Rivendell. More of Tolkien's songs set to music, but this selection is a much more low key and even morbid selection. Four of the twelve songs are laments. All nicely done, but not terribly hearty or cheerful.
One non-musical bonus for this album is that the cover booklet, like its predecessor, has been illustrated by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe 2 of Denmark. Apparently Tolkien himself knew and admired her illustrations, which are simple, neat, evocative sketches.
The internet contains a cornucopia of free music produced in MP3 format by a legion of budding composers and performers. Tolkien seems to be a major inspirational force in this maelstrom of melody. Here are three worth a mention: