Following on from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, "The Return of the King" is the conclusion of this epic story, whose music by Howard Shore has been an integral part of the experience and one of the most talked-about series of soundtracks in recent memory. Like the previous films, The Return of the King deserves all the superlatives that have been said about its soundtrack. The music seems as enormous as the territory of Middle Earth. It uses huge orchestral forces and choirs, but like the film it can swiftly focus in from the grand sweep of a battle into the role of individual protagonists. The emotions and desires of the various characters are laid bare with voice and instrumental solos and we see how their individual actions contribute to the whole vast story. The achievement of this duality is perhaps one of the key reasons for the success of the film, and the music mirrors this exactly. As in the Two Towers, the music again avoids unnecessary repetition of established themes. It is correctly assumed that audiences are familiar with key parts of the previous soundtracks. References to previous thematic material are usually brief and often combined into fleeting statements which seem to say "remember the origins of this character". Indeed the early Shire theme is saved as a special effect to show how far Frodo and Sam have come on their quest, and how its memory seems so far removed from their current predicament.
There is no need to go into a track by track analysis. If you've seen the earlier films and listened to their soundtracks you already know what to expect, but you will be moved and surprised. Some inidividual talents are evident on this album, many of them musicians with a considerable breadth of experience. In addition two principle characters sing in this film, and their untrained voices lend a vulnerable yet sincere quality to the proceedings. The actors Billy Boyd and Viggo Mortensen are both credited with the melodies they sing. The boy soprano Ben del Maestro sings in "Minas Tirith", Renee Fleming adds her mature soprano tones to a number of tracks and there are choirs singing either wordlessly or in the Middle Earth languages invented by Tolkien. On the instrumental side the flautist Sir James Galway features in some of the later tracks, a lone orchestral flute balancing the pan flute used in previous parts of the epic. And reserved for the closing titles is "Into the West" sung by Annie Lennox. This doesn't seem like an obvious choice of artist, but it is an inspired one. It retains the Celtic connection established by Enya in the first film, but with a more powerful vocal presence resulting in a satisfactory closure to the story. The song itself brings out a subtle blend of qualities which seems to reflect the multi-dimensional aspect of the storyline. Both the song and the score itself have now won both Golden Globes and oscars in their categories.
Again the CD is available in a variety of covers, and the leather-bound one is this time in green. As well as some stamps, this has a DVD within which includes a "supertrailer", a Howard Shore video diary called "Use Well the Days: A Behind the Scenes Portrait", some photos and an audio recording of Annie Lennox singing the song "Use Well the Days" composed before "Into the West". The soundtrack CD is again in enhanced format and can be found at: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, or Amazon.com in the US. Among the extras included on the CD are web-links to graphic, audio and video material, including the part of the DVD diary with Howard Shore and Annie Lennox. Artist links provided include Annie Lennox, Renee Fleming, Howard Shore and James Galway. The Sheet Music book is available from this link at Sheet Music Plus.