Music Review: Minas Tirith
“Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.” (Gandalf, ROTK)
The song “Minas Tirith” is, in my opinion, one of Howard Shore’s greatest achievements in all three Lord of the Rings soundtracks. It captures not only the majesty and splendor of Gondor (and the White City in particular), but also the tension and urgency that are present in the early chapters and scenes from The Return of the King.
The song begins very softly, with eerie-sounding strings in the background that sound like the evil that is creeping up on Minas Tirith. This part of the song sounds very tense and foreboding, signifying not only the present dangers but also the greater trouble that is to come. The majestic brass music that comes later reflects the splendor, nobility, and pride of Gondor, its people, and its City. Yet there is a note of fear and even despair in the music, made explicit in the Sindarin words: “Black wings against a pale morning/There is no more light, not in this sun/Call the retreat/There will be no warning/The citadel of the stars is gone/Osgiliath is fallen.”
As the music progresses, it swells to a great feeling of urgency, and seems to carry a sense of the very faint hope that perhaps Minas Tirith can be saved. Finally, just as it seems that the music has reached its peak, it is abruptly broken off. Like us, the music sounds as if it is waiting breathlessly to see what will come next.
Next time you listen to “Minas Tirith”, close your eyes and imagine the White City standing proud and tall. Imagine that “[you] stand upon some dreadful brink, and it is utterly dark in the abyss before [your] feet, but whether there is any light behind [you, you] cannot tell. For [you] cannot turn yet. [You] wait for some stroke of doom.” (Eowyn, ROTK)
The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien