Take a Journey in the Dark Via de Meij’s Symphony

What’s a fantasy novel without a little adventure? The fourth movement follows the Fellowship through the mines of Moria to the bridge of Khazad-Dûm, where Gandalf battles the Balrog. Will our party survive the trek? What evil awaits them?

Johan De Meij The Lord Of The Rings Symphony #1 IV. Jurney in the dark

The timpani begins the movement with a slow, trudging beat. The low voices join in at 0:36, adding a sense of weight and dread. We know right away that this is not a happy place – no rainbows and unicorns here. This will be a wearisome journey for our travelers.

We get our first bit of melodic content at 1:08, with the bassoon lending an eerie sound. The theme works its way upward, but keeps with the gloom and the nasal double reed tone color. Listen for the “water drops” from the percussion at 1:38. After the reeds end their motif, the low voices become a bit more insistent with their footsteps; the timpani is no longer the sole voice hitting every beat.

The horns introduce a new motif at 1:51. It’s bolder, but still ominous. There are some low plunks from the piano, and the double reeds come in again. The clarinet has a downward line that’s reminiscent of a bass clarinet line we heard in the Lothlórien movement. The horns continue on with staggered entrances beginning at 2:13 that add tension thanks to the dissonance between the notes they play. They further that tension at 2:22 by playing against the steady downbeat of the bass and timpani.

At 2:33, the English horn comes in (such a beautiful, haunting instrument!), echoed by the clarinets. We hear a bit more activity in the background (from orcs, perhaps?). The trumpets sneak in at 2:52, changing the tone color from what we’ve been hearing so far. It’s subtle, though, and keeps the tension with clustered chords and staggered entrances. It keeps building, with an accented hit from the woodwinds at 3:05 followed immediately by an accented hit from the bass voices.

Photo of a spooky, ruined bridge
Spooky, ruined bridge. Photo by Ahmadreza89 on Pixabay.
CC0 license.

De Meij keeps layering and building until we get a sizable crescendo into 3:19. Note that this is the loudest point so far. I think that the quietness fed the tension, as it was not allowed to grow. But now things are bursting forth: the trombones come in on the motif we first heard in the English horn, the upper winds flurry about, and there’s an ominous horn call at 3:32 that’s echoed by the English horn, followed by a final statement by a clarinet.

At 3:43, the woodwinds take over the horn motif we heard earlier (1:51), with interjections from the English horn and trumpets. They then switch over to the motif from the English horn/trombones, continuing to build it up. They add more tension as the horns did before, by playing counter to the insistent drumbeat. But this time, the middle voices aren’t content to let the upper voices add just a bit of tension. They want to add more. They continue to go against the beat, alternating with the upper voices, until we reach a SMASH from the percussion and low brass.

The bold note from the low voices feels like we should be at a resting point. No luck there! Activity starts swirling around us (did we even catch a glimpse of Gollum at 4:50?) Listen to all the different voices and motifs happening here – there’s a lot going on. At 5:07, the basses start making a move out of the shadows, leading to a frantic chase that begins at 5:19. According to the program notes, this is where the orcs and trolls have chased the Fellowship to the bridge of Khazad-Dûm and the Balrog rises up to challenge them.

Then there is a great battle! Gandalf against the Balrog. The tempo is much faster here, with continued pounding on every beat and swirls of sound from the woodwinds. At 5:37 we hear a callback to Gandalf’s movement via the punctuated chords in the horns This alternates with the horn call from earlier in this movement. The battle rages on until 6:05, where we hear a different take on the pulsing and swirling. This builds up to a tense trill at 6:19, as Gandalf moves to finish off the Balrog.

Victory! We hear Gandalf’s theme triumphantly blaring as the Balrog falls to its death off the bridge (6:23). But wait – what’s happening? The theme does not continue on in heroic fashion; Gandalf has been snared and is pulled down with the Balrog into the depths of the abyss. De Meij paints a vivid picture as the pitch continues downward, accented by a requiem bell. The sound tapers off, ending this section with a moment of silence for the fallen Gandalf.

The travelers, though in shock, realize they must gather their strength and push forward despite their loss. They proceed in a sort of funeral march, with the English horn reflecting their grief in a haunting presentation of Gandalf’s theme. Listen also to the rising woodwind line starting at 8:02, as it also is reminiscent of another phrase in Gandalf’s movement. There are some repeated tones from the high voices in what, to me, sounds like the last sad cries of grief before coming back down to a final sigh in the horns at 8:34. The sound fades out as the Fellowship finds its way out of Moria.

Coming soon: the conclusion of Johan de Meij’s “Lord of the Rings” Symphony.

Lori Archer Sutherland

Lori Archer Sutherland earned a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition degree from the Ohio State University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She composes, performs, and teaches clarinet. She plays bass clarinet with the Crystal Lake Community Band and the Woodstock City Band, clarinet with Winds Off the Lake Woodwind Quintet, and is the founder and organizer of the Knock on Wood Clarinet Choir, where she plays an even bigger clarinet. Check out her site and podcast at tonaldiversions.com