The Pensive Setting

of Music for the Shire and the Hobbits



THE PENSIVE SETTING of the Shire/Hobbit theme is heard the first time we see Hobbiton. If the Hymn Setting is used for times when a Hobbit is feeling a intensely strong emotion toward the Shire (or a thing or person from the Shire), then the Pensive Setting, I think, conveys affectionate feelings toward the same.

This Setting, as well as the Hymn Setting, are what most people think of when they think, "Shire Theme". Both employ the melody utilized in "In Dreams." The difference between the two can be discerned by listening to what lies underneath the melody. Doug Adams wrote, "In the Pensive and Rural Settings harmonic regions exist for extended periods of time, almost an old world modal style. But the Hymn Setting regularly shifts them on every other beat for a rolling chorale effect evocative of tradition Western religious music." (Doug Adams, CR-FOTR liner notes, page 11) 

Additionally, Doug clarified the distinction in a comment (June 3, 2008) on his blog. "These types of chords underpin both the Pensive and Hymn settings—each is generally driven by the same harmonies… however, the Hymn setting is dependent upon the completion of a very specific chordal line. Because the Pensive and Hymn settings are so closely related, generally only 1) complete statements of the Hymn material or 2) the (fully present) Hymn chords sans melodic writing are designated as Hymn quotes."

When the Shire melody is heard over a sustained note, it's easy to distinguish the Pensive Setting from the Hymn Setting. But the Pensive Setting is often combined with the Outline Figure. Since the Outline Figure features a note for every beat, it could be easy to confuse that with the the Hymn Setting's chords which change every two notes. The best way to tell the difference it to listen. Pay attention to how often the notes/chords under the main melody change. Are you hearing:

The Pensive Setting over a sustained chord?
The Pensive Setting over the Outline Figure (Outline Figure = 1 note per beat)?
The Hymn Setting over Hymn Chords (Hymn Chords = 1 note every other beat)?

I also find that some iterations start with a Pensive Setting but move into the rolling chords. Although, perhaps with Doug's clarification that the chord progression must be completed for it be be a Hymn Setting, it may be that, rolling or not, the music does not move into a Hymn Setting.

My original analysis of the soundtrack did not address "Settings". I organized by melody and, in fact, I organized the main Shire melody into Shire A (the verse music of "In Dreams") and Shire B. (And I still think it's interesting to see how each phrase was used.) On my Shire A and Shire B pages, one can read some of my early thinking and find instances where either the 'verse' or 'chorus' of the main Shire melody is heard.

Below are some thoughts Estelwyn had about two particular scenes.


Places this setting is heard in FOTR:

  • In the EE, as we hear Bilbo's voiceover give the date and the camera panning over a map focuses on Hobbiton then pulls out to show the Shire. Bilbo then identifies his location: Bag End, Bagshot Row, Hobbiton, West Farthing, The Shire, Middle-earth. The camera moves up to show Bag End. Played on strings over the Outline Figure.

  • In the EE, a bright whistle plays a few bars of the Shire A melody as we see Frodo sitting under a tree reading, and then hear humming off screen. In the TE, an English horn (I think?) plays a longer phrase of the Shire A melody.

  • The whistle plays softly over the Outline Figure as Frodo laughs at Gandalf and jumps into his arms. They begin riding the wagon through the Shire countryside.

  • TE: A lush version of the Shire B melody just after Gandalf’s cart rolls through town and we hear a Hobbit say, “It’s Gandalf”. The wagon goes through a narrow cut in a hill and we see the Hobbit holes and off in the distance, Bag End. (And just before they see preparations for The long-expected party.)
    EE: The same lush version - slightly longer - as Gandalf's cart
    begins to climb up a gradual slope towards Gandalf's destination. In a voice over, Bilbo says, For things are made to endure in the Shire, passing from one generation to the next. There's always been a Baggins, living here under the Hill in Bag End. (Back in his study, Bilbo puts the finishing touches to his opening chapter.) And there always will be. (see note below)
    (This early scene is considerably different in the TE & EE. The music follows a similar path for each although the scenes might be different.)

  • Lush strings play a Shire variant over the beating bodhrán as children spot Gandalf and run after his wagon calling his name.

  • A whistle plays over a slow Outline Figure as Gandalf says (in response to Frodo's, "I'm glad you're back") "So am I." and his wagon rolls up to Bag End. The Outline Figure plays softly underneath.

  • Strings play as Bilbo opens the door to Bag End to find his old friend, Gandalf. The two greet and hug.

  • A whistle plays as the two smoke some "Old Toby." A soft Outline Figure plays underneath.

  • A slightly melancholy version plays on soft, slightly hesitating strings as Bilbo says goodbye to Gandalf and the Shire. Bilbo begins singing "The Road Goes Ever On" as the Shire Theme nears the end of it's phrase.

  • A spare violin plays as Sam and Frodo leave the Green Dragon and Sam mutters about a Hobbit sweet talking Rosie. (EE scene) (this might be the Lullaby Setting)

  • A flute (I think-I'm sure it's not whistle) plays a soft version as Gandalf says, "Hobbits are the most amazing creatures."

  • A rich flute plays a short version over one time through a halting Outline Figure as Sam and Frodo settle down in their tree roots. (EE scene) (this might be the Lullaby Setting)

  • A clarinet plays another short phrase as Sam runs to the newly awoken Frodo's side in Rivendell.

  • The clarinet plays the Shire A melody over the Outline Figure as Bilbo and Frodo peruse Bilbo's book and catch up. Strings pick up the Shire B melody as Frodo says, "I miss the Shire...". Clarinet resumes the Shire A as he says, "My own adventure turned out to be quite different."

  • A flute (I think) plays over the Outline Figure as Sam intrudes upon the Council of Elrond and insists he will stay with Frodo. Strings pick up the melody and the Outline Figure as Merry and Pip declare they won't be left behind.

  • A somber version on clarinet is heard as Sam fusses over Frodo while camping on the Anduin. (EE scene)

  • Whistle returns as Frodo tells Sam, "I'm glad you're with me." as the two set off alone for Mordor. This version has elements of both the Pensive and the Hymn Settings.

Places this setting is heard in TTT:

  • A quick phrase played on clarinet is heard just after Sam remarks that they can eat lembas or... lembas.

  • Bassoon and clarinet start the Shire Theme and brass finish it as Pippin fusses over Merry, who insists it's all 'an act', while the two are being carried by the Uruks.

  • When Sam suggest songs or tales might be written about this adventure: "I wonder if people will ever say, 'Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring.'" Frodo says he'd want to hear more about Samwise the Brave. Clarinet plays over an expanded Outline Figure.

Places this setting is heard in ROTK:

  • At the Crossroads, after Frodo says he has a funny feeling. "I don't think I'll be coming back." A short phrase of the Shire A melody plays as Sam scolds him. "Of course you will. That's just morbid thinking. We're going there and back again. Just like Mr. Bilbo." Even though the chords come every two beats like the Hymn theme, they do not complete their progression and therefore this isn't considered an example of the Hymn Setting. This is the scene that prompted Doug Adams' comment above on his blog.

  • Flute plays a somber, sweet version over the Outline Figure as the Hobbits ride back to the Shire. On the OST and CR, the Shire Pensive Setting continues over a harp plucking double speed (not quite the Skip Beat or Outline Figure). This section is not in the movie. I'm not sure at the moment, but I think this may be the last sweet, pure version we get of this theme/setting.

  • As we cut to Sam and Rosie's wedding, strings play the Shire B melody melody over a tapping bodhrán. I had thought this was Pensive but Doug Adams indicates it may be a continuation of the Rural setting that immediately proceeds it. see note below Possibly a very fast Outline figure or a Skip Beat is being played under the Shire melody. It seems to me that, in the movie's soundtrack, it's more discernible as Skip Beat. (see note below)

"There will always be a Baggins at Bag End."

Estelwyn wrote:

The same phrase of the Shire theme* which plays in FOTR EE (Concerning Hobbits scene), *exactly* as Bilbo says "For things are made to endure in the Shire, passing from one generation to the next. There's always been a Baggins living here under the Hill, in Bag End, and there always will be", ALSO plays in ROTK (Homeward Bound scene), *exactly* as we cut from the Green Dragon to Sam and Rosie's wedding kiss. In fact, the rising "swell" in the music, which underlies Bilbo's words "For things are made to endure in the Shire" exactly matches the "swell" which is heard as we see the wedding kiss.

There's also a kind of fade, or dwindling, at the end of the phrase in each case (not an exact match, as the phrase is a little longer in ROTK, but the fade is pretty darn similar). In FOTR we hear it as Bilbo wistfully says "...and there always will be.", and in the ROTK scene it is heard as the camera cuts to Frodo (just before the fade to him wandering forlornly in an empty Bag End).

This subliminal (for want of a better word) musical link between these two scenes, whether it was deliberate or not, speaks to me of both:
a) the hope, and promise of continuity, that Sam and Rosie embody (life *will* endure in the Shire, passing to the next generation etc), and
b) the bittersweet sadness of Frodo's passing, and the "ending" it signifies (there *won't* always be a Baggins under the hill, in Bag End).

For me this is just another example of the evocative power of Howard Shore's score. I am even more grateful than ever for the rich emotional subtext he has added to these films.

Then she added:

(C)onsidering these two scenes together has brought home to me both how "right" and how "wrong" Bilbo was. Things ARE made to endure in the Shire, and Bag End will pass on to the next generation, but it won't be a Baggins.

Bilbo's hesitation (or is it wistfulness?) at the end of his statement suggests that he already realises this on some level; that he already has some vague concern about Frodo's future. It is the subtlest of foreshadowings of what is to come for his dear, younger cousin. For us as the audience, seeing Frodo adrift and alone at the end of ROTK almost seems like proof that Bilbo's concern (however vague) was justified.

Sam and Rosie, on the other hand, are the living joyous proof that Bilbo's confidence in the continuity of the Shire, and life in it, was also justified. And that is an encouraging thought.

There is more in this thread worth reading. Visit the links I've provided if you wish to do so.

*This is a distinctive lush version of the Shire B Melody. Although hints and snippets and variants of the Shire B can be heard throughout the trilogy, these two iterations are the only ones that 'complete' the melodic phrase "But in dreams... I can hear you name. But in dreams... We will meet again."

Note regarding identification of settings:

The Shire Theme is the best example of trying to retro-force a set of delineated theme categories on top of a well thought out, but organically created body of music. I had originally separated the Shire music into categories by melody. This included an A melody (the verse of "In Dreams") and a B melody (the chorus). When I reexamined this music using the categories found in the CR material (settings), I determined a similar example to what we hear during Sam and Rosie's Wedding to be a Rural Setting of the Shire A melody followed by a Pensive Setting of the Shire B melody (Gandalf and Frodo entering Hobbiton). Doug seems to indicate here that perhaps all this material is the Rural Setting (the info in the AS-FOTR was very brief).

For me, these sorts of determinations aren't really that important for the casual fans understanding or appreciation of the body of work as a whole. Perhaps this tiny detail will become clearer with Doug's book but I'm not too worried over it.