Howard Shore has composed scores for more than eighty films. He might as well change his last name to Score.
That's right: eighty. (He even wrote the score for The Score.)
And popular opinion and critical reception have agreed that one of his greatest movie scores (and in fact, one of the greatest scores in cinematic history) is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
With so much to say and so little space, let's start by taking in the big picture. The Fellowship score is all orchestral (and a big orchestra at that with large sections of woodwinds, brass, strings, and a variety of non-orchestral instruments) which you can watch perform live alongside the choir in the Lord of the Rings Symphony, a condensed version of the score that toured concert halls.
All this instrumentation provides the musical space for some very complex pieces, always building toward the grandeur the score is known for. This music is epic enough to tell this epic tale.
Before we get into too many specifics, we should direct you to this Nerdwriter video that covers the basics of the themes in The Fellowship and how they interact with one another and develop over time, weaving a story that parallels the on-screen narrative and the places and characters it contains.
In short, the score consists of a number of recognizable melodies, like the Fellowship Theme, the Ring's Theme, the Hobbits' Theme and others, that punctuate the film and help the audience subconsciously recognize specific moments (and their relationship to past and future moments).
Without thinking about it we can feel the heroism and adventure in the Fellowship Theme, the warm simplicity and desire for home invoked by the Hobbits' Theme, and the dark seduction of Ring's Theme.
Not only does the score move with the narrative of the film, but also from location to location. Elven music, for instance, is very elegant, with a lot of strings (even a Celtic harp) and the chanting of the female choir voices. But there are even subtle differences between the Rivendell sound and that of Lothlórien, which is a bit more unsettling: the female choir is deeper, there are more solo strings, and some lower percussion from the bass drums that make Lothlórien a bit more uncomfortable than its delightful counterpart.
Well done, Howard Shore. We might even say this is the best score out of eighty (how is one man so prolific?!).