Now playing: one film score to rule them all


Ahead of a Dublin performance, ‘Lord of the Rings’ composer Howard Shore answers questions about matching Tolkien’s vision and why the music is better heard live

HOWARD SHORE has composed film scores for more than 80 films, most notably collaborating with David Cronenberg, Martin Scorsese and Peter Jackson.

He won three Academy Awards for scoring the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and was also nominated for an Oscar for his score for Scorsese’s Hugo.

This Sunday, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra performs The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers at the O2 in Dublin.

When you start to write, do you envisage the type of sounds or instruments straight away, or do you sketch things up, with the specifics emerging later?

When I start I always work from counterpoint and harmony – the real basics of music – and I don’t think in terms of orchestration or colour. That’s a separate process for me, so I always work counterpointedly first. I work a lot from words, from the story or book. Whatever I’m working on, I like to read a lot, so having a piece like The Lord Of The Rings was really a gift.

How important is a writing setting for you?

It is quite important. I live in a forest in New York and a lot of Tolkien’s work is about nature. I think I feel really connected to his work because I love nature so much, so I always write in a very woodland setting.

Were you always a fan?

Oh yes. I read The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings in the 1960s and I really fell in love with the stories.

Could you ever have imagined you’d end up working so extensively on it?

I never really did. I never imagined it at the time; I just enjoyed it as a reader. Later on, when I started to delve into the work and the writing, I revisited all of Tolkien’s work, of course, and I fell in love with it all over again.

When you set out to score The Lord of the Rings, did you feel challenged or intimidated by the vastness of the trilogy?

Well, I went to visit the set and I saw the quality of filmmaking at work. It was so beautiful you wanted to be a part of it. Of course it was quite a journey – almost four years of writing and composing and orchestrating and conducting. It’s quite a massive work, but really it’s the culmination of all those years of work and being so deeply involved in Tolkien’s story.

Is it hard to initially envisage a composition like that as one piece? Is there a lot of piecing together?

Very much so. When I saw an exhibit of Tolkien’s work, I saw when he was writing he was constantly trying to navigate his way through the story.

You want to keep your eye on the total work, but you work from one section of the story to another, very much the same way Tolkien wrote it. He was keeping track of the phases of the moon, the different seasons, and how the journey progressed – it had a lot to do with this own navigation. I felt I was somewhat following the same path as he did, holding a lantern out into the darkness and following it.

Do you feel that, live, the score has taken on a different kind of depth?

It’s quite a rare occurrence that a score is revisited in that kind of setting. The idea came through a series of releases I did called The Complete Recordings, which are maybe 10 and a half or 11 hours of music on 10 CDs.

I’d never heard the complete piece in that way until the CDs were assembled. I thought it would be lovely to hear it in concert just once.

Once turned into more. Ludwig Wicki, the conductor who took it on in Switzerland, got into organising these projection concerts. When I first saw the film [projected with the live score] it looked amazing to me. It looked more vibrant and there was more depth and detail.

Hearing the music live – not really recreating the film mix – you’re hearing it more as a symphonic concert. There are about 220 people on stage, and it just vibrates in a live performance. The music sounds fantastic when you see it with the imagery it was created for. The concert is always kept intimate so it feels symphonic. You have Tolkien’s storytelling, you see the actors, you hear the dialogue from the film and book.

It must have been emotional to hear and see that live for the first time

It was great to hear it performed live. It’s always a thrill, really. Even just to hear live music played in a concert hall is pretty exciting.

How much of The Hobbit’s score have you completed, and what can we expect?

It’s nearing completion. It’s almost November, so you’ll know all in December. All will be revealed then!