Howard Shore on The Lord of the Rings

An Interview with Howard Shore and Peter Jackson by Rudy Koppl
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.20/No.80/2001
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Rudy Koppl


“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.” This quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has triggered the imaginations and formed the dreams of more than 100 million readers worldwide for decades. In 1954 Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the first instalment of the trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was published. In a world of fantasy, Tolkien’s ideas unfold to expose a profound struggle of good versus evil. Thus enters the hob bit, Frodo Baggins, an unforgettable hero caught up in a war of mythic proportions in Middle-Earth. In a world full of magic and lore this story celebrates loyalty, friendship, and courage, humane positive powers that rival the greatest forces of darkness. It has taken more than four decades of technology to create this land of hobbits, dwarves, humans, elves, wizards, trolls, ents, orcs, ringwraiths, Uruk-Hai, and the vastly charted world of Middle-Earth, and the team of director / writer / producer Peter Jackson with co-writer / co-producer Fran Walsh and screenwriter Philippa Boyens may truly be said to have brought it all to life.

The final element was music. What composer could create a score for a trilogy of such epic proportions? Before composer Howard Shore, known for cerebral thriller scores like THE CELL, CRASH, and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS signed the contract to score the trilogy, this question was on the mind of every film music lover across the globe. When Shore was chosen for this project I’m sure it was surprising to many – except for Peter Jackson, who felt that this composer’s scoring sensibilities fit the concept and needs of his films perfectly. Cue after cue film music was edited into a rough cut of the film with the hope of finding its sonic identity and when all the pieces of the puzzle perfectly fit together, it was Howard Shore’s music that worked. It was a delicate task finding the right tone for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but it came to Peter Jackson during the temping process for a crew screening. The dark beauty and mystery of Shore’s music had mesmerized and swept Jackson away, and without a doubt Howard Shore became the film makers’ choice to score all three of his film versions to J.R.A. Tolkien’s trilogy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

On Friday November the 9th, six weeks before the opening of this three-hour cinematic extravaganza, I pulled into The Beverly Hills Hotel and met with my lighting and photographic assistant Tony Rose for a 3 p.m. appointment with the Chosen One. At the appointed time, a smiling Howard Shore greeted us. Next to Shore’s computer was a pen and a cue, ‘Sign of the Prancing Pony,’ he was working on for THE TWO TOWERS. It was inevitable, the composer just couldn’t get THE LORD OF THE RINGS out of his system; just like Peter Jackson, he wasn’t just scoring the trilogy anymore, he was living and breathing it.

Soon I photographed the serene and peaceful presence of the composer who scored SEVEN, ANALYZE THIS, THE FLY, THE SCORE, MRS. DOUBTFIRE, ED WOOD, eXistenz, HIGH FIDELITY – over sixty motion pictures since his first film I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES in 1978. Through the whole process Shore’s patience reflected his commitment to THE LORD OF THE RINGS; after all, this required the involvement of a composer for three to four years of his life.

Go back exactly one week prior, to Friday November the 1st at approximately noon. This is when I got together with Howard Shore to discuss a literary phenomenon that has carefully been translated to the big screen. It didn’t matter how long this took or how many details had to go into it, the film version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS had to do Tolkien’s story justice. Jackson needed a composer who could realize his vision with a sense of cohesiveness and be totally involved in all three of his films. Obviously this was not to be your regular film-scoring gig; it was an interpretation of an infinite world, Middle-Earth, surrounded by a myriad of details, situations, and characters that can make your head spin with amazement. “THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the most complex fantasy world ever created,” the composer remarked. “In order to treat the music as being a mirror of this fantasy world, it would have to have the same complexity to it.” It’s this complexity that I discussed with Howard Shore, his involvement with director Peter Jackson, and how he’s committed years of his life to one story that comes to life through three films.

Composer Howard Shore

Howard Shore by Benjamin Ealovega Considering that LORD OF THE RINGS is an epic trilogy of monumental proportions, how did you get the job to score it?
I knew that the filmmakers had done intensive research about the musical aspects of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Fran Walsh, the co-producer, co-writer, and Peter Jackson were co-creators with Philippa Boyens who’s a screenwriter and Tolkien scholar. The three of them created the screenplay and Fran did a tremendous amount of the research on the music for THE LORD OF THE RINGS. You can just imagine what a massive undertaking it is to assign a composer to write the score to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. They wanted to find somebody who they could really work with.
In retrospect my background seemed well suited in a lot of ways. I’ve done half a dozen literary adaptations for film, like NAKED LUNCH, CRASH, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and LOOKING FOR RICHARD, which was based on the Shakespearean play Richard the Third. I knew what was required to take literary works and bring them to life on the screen. NAKED LUNCH was very difficult because we had the responsibility of putting on the screen this classic everyone had read. We wanted to do it right and you wanted the people who were interested in NAKED LUNCH to embrace what we did, which is actually what happened. Even William Burroughs was thrilled with the film. I wanted the same feeling to THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS and to do that I had to collaborate in the same way that I did with David Cronenberg on NAKED LUNCH.

How did you meet Peter Jackson and what were your first impressions of him?
After Peter called me, I went to see him in New Zealand. I was quite aware of Peter’s work. I knew HEAVENLY CREATURES, THE FRIGHTENERS, and I really made an effort to see those films that were harder to find on video. I looked at things like FORGOTTEN SILVER and DEAD ALIVE. Meeting Peter and seeing what he had created in New Zealand was awesome. Peter’s a brilliant director, his attention to detail is very impressive and his technical knowledge of how films are made, his dramatic sense and his leadership are amazing. This was a huge undertaking, something that was going to go on for a few years, and we were dealing with such an enormous subject, that we built up our relationship bit-by-bit, note-by-note. I went to New Zealand to work with Peter, Fran, and Philippa, to be near where the film is made, because the film has so much a sensibility of New Zealand; it was created there. I grew up in Toronto, Canada. New Zealand and Canada are similar in a lot of ways and I felt quite at home there. It has great natural beauty; they were very open and hospitable to me. I stayed there for six weeks while writing one section of the film in February, in the winter. I wrote the ‘Mines of Moria’ there, which was really the centerpiece of what was shown at the Cannes Festival in May. I recorded it there with The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which is a fantastic orchestra, and we also recorded a 60-voice, Maori Samoan Choir in Wellington, I was open to the idea of capturing the sound and the feeling of New Zealand because so much of what Peter had created was culturally about New Zealand.

This is an adventure / fantasy genre and you don’t score this genre very often. Was it a refreshing change to get this opportunity?
The score is an opera score, that’s the concept. That’s why the voices are used so significantly in the score. The idea that I had was to bring out a lot of the Tolkien languages that are in the book. There’s a lot of poetry in the book, lyrics and languages, and I wanted to get them into the film in some way. Peter’s concept was to put everything up on the screen in a very precise way, as accurate as possible to what you’re reading. I was reading the book and writing the score at the same time, so the details from the book, Tolkien’s descriptions, were actually going right back into the film.
That concept grew out of working with Peter, Fran, and Philippa and was also something that I had been doing in film even going back to movies like THE FLY in 1986, which was written as a tragic opera. If you listen to that score it has the concept of how that subject was treated in an operatic sense. You could say that all film music is opera, but some film music is much more opera than others, where you’re actually creating operatic works based on the concept of the screenplay and using vocal music in very specific ways. LOOKING FOR RICHARD, also operatic, was a smaller scale work than this, but you could look at it in the same way where you’re creating vocal and orchestral music based on literary works like Shakespeare’s Richard the Third. Even in scores like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, although it doesn’t have the vocal music, it’s written in an operatic style. Some people thought it was new and different in 1991 to write a score like that for essentially a crime thriller but now it’s quite common to hear that sound, especially in a lot of other crime thrillers.

What did you find interesting about Peter when working with him?
He’s impressive and so focused with detail that he can remember very precise things about a past conversation we’ve had. It’s how he’s precise in his ideas and sees certain things. He was able to communicate to me incredibly well, director-composer ideas. We were able to express our ideas back and forth and arrive at something that we were both really happy about. Peter allowed me to create something better than I would have created. Fran was a fantastic editor. In Moria for instance, there was a thematic idea that I had for Dwarrowelf, this ancient dwarf city in Moria. This is a ruined city that the dwarves have left, it’s a complete world that they dug out of the base of a mountain and nobody has seen it for years. There’s a scene where The Fellowship enters Dwarrowelf, so I wrote a theme for the grandeur, the ancient majesty of what it was. There’s a scene later in Moria where Frodo is trapped and possibly killed by a cave troll. Merry and Pippin attack the cave troll, they’re little hobbits, and the cave troll is this massive, huge creature. They fearlessly jump on him, on his head, his shoulders, and with their little knives try to bring him down. After Fran heard this she said, “Frodo’s dying; use the theme of Dwarrowelf because we’re still in Moria. Use that theme that evokes the past and what once was, for the sadness of Frod dying”. It’s so beautiful and elegant when you hear that theme in the film and it’s happening in an action sequence. So Fran and Peter had all the keys to THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

You usually approach scoring a film with a concept or a unique technique in mind. What was the key to this score?
This film was too vast a project to do that. Even though they’re still called movies, it’s very difficult to compare THE LORD OF THE RINGS to almost any movie. Nobody has ever attempted to put something like this on screen and create motion pictures out of it. I went into Moria for two or three months. Moria is right in the middle of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, and is very action oriented. In this section of the film my music is about 20 to 25 minutes long. Philippa wrote the text for the choir, and if I was writing in Dwarvish for Moria, she did the poems, the lyrics, and the text. A Tolkien scholar in America translated them all and then Roisin Carty, an Irish linguist, came to teach the choir the correct pronunciation of the dwarfish language. All of the languages were done that way with incredible precision, to make sure that all of the pronunciation and translations were correct. Moria was developed first, to be played at Cannes, so after Cannes, I started working my way out of Moria by going forward and backward. I did write the Shire theme and Frodo’s theme quite early on, maybe two or three months before Moria, so I did have some of the thematic material for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but it was a matter of centering in on the middle of the film, working in that world for a long time, and then working your way out. You couldn’t think of it like a movie score, where you can conceptualize it, you had to think of every world completely on its own. Rivendell is an elf world, Lothlorien is an elf world, but they are completely different. The music for Rivendell is completely different than the music for Lothlorien. The music in the Shire has to carry Frodo right through THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. There’s a theme for the Fellowship that you’ll hear developing very early on. The Fellowship, which is based on nine characters, is essentially Frodo and Sam at the beginning, then being joined by Merry and Pippin and Gandalf, it just keeps adding on. When they’re in Rivendell they add Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli. As they meet and the Fellowship forms, the thematic material musically becomes more formed and takes on more shape, grows, and actually becomes the Fellowship theme in Rivendell.
So the form of the score is quite vast. You had to discover it. You couldn’t just conceptualize what THE LORD OF THE RINGS is; you had to do the work to let it show you what it was. I had to discover it and immerse myself in it. I did four months of research before I even wrote a note. Ring mythology has been around for thousands of years, so I had to study the concept of where THE LORD OF THE RINGS comes from. How did Tolkien even arrive at the idea of writing a work like THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the ‘40s, it is the most complex fantasy world ever created. So you treat the music as being a mirror of this fantasy world, it would have to have the same complexity. It has to mirror everything that Tolkien’s talking about. It’s quite a vast approach. You’re also talking about one story in three films, because the other two films are not sequels, they actually are the second and third act of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It was only published as a trilogy because in the early fifties they thought that it was too large a novel to publish as one piece. Tolkien wrote it as one story.

What particular idea opened you up creatively on this project?
You have to completely immerse yourself in it – the book and all of the accompanying mythology that has been affected by the story of THE LORD OF THE RINGS – that’s what a composer has to do. There’s a lot of material. There are many things that have come out of European or Western culture, and probably Eastern culture as well. I didn’t go that far, although I do use some Eastern influences in the score as well as African music and some East Indian music. There is somewhat of an exotic nature to this film. Lothlorien is very exotic; it’s very different from the feeling of Rivendell. Even in the Tolkien worlds themselves, the cities and different cultures have their own music in the same way that our world has its different music. Music in the Far East is very different than the music from the West. Tolkien has created a culture that is so complex that it actually has those relationships in its music. It’s a story that takes place before our world, seven thousand years ago.

Is there any special thought that comes to you about creating this score?
What’s interesting are the links between all the different cultures. You’ll hear that in the film because you’re listening to almost three hours of score. In the CD, which is 72 minutes, you’re hearing it in a much more condensed form. On the CD you really don’t have all of the linkage from one world to the other, which is a wonderful part of the film, because you couldn’t do that on one CD, you really need three CD’s.

A film like this has a huge cast of characters in it like hobbits, dwarves, humans, elves, wizards, trolls; it must be difficult to score for so many characters and locations.
Everything had specific thematic elements. There’s the seductiveness of the ring, there’s the evil of the ring, there’s also the power of the ring. Sauron has his own thematic material, and so does Saruman, who is controlling Isengard. Frodo and Sam have thematic material that relates directly to their relationship. Aragorn and Arwen have their own thematic material. The Fellowship theme you hear in many different ways, depending on whom it’s being used with and what part of the Fellowship you’re referring to. Gandalf has thematic material that refers to his relationship to Frodo and Bilbo, Gandalf’s mystery of the ring and what he’s trying to learn about the ring.

This is endless!
Oh yes, you’re exactly right. I love it! Critics have always said, “Oh, you know, his scores are complex.” It was the perfect thing for me musically. It was what I was really working towards because it has a complexity that I love. Yes, I’ve been able to express themes in films, but this was a way to express everything. When you hear it you’ll see a complete expression and it uses elements of things that I’ve done musically for years. The only thing it doesn’t do is to use any electronic music, there’s absolutely none, it’s all acoustic.

What was your approach when using the choirs in this film?
The choral parts in Moria were all sung in Dwarvish. The dwarves were not an all male world, but as Tolkien says, the female dwarves looked like male dwarves. It essentially had the feeling of this all male world, so we used all male singers. Peter says it has the sound of a Welsh choir. Rivendell has an elfish text and Lothlorien is all in elfish, but there are two different kinds of elfish, there’s Quenya, which is an older form of the language, and there’s Sindarin. Philippa wrote text for Rivendell and Lothlorien, some it is in Sindarin and some of it is in Quenya. For the Ringwraiths, which play so predominantly in the first third of the film, she created a text called The Revelation Of The Ringwraiths. That text was used whenever the wraiths were in battle mode, which they almost always were. There was a mixed choir for the Ringwraiths that sang in Adunaic, the ancient tongue of men. Then there’s Black Speech, also sung with the mixed choir, which was used for the evil of the ring. You also hear Black Speech in Isengard and in the scenes with Saruman.
The 30-piece all-boys choir sang elfish in very specific scenes that had to do with Frodo and the Hobbits’ relation to the men. The first time you hear them is when Frodo is leaving Hobbiton for the first time on the way to Bree and he has the ring in his vest pocket. This was a very pure sound, I used it around the Hobbits because they are half size to the men, so they have a boyish quality, even though they’re not really boys – Bilbo was one hundred and eleven years old. The Hobbits lived very long, so even though Frodo appears like that, he’s not a boy. They appear like that when you see them on a screen; they have a very boyish quality because of their size. The boys’ choir captured the innocence of the Hobbits and I also used them for the friendship themes between Sam and Frodo. At the end of the film I used the boys to sing in elfish again to evoke the youthfulness and courage of the men of the Fellowship. It’s a pure, courageous sound of the boys singing, a beautiful sound. Elizabeth Fraser, who’s a soloist, sings a piece that Philippa Boyens wrote called ‘Gandalf’s Lament’, with an all female choir. I wrote it as a call and response, it’s a two part piece and Elizabeth sings the solo part in elfish. Enya, the great Irish singer, sings in Rivendell in Sindarin, which is an elfish language, and at the end of the film she sings a song that has a chorus in elfish that uses Quenya.

So you actually worked with Enya?
I recorded and orchestrated her piece that she wrote. There’s so much singing, but you hear her beautiful sound at very specific points and it grows right out of the score.

Did you orchestrate this whole epic thing?
I orchestrated the complete score myself, I’m happy to say. I wanted it to have that cohesiveness. I wanted that feeling of the score coming from one pen, one hand. I wanted it to feel like something that had never been done in film. I didn’t want it to have the feeling of different orchestrations. Even though there are different worlds, I wanted that cohesiveness for THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It was great to be able to actually do the orchestration.

How did you like conducting this score? Is that an important part of the process for you?
Yes, for a complete sixty sessions. It’s something that I have to do. I really need that directness with the performers. I don’t like to be anywhere else, I don’t want to be behind the glass listening on speakers at that point, I want to be right with the players creating it, and I have to have that directness to make it happen in the studio. If you conduct your score it has the most precision, and that’s what I was looking for.

What were the strongest parts of the film that were highlighted by your score?
My score is really written as Act One: The Fellowship of The Ring. I wanted this to have a whole quality and take you on this amazing fantasy adventure. It’s a powerful statement with tremendously exciting things happening in the film. The steps of Khazad-dum, which is at the end of Moria, is the most spectacularly visual sequence, you’ve never seen anything quite like this on the screen. That was amazing musically, how the orchestra and the choir were used in this great action sequence. There are even more great action scenes, great battles, and beautiful heroic pieces that follow the fellowship throughout the film. Warm moments with Frodo and Bilbo that are beautiful, that evoke the Shire and the pastoral nature of this country.

Did you establish any key musical parts that will be used in parts two or three of the trilogy?
You have to think of all three films. At some point you want to sit and watch them all, that’s the goal, to someday watch a 9-hour video or DVD of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. That’s what we’re striving for, so yes, you want the continuity of watching the nine hours and it’s all completely interconnected. So what I’ve conceptually done is to make it work with the next two parts. The first film was incredibly important to create the sound and the concept. I’ve used a 100-piece symphonic orchestra, a 50-piece mixed choir, a 30-piece boys choir, and ten soloists. I’ve already established a certain sound, a certain feeling, a certain emotional basis for creating the music for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the first film. You have to think of this as Act One. You went to the opera and you’ve heard the first Act, you’ve now gone out for a soda or a glass of wine, and now you’re going back in for Act Two. You’re involved in one story; you want to keep the audience in the world of Middle-Earth.
It isn’t that we made a film; we created the world of Middle-Earth with sound, music, dialog, art design, cinematography, and direction. It’s alive. We were trying to bring this to life and make you feel like you’re in it. With the success of the Cannes clip, I think that’s what happened. We were working away in New Zealand for so long and then we went to France and showed it to people. It was so universally loved and excepted because everything was transformed. Peter transformed Ian McKellen, a great Shakespearean actor, into Gandalf. When you see Elijah Wood, you see Frodo, and in Sean Astin you see Sam. When you watch Moria from the Cannes clip, you’re in Moria, you’re actually there. Through technology Peter’s been able to actually create the steps of Khazad-dum, which you’ve only read about, nobody has ever seen that realized in a film. The music has to be a part of it. When you’re in Moria, you want the music to feel like you’re in Moria, you’re part of it, and you want to take the viewer right into that world. I wanted the music to have an ancient quality because Moria is a very old, ancient world. You want to feel like this music could have been recorded five thousand years ago.

What did you learn from working with director Peter Jackson?
I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from watching him work, how he works with people, his fairness and his focus. Peter reminds me so much of Sir Edmund Hillary, who used to live in Auckland, New Zealand, and was the first man to climb Mt. Everest in 1953. Edmund Hillary defines the New Zealand spirit, what it’s like to live in New Zealand. Hillary is very definitive of a Kiwi culture. I actually met Hillary, who is eighty-one, with Peter who’s half his age. One day when we were up shooting on location and Hillary came for lunch up on this mountaintop in New Zealand overlooking the sea. After I met Hillary and his wife, I read his biography and could see the spirit of him in Peter Jackson, that he had the same kind of drive and will to climb Everest, which I equate to filming THE LORD OF THE RINGS. He did the longest film shoot in history, aver fifteen months. He created it so meticulously, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, and he did it with such great care, but with a lot of humanity.
Once you start working with him you realize he’s a great guide in the same way that Sir Edmund Hillary was probably a great guide to take you up to the top if Everest. Hillary is on the five-dollar bill in New Zealand, he’s a national hero. Peter’s like that. Peter’s’ just a guy that likes film, real knowledgeable, incredible attention to detail, a great memory, a great way with people, really fair, really listens to what people are saying. He’s quite an amazing director and defines a lot of the qualities you’d like in a director.
New Zealand is a very remote country and it has a can-do kind of spirit, and it’s sort of like going back in time. When you go to New Zealand it feels like you’ve gone back thirty or forty years. It has all that English technology and this Kiwi sense of “Wee can do it,” “We can climb Everest,” “We can do THE LORD OF THE RINGS.” There’s a real ingenuity in doing it and I love that. What New Line did with Peter in letting him create this was such an amazing thing; it may never ever happen again.

What’s going on in your career outside of THE LORD OF THE RINGS?
I had two premieres last week. I wrote a concert piece, ‘Orbit’, for the Melbourne Festival for the Australian Art Orchestra and they premiered that last weekend. And then last week The Dallas Symphony performed a new suite from ED WOOD with Russian Thereminist Lydia Covina for a Halloween concert. I had to re-orchestrate ED WOOD for the Dallas concert. Now I’m going back to film music again with David Cronenberg on SPIDER and David Fincher on THE PANIC ROOM. After this I’m always writing my chamber music and then I go back into Middle-Earth.

Director / Writer / Producer Peter Jackson

Peter JacksonPeter Jackson’s career is just about to take a turn into global popularity and overwhelming demand. Jackson is the one who gave up years of his life to make the creative dream come true. Confronting challenge after challenge, he pulled off the epic task of finally bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy to the big screen through live action. “I’m interested in themes about friendship and self-sacrifice. This is a story of survival and courage, about a touching last stand that pave the way for the ascent of humankind,” explained Jackson.

This director’s talents have visually evoked worlds of dreams, fantasies, and nightmares in films like DEAD ALIVE, HEAVENLY CREATURES, and THE FRIGHTENERS. When Jackson took on LORD OF THE RINGS, it became a completely different level of filmmaking. He had to give it everything and then some, “I’ve spent seven years of my life on this project so far,” he notes, “pouring my heart into every single aspect of it.”

This all began when Jackson started working on three screenplays with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, a labor of love that took three years and then developed into an epic fifteen month film shoot that encapsulated the complete trilogy, LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS, and THE RETURN OF THE KING. Throughout the complete filmmaking process, the director was faithful to Tolkien’s work, “Every time we shot a scene, I reread that part of the book right before, as did the cast. It was always worth it, always inspiring.”

After working with composer Howard Shore, Jackson’s vision was perfectly interpreted. Part One, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, was complete, but this was just the beginning of scoring for his composer, who will score all three parts of the complete classic, “We shot the trilogy back to back and so we’ve only been working on the post production of the first film, but the other two are in the can and we now turn to the post production of the second film. Howard gets two or three months off, then he has to get back in the saddle again.”

Why did you choose Howard Shore to score LORD OF THE RINGS?
We had a very long shoot. We were shooting three movies back to back, so it took us fifteen months. Early in the shooting period, in the first two or three months, we started cutting some of the scenes together. We had a Christmas break after that, and we wanted to screen a few scenes for the crew before they went on Christmas break, just to let them know things were going very well. So when we cut these scenes we had to choose some temp music for them, most of these scenes had quite a heavy emotional content. We looked around and found after trying various pieces as temp tracks that some of the music that worked best with the film was actually Howard’s music. We used tracks fro CRASH and THE FLY, and obviously expanded on this as we cut the film. We were cutting more and more, so we needed more tracks. We discovered that the music Howard had written for other films had this dark beauty to it. It’s emotional; his music very much connects with the heart. We really liked what some of his older pieces of film score were doing to our pictures. It became a natural idea at that stage to have a conversation with Howard to see if he would be interested in doing the film.
Somewhere in the early part of 2000, when we were still shooting the movie, we phoned Howard and told him about the film. He said that if we were interested in him then what he’d like to do is to fly down her to meet with us. We were still shooting, so it was also a chance for him to come down and look at what we were doing. Howard flew down, visited the set, and that was the beginning of our relationship. We liked each other and he saw the spirit in which the film was being made. That was the beginning a many trips for Howard down here. The primary reason why you choose a particular composer for film is to define the sensibility that matches the film you’re shooting, the sensibility within that composer’s skills and the quality of his work. We found that with Howard, his music connected with the heart of the film we were making.
The other thing we were looking for in a composer was a tremendous time commitment to this project because we needed someone who could score all three movies. Howard’s just finished scoring the first film, but there’s still two more to go, so the commitment from the composer is literally over a three to four year period.

When did you start thinking about the scoring process when making this film?
We started thinking about it right when we were in the middle of shooting. After we temped those few scenes and had come to like Howard’s music very much, that was really the beginning of thinking about the score. We also wanted a composer to come on board while we were still shooting the film. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we would arrive at having a cut of the film, choose a composer, show them the movie, and then have them go off and do a score. They had to be on board much earlier so they could involve themselves in the process of the film making. Howard made at least two trips down to New Zealand while we were shooting the film and was able to sit on the set, meet the actors, and look at all sorts of different early cuts and early assemblies. He was able to spend a reasonable length of time absorbing himself into the film and the community that was making the film.

What kind of a score did you want for your film?
I wanted an orchestral score. Because THE LORD OF THE RINGS reflects a very ancient world I wanted music that was appropriate to the era. I didn’t want anything that was too revolutionary, trying to be clever or anything else, I wanted it to feel like it belongs to Middle-Earth. From that point of view it was an interesting exercise because a lot people think that Middle-Earth is a science fiction world that Tolkien was writing about another planet, but THE LORD OF THE RINGS is set on our own planet earth about six or seven thousand years ago, it’s a mythic prehistory of our own world. We wanted the music to reflect that as well. We had many conversations with Howard about the fact that you are writing music for an earthbound civilization that’s been forgotten. There are a number of cultures within that world as well – there’s the cultures of the hobbits and the elves, the different civilizations of men, Rohan and Gondor. Hobbiton and the Shire are English based – it’s very much Tolkien’s view of an unspoiled England with beautiful rolling fields and hedgerows, quaint villages with smoking chimneys, so we looked at the British Isles as the influences for the music for the hobbits. In a way we looked almost towards eastern cultures for the music of the elves because we thought they were very exotic and elegant. We didn’t want the film to become compartmentalized, that when you’re with hobbits there’s the hobbity music and when you were with elves there’s an elfin music, we wanted to have continuing themes throughout the film that were common for different characters that were independent of the cultures of the film. Sometimes we are with the elves but we are playing the Shire music because we happen to be with Frodo who’s with the elves at that time, so we were very careful about whose point of view we’re taking in scenes. Above all, the music should reflect the emotion of the characters and the key character in THE LORD OF THE RINGS is Frodo Baggins.

What did you temp THE LORD OF THE RINGS with and how did you want Howard to deal with this?
When we started to temp THE LORD OF THE RINGS we used tracks from THE CLIENT, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and BEFORE AND AFTER, as well as CRASH and THE FLY. We didn’t deliberately do it, but we found that’s Howard’s past film scores in our temping process really suited a lot of my film. We didn’t want the score for THE LORD OF THE RINGS to be clichéd in the sense that it was all very grand and epic. We wanted it to play emotionally as well, so we were able to find a lot of the emotional heart of the film on Howard’s tracks. In the early temping process we also used bits of BRAVEHEART in some of the more epic scenes.
Howard was extremely gracious when it came to the temp. He listened to the temp and we discussed reasons why we chose different tracks. You don’t put a piece of temp music in unless it works on some level. You try lots of different tracks before you arrive at the one that seems to suit the scene. It’s interesting to sit with Howard and to analyze why that particular piece of temp seems to work, In a lot of cases Howard would go off and write something different to the temp, it was actually better, but the temp was always a good way to launch a discussion about how you would score a particular theme.

When you get to the scoring stage, how do things change for you as a director?
As the director of the film I constantly have pressure on me to always be totally focused on what’s happening and to have to provide immediate feedback. If I’m on the set and shooting a scene on the set, once I yell “Cut!” I immediately have to go to the actors and talk about what they did, talk about what we should be trying to improve; I have to talk to the cameraman about things that he has to do. What I like about the scoring stage is that Howard carries the pressure and I get to sit back and enjoy it, which is quite interesting because Howard is conducting the orchestra, he then has to give the orchestra feedback, he’s under pressure to have to record a certain number of minutes per day, so I quite like the idea that for the first time in years of working on the film that someone else is actually having to carry the responsibility! I can sit back in a nice comfortable chair, hear what Howard is doing, and make the occasional suggestion, but it’s quite nice for somebody else to be having to carry the can for awhile.

What did you learn by working with Howard on this film?
One of the things I learned from Howard was how much modification can be made when you’re actually on the scoring stage. I had this preconception that all the work is done beforehand and when you get onto the scoring stage there’s only a limited amount of further work that can be done, but Howard conducts his own scores, so he’s totally in command of what happens on the scoring stage in every way. He’s remarkably flexible, so if I would say to Howard, “You know what? I think this music has to be a little slower and have a more intimate feel to it,” Howard would immediately go on the stage and he would tell the musicians to stop playing, he would then devise a way in order to give me a slower feel if he agreed with me. I was amazed at how much in command of the process Howard is and how very flexible he is when he reaches the final scoring stage. To me it was interesting to find out that the creativity, the creation of the score, doesn’t necessarily come to an end on the scoring stage, there’s a lot of flexibility and a lot more that you can do when you’re orchestrally creating the score.

Did Howard’s score satisfy your vision as a filmmaker?
Completely! I’ve actually seen the complete movie with the score a couple of times; just being able to sit back and watch the entire film with the final mix is such a joy. It’s an operatic score in the sense there’s a lot of singing, there’s a lot of different types of choir. I wanted to create a film that gives you an authentic feeling of travelling into another world. I love fantasy movies that transport you. When I saw the original 1933 KING KONG on TV, that transported me so profoundly that I wanted to make films ever since I saw it when I was about nine years old. I wanted THE LORD OF THE RINGS to do that to other young people. Howard’s written music for this that sweeps you away from 2001 and takes you somewhere that you’ve never been before, somewhere that feels very authentic and true to what you’re seeing.

Author’s Note

My deepest appreciation and thanks goes out to the people who made this article possible: Ronni Chasen, Jeff Sanderson, and Monique Ward (Chasen and Co.), Paul Broucek (Senior Vice President of Music New Line), Bob Bowen (Director of Music New Line), Keith Kentop (Assistant to Paul Broucek), Travis Tapa (Photo Department New Line), Michael Tremante (Associate Music Producer and Assistant to Howard Shore), Kathy Moore (Assistant to Howard Shore), Jan Blenkin (Assistant to Peter Jackson), Michelle Bega (Peter Jackson’s Publicist), and especially to Director Peter Jackson and Composer Howard Shore.

Scoring Facts

Music Composed, Orchestrated and Conducted by Howard Shore
Performed by: The London Philharmonic (100 pieces) and The New Zealand Symphony Orchestras (100 pieces)
Orchestra Sessions: Sixty Sessions (180 hours)
Choir and Voices: The London Voices (60 voices-male and female), The London Oratory School Schola featuring Edward Ross (30 piece boys choir), and the Maori Samoan Choir (60 voices)
Soloists: Enya, Miriam Stockley, Elizabeth Fraser, Edward Ross and Mable Faletolu
Choral Text by: J.R.R. Tolkien, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh
Associate Music Producer: Michael Tremante assisted by John Wriggle
Engineer: Recorded and Mixed by John Kurlander
Recorded at: Colosseum, Watford; Air Lyndhurst, London; Abbey Road Studios, London; Town Hall, Wellington, New Zealand
Length of Score: three hours and ten minutes cut down to approximately three hours
Composing Time: Approximately one year
Executive Album Producers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Paul Broucek
Music Produced by: Howard Shore and Suzana Perlc



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