by Dan Goldwasser
For the third year in a row, SoundtrackNet had an opportunity to talk with prolific composer Howard Shore about his work on the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. This time, we talked with him about the final chapter in the saga, Return of the King, as well as his plans for the next year.
This is now the third year for Lord of the Rings, with the final chapter: The Return of the King. Given that you had The Two Towers: Expanded Edition to compose, did you get a break before starting in on this final film?
No, I never stopped composing. We've all been working steadily through the three films. The only break was around Christmas/New Years, when we took a little bit of time off. I'm just finishing the Lord of the Rings Symphony project now. The two movements of The Fellowship of the Ring were finished last summer, in time for the Hollywood Bowl premiere. Now I've prepared the last two movements for The Two Towers which I completed a few months ago, and I'm currently finishing up the two movements for The Return of the King. I came back from the scoring sessions and went right into the symphony project.
When the symphony premiers on November 29th, I have a bit of a break during the film premieres and other openings, but then I start in on the Return of the King Extended Edition DVD just after New Years, and plan to record in March 2004.
That's a lot of stuff!
Yes, but it's a fantastic project. You wanted more time, not less time, to work on it. Tolkein spent 14 years writing The Lord of the Rings; I only spent four years, when all is said and done. But what a worthwhile project to spend that time on!
One of the major themes in ROTK, the "Gondor Theme", makes a small appearance back in Fellowship. Was that something you had planned on at the time?
You have to think about the book, because you know that at some point you'll be going to Gondor and Minas Tirith. So the scene in Fellowship where Boromir talks about his father and his country is a significant one - it introduces that character. And it's also the beginning of the story of Boromir, Faramir, and Denethor. So it's an important moment, and the architecture of the score was always planned with a strong structure. So, to say that there are little "hints" of themes in certain parts of the project that develop into more fully formed pieces makes sense musically, doesn't it? You want that to happen. The same thing happened to Gollum. There was music related to Gollum in Fellowship that then developed in The Two Towers.
With so many themes in the film trilogy, how did you keep track of it all?
Oh, you have to come see my notes. It's a massive project, since you're dealing with 12 hours of music! The idea of motifs, related to characters, was all very carefully constructed and I kept good logs of it all. I have themes and motifs from all three films.
Doug Adams is writing a book on the music of The Lord of the Rings. Other books have come out, dealing with the production design or different aspects of the film. This one will go into a lot of detail about the use of thematic material, the motifs, how the orchestration relates to those particular compositions, how the different cultures were created (Lothlórien, Rivendell, the Shire, Moria, Rohan, Gondor, etc.). It goes into a lot of depth about that, as well as the folk instruments that were used for the different cultures.
We also include the text, and the poems - Tolkien's words that were sung by the chorus and the soloists. It's the most detailed writing on the piece - I'm hoping it will come out around the time of the box set, when the whole score is released. And that will be the great reading companion to go along with the score.
We've talked about an expanded box set before. Have you thought some more about what it would be comprised of? Would the symphony be in there?
I don't know if the symphony will be part of that - it might. What it essentially will be is all the music from the films.
Which editions: the theatrical releases, or the expanded releases?
Well, that's a good question! Probably both - it's really a matter of how much we can put out. And there will also be a disc of what Peter calls "rarities". These might be pieces that were composed and recorded, on the way to a certain piece, or things that we recorded that weren't in the film. Or a piece with a different orchestration.
A good example of a "rarity" will be on the bonus DVD that is part of the Limited Edition Return of the King soundtrack. It has a video diary about the recording of the score, as well as a special seven minute trailer from all three films. The third element, which I consider a "rarity" is a song called "Use Well The Days", which was a piece I started writing after thinking about Annie Lennox. I went to New Zealand in April, and met with Fran Walsh, who collaborated with me on "In Dreams" and “Gollum’s Song” and we thought about different artists that we might want to work with. Annie Lennox was at the top of the list.
On the way back to New York from New Zealand, I wrote Annie a letter talking about my process for the months ahead, and the film, to see if she was interested in it. When I got back, I wrote a piece called "Use Well The Days" that used words adapted from Tolkien's lyrics, because Fran hadn't started the process yet. Then when I met Annie in New York for the first time, I played her that piece - it was something I had written with her in mind. I had just put together a demo. Then she recorded it at Abbey Road during the summer.
As we've worked on all these films, we've created so many things, and so many ideas - they lead you on a path - and "Use Well The Days" did exactly that. It was like an early version of "Into the West". So it's on this bonus DVD - you can hear Annie singing it. It's not in the film, and it's not on the CD, but it was recorded during the making of his movie. That is a good example of a rarity.
There are many, many other things like that which came up throughout the process of working these last few years. Like compositional pieces that were written, and went a certain direction and were recorded - part of them might have been used in the film, but then I restructured or rewrote them. It's a process, unlike anything I've actually ever tried to do.
So how many discs do you suppose this box set might have?
I don't know - it's conceivable it could be at least 7-9 discs, maybe more! There's easily eleven or twelve hours, if it were complete. I know what people want is the music in the film, so I'm basing it on that premise. Would someone really want all 12 hours?
Did you ever consider going back to Enya or Emiliana Torrini from the first two films to make vocal appearances in this third and final film?
Well, I think they did different types of pieces for different films. They're all fantastic, but I think each of the movies led to another. The end of the film is important, and each song that Fran and I worked on (most recently with Annie) was written specifically for the end of the film, and for that particular artist. There was a progression in the storytelling, and Enya was part of Fellowship. The musical cast for each film has been very specific. In Return of the King, you have Annie Lennox, Renée Fleming, James Galway, and Ben Del Maestro. In The Two Towers, you have Elizabeth Fraser - who also sang in Fellowship, so there was some crossover - but essentially there was a new cast for each one. The first film had Enya, Miriam Stockley, and "In Dreams" was sung by Edward Ross. So, there was a specific cast for each film.
Recent news reports indicate that Christopher Lee's big scene has been dropped from Return of the King. But it was initially supposed to be in The Two Towers, so it had been around for a while - had you scored it at any point?
No, that one I have not worked on yet. But that's the major one I'll be working on for the extended cut of Return of the King!
The soundtrack comes on November 25th, and has been done for a while - but you just finished recording the score a few weeks ago. Is there material you recorded after the soundtrack was locked that you wish you could have put on the album?
<laughs> Well, there was so much music! The CD is 72 minutes long, but the score is over three hours long! It's difficult; I've been editing the soundtrack for months! But it has been edited in such a way to retain and tell the story, but in condensed form. The full score is quite a lot longer than what is represented on the CD. The goal wasn't to present highlights; it was to present a very listenable 72 minutes, which is as much as I can fit on one CD safely. It was really designed to make it as listenable as possible, and retain the shape of the film and story - it's a challenge! There's so much music that's not there.
The symphony is two hours, and the score is 12 hours. It's an enormous editing process, and I'm constantly heartbroken! The box set, I'm hoping, will give everyone everything they wanted. And that will be everything, if we can get it all in there!
"Shelob's Lair" seems to harken back to the darker films you've done, like Seven and your Cronenberg films…
Really? Well, it's not like Spider! <laughs> You have to see the scene - I think you'll really understand how it's created. We wanted Shelob to be a piece within the film. It was specifically done to feel different, in the same way that when you hear the music from Moria, you know you're in Moria. And when you hear the music from Rohan, you know you're in Rohan. Shelob was a similar challenge: let's create something that sounds specifically like Shelob, and you'll know you're in Shelob's lair.
Frodo enters Shelob's lair and passes through, a little worse for wear, and, well, I don't want to ruin it for you! But I wanted the feeling inside the lair to develop in a very specific way, and that's why I have that very deliberate "walking" feeling to it, as Frodo walks into the lair. Then there's this feeling that something is wrong, and a series of confrontations with Shelob, followed by Sam's arrival and battle with Shelob. It's very cut down: the composition is maybe 14-15 minutes long, and on the CD it's maybe 4-5 minutes long.
What other projects have you been able to work on during this lengthy project?
Well, I only did Spider and Panic Room during my work on Lord of the Rings. They were recorded during that Christmas break I described. They were both projects with directors that I love to work with, but since starting on Lord of the Rings, David Fincher just hasn't made any films, and David Cronenberg hasn't made any either. And there was just Martin Scorsese working on Gangs of New York, which I contributed a bit to. Otherwise, everything was just focused on The Lord of the Rings, 24 hours a day!
What exactly was your Gangs of New York involvement? "Brooklyn Heights" was written prior to the film…
Well, I was too busy working on Lord of the Rings, so I couldn't score another picture, but I contributed to the film, much like the other artists did. I was right into the final composition/orchestration/recording of The Two Towers at the time.
So what's next?
Well, I have the symphony project, and the Return of the King Extended Edition cut to work on. The symphony project is extensive - it involves a series of concerts all throughout next year. I'm also working with Martin Scorsese on The Aviator, and then with Peter Jackson on King Kong. That's kept the whole creative team together, to make another film, which is a fantastic idea.
Have you given much thought to King Kong yet?
Oh, I'm thinking about it...
Will there be any homage to Max Steiner in your score?
You'll have to wait and see!
The soundtrack to Return of the King is coming out on Reprise Records on November 25th. The expanded edition DVD of The Two Towers is now available in stores. Return of the King opens in theaters on December 17th, 2003. Look for more details on the box set next year as they become available!
Special thanks to Chet Mehta at Chasen & Co, Jason Cienkus at Warner Brothers, and Robbi Kearns for helping with this interview. And of course, thanks to Howard for taking the time to talk with SoundtrackNet about Lord of the Rings for the past three years!