[Interview - Howard Shore]

Earlier last year, composer Howard Shore was signed to a three picture deal to score the highly-anticipated film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  SoundtrackNet had a chance to talk with Howard about his work on this epic film, and the challenges he faced in putting the soundtrack together.

How long is the score in the film?

The score is about two hours and thirty minutes in the film, although over three hours were composed.

How did you figure out what to put on the album?

That was one of the hardest things to do because I wanted to represent all the areas of the film on the CD.  It's an opera length score, but because there are only seventy-two minutes on the album, I had to take each section of the film and edit them down to make those essential tracks.  It's a very thematic score, and there's some great linkage between the cues which could not be represented on one CD. 

You'll first hear the Fellowship theme forming in the film when Frodo leaves Hobbiton with Sam on his way to Bree - but it's just a fragment of the theme.  Later on, after they meet up with Merry and Pippin in the cornfield, you hear a more developed version of the theme - it's growing.  Then they get to Bree and they meet Strider, and it develops even further as they leave Bree. Once in Rivendell, when they meet Gimli and Legolas and Gandalf arrives, the Fellowship is now in its full orchestrated form.  At the end of "The Council of Elrond" cue, you hear the full, grand statement of the Fellowship Theme.  So the two and a half hours of score is very carefully shaped in terms of the thematic material - how it's introduced and developed throughout the whole film.

When I first started writing, I started with the Moria sequence. Moria was part of the screening at the Cannes Film Festival this year. I spent six weeks writing that one section, which is represented by two tracks on the album: "Journey in the Dark" and "The Bridge of Khazad-Dum", running a total of about ten minutes on the CD.  But that piece is closer to twenty minutes long in the film, so it's been condensed.

How long had you been working on the film?

I was attached to the film in July 2000, and had a prior commitment with The Score in January 2001.  I started writing intensely in February on the Moria sequence, and I had started writing thematic material as far back as October.  I wrote the Shire theme, and Frodo's Theme in October, and the Fellowship Theme in November.  But before any of that, I did about four months of research.

I had read the Tolkien books back in the 1960s, but besides re-reading them, I also researched Ring mythology. I went off on a lot of tangents - literary, musical, and cinematic.  Ring mythology has been part of our culture for thousands of years - you had to know what led up to Tolkien writing Lord of the Rings, and you had to understand what impact the books had on other cultures after that how it affected literature, movies, popular culture, music - it's had quite an impact.

I've done other literary adaptations. Naked Lunch, Crash, Silence of the Lambs, and Looking for Richard, which was an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III.  I like doing the research because you can go back hundreds of years, and see many various elements and influences.  Middle Earth existed seven thousand years ago - it pre-dates our culture!

Did you ever feel like there was too much pressure on you due to the hype surrounding the project?

That's why I mentioned the other literary adaptations.  It wasn't so much a feeling of pressure as it was of responsibility.   When I was working on Naked Lunch, William Burroughs was still alive, he was aware of the film and came to the set - you knew you had to create something substantial.  That novel had a worldwide cult following, so you felt the same responsibility to that and you wanted to create something authentic. It's very similar to Lord of the Rings – to create something that the people who are enthusiastic about it and who are interested in Lord of the Rings would embrace. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were fantastic collaborators, and we were fans of the book and all Tolkien mythology as well.  So not only were we trying to do it for us, and make it as good as we possibly could, but we wanted to do it for everybody who was interested in Lord of the Rings.

Did you work with a Tolkien lyricist for the chorus?

I had great collaborators on this project: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.  I spent quite a lot of time with them, learning as much as I could about Lord of the Rings and about the mythology of it, and even just trying to catch up with them - because they had spent years researching it.  Philippa is a Tolkien scholar, so there was much to learn from her.  She was predominantly the person that I worked with in terms of the text for the choir.  There's a lot of vocal music in the score, and I'll explain why that is. 

There are lyrics and poems in the book.  Because of the length of motion pictures, you couldn't expect to include them all - the book is written in a way where it will stop for three or four pages and go through the lyrics of a song, or a poem - it had a pace that you couldn't specifically do on film because even in three hours the story is so vast and there are so many characters with so much detail. The idea that I had with Peter, Fran and Philippa was to put the language back into the film - through the music.  Philippa wrote new text for very specific scenes - she wrote pages of poems and text based on those scenes.  She wrote a poem called "The Revelation of the Ringwraiths", and that's the vocal music you hear on the first part of the CD with all that gothic sound - it's Adunaic, the ancient speech of men.

How large was the orchestra and choir?

The ensemble was 200 pieces.  There was a 100-piece symphony orchestra, the London Philharmonic, which is a great orchestra and one that I've worked with for 15 years and have a strong connection to.  Then there was a 60-voice all male choir that sang the Dwarvish music, because Peter wanted all of the sounds in Moria to be male oriented due to the predominately masculine Dwarvish culture.  A mixed choir was used for Rivendell and Lothlorien, they actually have quite different sounds as you can hear on the CD. They sang in Elvish (Quenya and Sindarin) and Black Speech - they did all of the Wraith singing.  I used a 30-piece boy's choir to represent the innocence of Frodo and Sam - I really enjoyed that particular quality.  They sing in Elvish, and they sing in English.  You can hear Frodo's Theme develop throughout the movie - it starts out in a Celtic fashion in Hobbiton, and evolves into a hymn called "In Dreams" written by Fran Walsh, and sung by soloist Edward Roth.  There are actually ten soloists on the film.  Miriam Stockley sings the beginning of "Lothlorien", and Elizabeth Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins) sings "Gandalf's Lament" which you also hear in that track.  Enya sings in Sindarin and Quenya, two types of Elvish language; "Aniron" is done in Sindarin and "May It Be" has a chorus in Quenya.  I orchestrated the score myself, and I orchestrated Enya's music as well - to give it that cohesive flow.  I wanted the piece to feel as if it were from one hand.  Her songs grow right out of the score.  That's the same way that all of the vocal music - the 90 singers and more - were all integrated as well as I could into this one piece.

I thought of it as Act One of an opera.  When you go to the opera, you quite often may have a symphony orchestra in the pit, a sixty-person choir on stage, and soloists.  You could make the argument that all film music is operatic, but this is different.  Between the orchestra and the choir, I had 200 pieces at my disposal, as part of my palette to work from.  There are also some North African instruments, and an Indian bowed lute which I used in "Lothlorien".

Given the operatic form, and sheer amount of music in the score, do you anticipate a more comprehensive soundtrack release at some point?

Yes - we should do that.  You have to realize, also, that Lord of the Rings is a nine-hour film, and that's our goal - at some point there will be a nine-hour DVD.  The Fellowship of the Ring is just Act One of a three act piece. The other films are not sequels - they're a part of the continuing story.  You're following Frodo and Sam through these different worlds, on their way to Mordor.

When do you start on the second film, The Two Towers?

Well, work has already begun on the film - they're editing it and putting it together now.  I recently had a few concert works premier, one for the Australian Art Orchestra called "Orbit" at this year's Melbourne Festival, and the Dallas Symphony played a suite from Ed Wood in their Halloween Sci-Fi concert.  So I had been working on those.  I also have some other commissions coming up - I have some chamber music to write, and I also have some other film projects.  Now I'm looking to take a break from Middle Earth - but I'll be right back there with The Two Towers next year!

The soundtrack album to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is available from Reprise Records.  The film opens nationwide on December 19, and worldwide shortly thereafter. For more information, read our "first listen" exclusive on the soundtrack here.

Special thanks to Howard Shore, Michael Tremante, and Jason Cienkus

Images © 2001 New Line Cinema