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An Early Look at Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings

By Doug Adams

The following is excerpted from an interview with Howard Shore from the upcoming issue of FSM, Vol 6, No. 9.

Howard Shore: In February I was in New Zealand for about five to six weeks, and I wrote Moria, which became the Cannes clip. The interesting thing about working on Moria was that it's the centerpiece of Fellowship. And Khazad-dûm is probably the most exciting visual piece in the film. It was done with page-by-page reading and a lot of research. The first trip to New Zealand was last summer. Four months after that I started writing, and then a year ago in October/November I created the Shire theme and Frodo's theme. The Fellowship theme came, I think, about a month after that. I wrote Dwarrowdelf in October of last year. So I already started to develop material after those initial visits last summer. Then for four months I researched ring mythology, not just The Lord of the Rings, but how western culture has been effected by the Tolkien books since the '50s, what it spawned, and also, what lead up to it.

Doug Adams: Was that to help you get specific musical ideas, or more to immerse yourself in the whole world of it?

HS: I wanted to immerse myself in it. That's why I mentioned the other literary adaptations, things like Naked Lunch and Crash. Same thing. I wanted to immerse myself in it to create something that was an expression of my ideas, musically. And I had to do that by just, as you say, immersing myself in it. The research involved a lot of reading and listening and looking to see how this story had effected our culture. Where it came from is interesting too, because ring mythology has been around for thousands of years. Fran [Walsh, screenwriter] and Peter [Jackson, screenwriter, director] were fantastic collaborators. I could work with them as writers, so I wasn't on my own so much. They were there lighting the way, showing me all of the relationships in The Lord of the Rings.
DA: Were they discussing anything specifically musical at this time or were they just talking about the ideas in the story and the dramatic themes and things like that?

HS: We started in a more general sense and from that evolved the idea of incorporating the Tolkien lyrics, poems and texts that are in the book, but not necessarily in the film. The Lord of the Rings is the most complex fantasy world ever created, so I'm holding a mirror up to it, musically, and trying to create something that's the image of it. I had the idea of using the languages which, by putting them into the music, would express another layer of Tolkien's thinking, and put the mythology back into the film. Some of the texts came right from The Lord of the Rings book itself. I would say most of them came from [screenwriter] Philippa Boyens. She wrote a whole series of poems and texts that I used pretty extensively all through the film. I'd use pieces of them wherever I felt I wanted that sound. I thought of the choral music as another texture in the orchestra. I had strings, winds, brass, percussion, and I had a vocal sound that I could use whenever I felt, compositionally or in an orchestration sense, that I wanted to hear that sound.

Then there were 10 soloists used. Miriam Stockley sang at the beginning or Lothlorien. Elizabeth Frasier sang with an all female choir for "Gandalf's Lament," in Lothlorien. Edward Ross sings in Elvish and English. Enya sang in Sindarin in Rivendell on the bridge scene with Aragorn and Arwen, and she also sings in English and Quenya in the end.

DA: She has a couple of songs in the film that she wrote.

HS: Yes, she wrote them and I orchestrated them so it's a very seamless sound. When you hear her sing, it just grows right out of the choral music and the orchestra. The orchestra is the LPO -- it's the same orchestra playing with her as is playing the score. I wanted it all to feel very cohesive as a whole piece.

The orchestra [in the score] is a 200-piece orchestra. It's a 100-piece symphony orchestra, a 60-voice mixed choir, a 30-piece all boys choir, and 10 vocal and instrumental soloists. There were some instruments from North Africa and from East India that we used for Lothlorien. Hobbiton has some beautiful soloists too, like dulcimer and fiddle. They're not so exotic, but they have some nice solos as well. I think of it all as "the orchestra."

DA: Those are enormous forces.

HS: Yes, well the orchestra was used extensively through the whole film. If you go to the Metropolitan Opera, it's quite common to hear that many people playing in a production, so that was the concept: a symphony orchestra in the pit and the mixed choirs singing in the Tolkien languages of Quenyan, Sindarin, Black Speech, Adunaic, Dwarvish and English.

The boys sang in English and in Elvish. The boys I used very specifically in scenes that involved the Hobbits. The first time you hear the boys choir is when Frodo and Sam leave Hobbiton on their way to Bree. Frodo has the ring in his vest pocket and Gandalf leaves them to go to Saruman in Isengard. You hear the boys singing in Elvish and it's used as the seductiveness of the ring. You hear them singing this very pure, beautiful sound. It also has a courageous sound that seemed appropriate. The Hobbits are not boys, but they have a boyish quality because they're half-size to men.

Next time: a look at the Fellowship of the Ring CD. Doug Adams can be reached at .

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