Return of the King Mailbag
Letters responding to Jon and Al
ROTK web column
The letter from Jon and Al Kaplan requesting special attention towards
Howard Shore's score for Lord of the
Rings: The Return of the King is quite possibly the best, most
impassioned and thoughtful article I've read in Film Score Monthly.
I agree absolutely, that Shore's work is staggering in its brilliance.
Unfortunately, I also concur that the most insipid drivel usually wins
each year. I have always felt that the overall voting block of the
Academy will vote for the final music award by "the way the title of
the film sounds to them." They will see the five nominees listed and
say, for instance, "hmmm, Red Violin,
(must be about music, I'll go
with that one)." The Music Branch that nominates is about as accurate
in its nominations as The Documentary Feature Branch.
--David Jeffrey Moraza, Brooklyn
Calling the letter from Jon and Al Kaplan a "kind-hearted message" is
more than an understatement. Howard Shore's score to LOTR: Return of the King
definitely deserves to be nominated for the Academy Award, and
certainly deserves to win. Mr. Shore's score for LOTR -- the entire trilogy -- is a
remarkable achievement unmatched in recent times.
Mr. Shore is not the first composer to write music for multi-part
films. John Williams has written the music for all of the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones Trilogy, the Superman films, etc. The music for
the Star Trek films have been
shared by several composers including James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith.
However, Mr. Shore's score for the LOTR
trilogy is the first in recent times where the musical material and
themes are presented and developed as the film (and story) progresses
from start to finish -- much as a symphony or tone poem. In short, Mr.
Shore's score for the entire LOTR
trilogy is a monumental achievement in the history of film music, and
sets a standard by which future scores will be measured.
As someone who enjoys symphonic and chamber music, I have long felt
that original film scores written by composers such as Mr. Shore is
modern American symphonic music, and should not only be heard as
background music as part of a film, but should be enjoyed by concert
audiences. One can only wait for the symphony that Mr. Shore is
preparing from the music written for the LOTR trilogy. Until the day arrives
when music from LOTR can be
performed by symphony orchestras and enjoyed by concert audiences on a
regular basis -- the ultimate recognition of a composer's music --
Howard Shore deserves to be honored for his achievement.
Wisely spoken guys! Hmm...but what is it now? Are sequel scores allowed
to get a nomination or not? At least shore got a Golden Globe
nomination. This year was awful and it's even more depressing to see
that the only two scores that were good, (Matrix Revolutions and ROTK) didn't get the attention
they deserve while crap like The
Last Samurai gets full coverage everywhere. I really don't
understand all the positive reviews of that score -- it's just the
usual boring Zimmer thing...major yawn!
I think that Shore's work on all three
LOTR films is superb -- which is why I hope it doesn't get
nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score. What does it need to
prove? The film series is probably one of the most successful in
history -- the court of public opinion has spoken and has paid over and
over again to see the films. Why does the film, its score, or its
actors need recognition by an industry who is just as politically and
selfishly motivated as any other group out there? Remember E.T. and Ghandi? Which film has stood the
test of time? LOTR will
become the industry standard for fantasy films, in spite of what the
Academy decides is deserving of an award. Shore's scores will also
stand the test of time. I understand that winning an award does get
people "recognized," but who actually recognizes them? I say that most
people still don't know who John Corigliano is, even after winning for The Red Violin.
Again, popular opinion has spoken. The Academy can have their backlash
and give awards to other films and other scores (why Thomas Newman
hasn't won yet baffles me), but despite their efforts people know and
love the things they don't. And that's good for us.
From: Deacon Greg Zoltowski
I am listening to the soundtrack for
Return of the King, and it's marvelous. It is in so many ways
the best of the three scores, and the other two were marvelous. I'm
left with a feeling of immense gratitude toward artists like Howard
--Deacon Greg Zoltowski
SUBJECT: Jon and Al Kaplan: Idiots
I believe they may have shot themselves in the foot with their own
campaign. If I was part of the Academy, I'd do everything in my power
to prevent the nomination of Return
of the King on account of their poor understanding of music,
whiny and insulting tone, and sad writing skills. An opera? Really. Do
they have any clue what an opera is? I can't tell you how many times I
rolled my eyes while reading that rant. Of course, I'm glad this was
written, because I don't want ROTK's
(and the entire Trilogy's) massively sub-par score to get nominated for
On account of Jon and Al Kaplan's
poor understanding of music, esteemed writer, composer and musicologist
Doug Adams will respond in their stead:
I am vouching for the Kaplans' feet, which I can assure you are free
of bullet wounds. Yes, there is fair ground to make a comparison
between Shore's work on the Lord of
the Rings films and the world of opera. Really. Now, understand,
I'm not saying, opera-like or not, that you must enjoy Shore's work.
That's all a matter of personal taste. But just because you dislike it,
you shouldn't deny it its lineage. Personally, I can't stand Rossini,
but I'm still more than happy to recognize his as worthy efforts within
the established world of opera. There's nothing technically lacking. I
just don't like the repetitive structure and the turn-on-a-dime
emotions. That's just me.
Yes, clearly Shore's work on LOTR
is not an opera in strict terms; it's a film score. But in development
and execution it is probably the most opera-like film score I can
imagine. Shore, like the Italian masters, loves grand emotional
statements and even shares Puccini's passion for stepwise melodies and
a flexible sense of the bar line. But, let's ignore all that, because
it's pretty difficult to pin a geographic tag on emotional scope. Plus,
these qualities are not entirely unique to either Italian opera or
Shore's LOTR work. Brahms
loved to obscure that nasty little bar line too, and Shore had a
similar emotional pitch in Looking
for Richard, The Fly
and the finale of Silence of the
So let's head elsewhere in Europe for a better connection. German opera
has long upheld many of the concepts exemplified in Shore's LOTR writing. Shore's architecture
for Lord of the Rings is
based entirely on races and cultural interaction. His thematic material
is grouped into pools from which his individual settings flow. Upon
close inspection, the entire score -- thematically speaking -- can
practically be boiled down into three pitches: do, re, mi. Played
circularly, it's a Ring theme. Stepwise, it belongs to the Hobbits. Or
stepwise in the minor key it's a different Ring theme, which is also
the B phrase of the Fellowship theme -- which creates the Gandalf the
White theme and the Aragorn theme -- which creates the B phrase of the
Gondor theme. Repeating, leaping up and falling it's Rohan. Stacked
into a vertical harmony it's the Ring Wraiths. Thread an augmented
second later in the scale and you've got the music of the Elves. I
could go on, but I won't because even this intricate level of
interconnection oversimplifies the detail in the score. I'm not
mentioning the fact that within each musical culture Shore's themes
develop and reform depending of character arcs and interactions between
cultures. And there are catalogues of accompaniment figures and
secondary themes that provide new material while adding shadings and
layers to the more central themes. In the Rohan music, for example, the
character of Eowyn has three separate themes and two characteristic
instruments to play to her relationships and to affect our perception
of the greater collection of Rohan music.
I recently spoke with Jonathan Dean of the Seattle Opera about the
connection between Shore's work and German opera, so I hope he doesn't
mind if I quote him here. "Look at it form the point of view of motives
and the Wagnerian principal of motives spinning off other motives.
Wagner really got off on the motif spin-off effect, where this motif
reminds us of this other motif because this something in the story is
supposed to remind us of what happened last night. The fascinating
thing about this is that all the principal motives [from LOTR] are closely connected -- By
the time you get to the final version it's like motive soup. That's
what Gotterdammerung is like.
I'm sure for a composer at that point it's all subconscious because
your tunes are your characters. You're writing a story, except you're a
composer so you're writing a piece of music."
Shore also plays with the idea of scoring against the visuals, like
when Gandalf falls in the first film, which is an idea straight out of
Wagner. See Mina in Siegfried.
Shore also drops hints of the third film's primary themes in a couple
of scenes in the first film. Operas also do this. See the Saloon Girl's
/ miner's waltz in Fanciulla Del West.
See the Fate Motif / Habanera theme from Carmen.
And Shore's work isn't an opera in the traditional sense of key
structures, although there is a very strong pitch class structure
that's related to the orchestration. Most of the Mordor music is in
d-minor because that puts the performers in a certain range. The
History of the Ring theme is generally in a-minor because of where that
sets the first violins. The Hobbit music usually pops up in D-major or
C-major. Nice opposition to the Mordor d-minor, isn't it?
With composers like John Adams, John Corigliano, Philip Glass, John
Harbison and even Andre Previn changing the face of modern opera on a
regular basis, can't we set Shore's work at the edges of opera pretty
easily? It's not an opera, per se, but with an outsized story, an
intricately conceived structure (which has barely been hinted at here),
and a carefully chosen cast of performers, isn't the comparison more
And now the Kaplans will respond for
We're glad we received this one hateful email. When we speak of bitter,
frustrated composers who are jealous of Lord of the Rings, we're talking
specifically about Chris Tilton, who will spend the rest of his life
scoring Muppet video games.
Obviously, when we called Shore's LOTR
an "opera for film" we didn't mean to imply it was a staged opera where
the players sing all of their dialogue. And we didn't need to take the
time to clarify that to Chris Tilton. But we did want to take this
opportunity to show exactly how operatic the work is, because it's a
very interesting topic. And thus we hope you all enjoyed Doug Adams'
--Jon and Al Kaplan, Idiots