Monday, January 10, 2011

Why I Respect Howard Shore

That man puts some love into his soundtracks. I think most people only see his Lord of the Rings score as catchy or pretty and leave it there. But he gives that thing symphonic development and layering. He doesn't just write according to the mood of the scene; he uses all kinds of thematic development and musical allusion to infuse a poetry into the score.

I was not the first person to notice this, but he gives the tubas a variation of the Medieval "Dies Irae" in the score when the ring wraiths come on the little band of heroes on Weathertop. Composers all through the Western tradition have used the Dies Irae as a universal symbol for death, and it's nice to see Howard Shore continuing that tradition. It shows a level of musical literacy most scores simply don't have. Plus, it just adds an extra terror and tragedy to the whole situation of the nine kings who have become these ghoulish figures.

And the way he develops his own themes is absolutely marvelous. My favorite example of this is in the second movie. Merry and Pippin are being led off to Isengard, but while the orcs take a breather, they start talking about the trees around them. While they're talking, you can hear the hint of what will later become a magnificent theme for the Ents as they attack Isengard and Gandalf comes into the battle of Helm's Deep. I doubt anyone noticed that the first time they watched the movie, but it just shows how much care Shore put into the music. You're rewarded for paying attention and giving it multiple listenings.

Last, I really love his piece "Icarus" in the beginning of his Aviator soundtrack. That is just some great writing for the strings. It's not as layered as Beethoven's symphonic stuff, but it has that same drive as that lightning-fast fugato in the third movement of his 5th symphony.

Anyway, I hope this guy gets more work.

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