Sunday 15 December 2019

Shore road goes ever on

Celebrated composer Howard Shore tells Andrew McKimm how he never stops learning

Howard Shore
Howard Shore
Howard Shore

Andrew McKimm

In December 2001, I watched the initial frames of the first Lord of the Rings movie with trepidation. I wanted desperately for the film to live up to my experience of the book but was preparing myself for yet another sword-and-sorcery disappointment. My fears were completely allayed when the cart bearing Gandalf and Frodo crossed the bridge into Hobbiton and Howard Shore's Concerning Hobbits theme started. It's a still-magic film moment when the viewer is pulled out of their seat and transported straight into Middle-Earth. When I spoke to Howard Shore recently, he told me that such a reaction is precisely what the filmmakers had been trying to achieve. "That was the goal, that's what we were attempting– the feeling that you were going to be in a story that was truthful, honest and loving."

These last words also seem to sum up the composer himself. He appears entirely humble – aware of what he has achieved yet still with his mind resolutely set on the future. Very hobbit-like.

Mr Shore will be in Dublin this week to introduce a programme premiering both his latest orchestral works and also The Return of the King movement from The Lord of the Rings Symphony.

He is no stranger to Ireland but this will be his first visit to Dublin. I asked him was I correct in detecting a Celtic flavour in much of the music for the Shire. Concerning Hobbits is first presented on tin whistle and fiddle, after all.

"With The Fellowship of the Ring we were trying to design a piece of work that would seem as if it had been written five or six thousand years ago. Celtic music is very old – the ideas and sounds take you back in a historical sense to the very origins of music."

The Concerning Hobbits melody is central to the movies, and perfectly captures themes of wistful innocence, hope, heroism and loss.

The Lord of the Rings soundtracks represent a watershed in Howard Shore's life as a composer. From 1979 onwards, he has written the music for almost all of fellow-Canadian director David Cronenberg's movies.

Although lacking the hummable tunes of the Rings movies, anyone who has seen Dead Ringers or Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs will attest to how effective and creepy his music can be.

"I used music in a very specific, a more psychological, way to work around the edges of the screen, to deepen the storytelling. I wanted to balance all of the arts in a very cohesive way, to immerse the viewer in the drama."

How did he then trade in a Dead Ring for the One Ring? "All through the Nineties I became an avid opera-goer and started attending the Met on a regular basis. I fell in love with Italian opera. With its abundance of writing for both solo and choral voices, its use of Tolkien's invented languages, the music for The Lord of the Rings could be more accurately described as an opera than as a symphony. Film composers owe a huge debt to Wagner and his development of the leitmotif (a recurring melody that is associated with a certain character, object, place, emotion, or idea)."

Shore's Dublin concert will include the Irish Premiere of Mythic Gardens – A Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.

Howard Shore has been writing music since he was eight or nine. His work ethic and approach to writing the music to such gargantuan works as the Tolkien films is inspiring.

"Even at my age, 67, I still feel like a student, looking at scores and studying them. I try to write each day. It's just a pencil moving across a page. Some days are better and some days are not so good.

"When I look back on my progress after a certain period of time has elapsed it's staggering to see how much music one can produce. "At times, I felt like Frodo with the Ring, having the responsibility to write the music for a book that has been around for over 60 years and which has such a tremendous resonance with so many people who care so deeply about its ideas. Music is a journey. To quote Bilbo: 'The road goes ever on...'"

Howard Shore in Dublin. Saturday, 8pm, National Concert Hall. Box Office www.nch.ie. Phone (01) 417 0000

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