Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Musicologist 'Hearts' Shore

So, here's a little piece I came across a while back, then lost track of, which has just turned up again, announcing a forthcoming book about the Howard Shore soundtracks to the Peter Jackson movies:

Apparently the book is still forthcoming, since I cdn't find an entry for it on amazon, and what looks to be the author's blog ( still refers to it as "upcoming" (the full title of his blog being THE OFFICIAL AUTHOR'S BLOG FOR THE UPCOMING BOOK THE MUSIC OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO HOWARD SHORE'S SCORES).

I'm a bit surprised by the idea of listening to film scores in concert, like they were today's equivalent to the classical symphony. But then over the years I've found that my friends more and more buy soundtracks and listen to them a lot (mainly as background noise during gaming), whereas I'm unlikely to buy a soundtrack except to remind me of the movie (the sole exception I can think of being A FISH NAMED WANDA, where I'd just really liked the music).* Apparently I'm in a shrinking minority here. I don't know if Mr. Adams' comment about hints of Sibelius are right or not, not being familiar with the Finnish master; all Shore owed to Wagner, I wd think, is the idea of the liefmotifs (admittedly, a major element in Shore's three soundtracks). The Mahler I can see; there's that general feeling of 'Symphony from a New World' in places. I guess we'll see whether or not the eventual book is something the non-musicological can follow and enjoy.

In any case, it seems to be a timely topic: in addition to this book there are at least three others either recently out or soon to be released about Tolkien and music, none of which unfortunately I've seen:

First, there's Matthew Young's PROJECTING TOLKIEN'S MUSICAL WORLDS, which I haven't bought yet because I thought the price ($54 for 92 pages) prohibitive.**

Also, there's the recently released MUSIC IN MIDDLE-EARTH, the latest collection from Walking Tree Press, ed by Heidi Steimel & Friedhelm Schneidewind. Apparently, from the entry, this is a fairly wide-ranging collection, but details are lacking.

Finally, there's the forthcoming book by Bradford Lee Eden, due out from McFarland next month (just too late for Kalamazoo, unfortunately).

Apparently an idea whose time has come.


*I wd have bought the LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM for the lively performance of a traditional dragon-song in it, but cdn't find it available.

**there is an informative review, by Jason Fisher, in MYTHLORE (vol. 28 no. 1-2, pages 175-179)


Doug Adams said...

Thanks for the mention, John. Hope you like the book. We'll hit shelves this autumn.

-Doug Adams

David Bratman said...

I haven't heard the concert version of Shore's music, but I have seen all 3 films more than once with the music very much to my attention, and listened to the CD album of the first one.

I'm not a musicologist but I am a highly experienced listener to, and a professional reviewer of, classical music. And my judgment of Shore is that his work is competent but uninspired, and distinctly less inspired as the films go on.

Shore's Wagnerian techniques and Mahlerian approach are definitely real, and I'd go along with a claim of Sibelian influence. But these things are neither admirable nor disadmirable; what matter is what you do with them.

I like a lot of film music, but much of it seems to me shallow compared to the depth and integration of Sibelius, in the same way that Jackson, and many post-Tolkien fantasists, skate over Tolkien's profundities. Well, different works have different purposes: shallowness in this sense is not a sin. (Wagner and Mahler don't have Sibelius's integration either: such was not their purpose.) What bothers me is when proponents wave superficial resemblance to Tolkien as evidence of matching Tolkien's achievement, and it'd be equally fallacious if anyone waved around Sibelius the same way.

Jason Fisher said...

Two comments:

(1) As I noted at the end of my review in Mythlore (and thanks for mentioning it), you can actually read Matthew Young's book online, at the OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations. The publisher, VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, has apparently made a business out of snaffling up master's and doctoral theses and publishing them, verbatim, not even bothering to reformat them, at outrageous prices. Nice work if you can get it, eh? They've got two or three other Tolkien titles now.

(2) Brad Eden's collection, Middle-earth Minstrel is actually available now, in plenty of time for Kalamazoo! See my most recent blog post on the subject, here.

Carl Anderson said...

I myself enjoy the Shore scores -- but comparing them to Sibelius seems to be a bit over the top! (Especially if we are to allow that even Wagner pales beside Sibelius.)

On the other hand, I think we need not be too surprised by the concept of the idea of listening to film scores in concert as if they were today's equivalent to the classical symphony, etc. After all, a great deal of classical music was composed as incidental music for plays, etc. (while Prokofiev, for example, is well known for his "film scores"). Arguably, things like such incidental music, tone poems, and opera are not a million miles away from the role played by film scores in any event. Of course, one's film score might be good music that doesn't actually work well in the film, and what works well to support the film may not stand alone too well (though this is why many film scores released on CD are not actually the same cues as are used in the film) ....

But I would suggest that the difference between Shore's musical evocation of Jacksonian Middle-earth landscapes and, say, Sibelius's Karelia Suite may actually be more one of quality than of intention. (Of course, for various reasons, many contemporary concert-goers might prefer Shore to Sibelius. I for one wouldn't want to complain about this overmuch -- at least they're listening to live music. They can always check out Kullervo later on! :))