Howard Shore

Born 1946

Howard Shore

Composer • Conductor


Howard Shore is a Canadian conductor and composer. While he has written over fifty film scores, many within the horror genre, much of his earlier work has been overshadowed by the incredible success of his soundtrack to theLord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, which won him several Academy Awards, a Grammy Award and sold over six million copies worldwide.

Shore was born into a Jewish family in Toronto, Canada and attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying with John Bavicchi, John LaPorta, William Maloof and Charlie Mariano. His path towards film-composing superstar was one of many twists and turns, and he certainly put in his dues as a composer and musician long before he ever made it to Hollywood. One of Shore’s earliest professional experiences was as the alto saxophone player in the Canadian fusion band Lighthouse, the concept of which was to combine a chamber string ensemble with a jazz horn section and a rock rhythm section. Within a year of forming they had already played their Carnegie Hall debut, and shortly after they won three consecutive Juno Awards for Best Canadian Group of the Year (1972-1974).

Already starting to get his foot in the door of composing for TV, Shore was appointed musical director of the Canadian showThe Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour while still playing in Lighthouse, and in 1974 he wrote the music to the magician Doug Henning’s show “Spellbound.” However, his first big break came in 1975 which he was appointed as the first musical director for the brand new television show Saturday Night Live. Shore held this position for five years, during which time he was instrumental in the fledgling shows development, composing their theme song and appearing in many of their musical skits. He also met Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi while on the set, and it was Shore that suggested the name of “Blues Brothers” for their band.

Towards the end of his stint on SNL, Shore finally wrote his first feature-length film score, to the Canadian horror filmI Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (1978). Although the film was not well-received, it opened the door for Shore to begin working with notable “body horror” director David Cronenberg the following year, the beginning of an over three-decade collaboration which would see Shore composing the scores to all but one of Cronenberg’s films. It is in these scores that Shore’s dark and ominous writing style first had a chance to shine.

By the late 1980s and 1990s, Shore had begun to branch out to more high-profile films, many of which were still within the horror genre. These includeSe7en (1995), featuring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), as well as more lighthearted works such as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), starring Robin Williams, andShe-Devil (1989), starring Meryl Streep.

Based on his career prior to 2000, many were surprised when it was announced that Shore would be writing the score to all three of the upcomingLord of the Ringmovies, with the first, The Fellowship of the Ring, released in 2001. Although by this point Shore was highly-regarded and respected as a composer, much of his work was seen as too dark and serious for a film series that largely maintains a childlike innocence. Also, many were unsure if he could manage the scope of composing for an eleven-hour epic, a challenge which few had attempted in the past. As aware as anyone of the challenges he faced, Shore spent an intense period of over a year preparing the music for the first film alone, during which time rigorously pored through J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and studied medieval music from the eighth and ninth century in an effort to capture the spirit and times of the complex world of “Middle Earth” that Tolkien had created.

With the release of The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, nearly all of Shore’s critics were instantly silenced, and the general consensus was that he had created a masterpiece of film scoring for a prolonged epic not seen sinceJohn Williams’ score to the original Star Wars trilogy. Like Williams’ work, Shore had succeeded not only in providing the perfect atmosphere for each scene, but also coming up with numerous memorable themes, which along with its popularity makesThe Lord of the Rings one of the most recognizable soundtracks in the world.

Many have noted the almost unprecedented scale of Wagnerian leitmotifs in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and later The Hobbit as well). Although these are a common occurrence in films nowadays, they have rarely been treated as meticulously as in Shore’s work. InThe Lord of the Rings, Shore not only introduces different themes for different characters, objects and settings, he also adapts them, combines them and destroys them as the plot unfolds over the course of an eleven-hour epic. Many of his themes include influences from the medieval era, including a “Dies Irae” as the Mordor leitmotif, and fromRichard Wagner, whose Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle (1848-1874) Shore has repeatedly cited as a major source of inspiration.

In recent years, Shore has begun adapting some of his film scores for the concert hall, such as with his six-movementLord of the Rings Symphony (2004) and his operaFly (2008), based on the soundtrack he wrote to the 1986 Cronenberg film by the same name. Although Shore would frequently tour and conduct his own works, he has cut back on that practice in recent years as his schedule has become increasingly full from composing. Having won three Academy Awards, four Grammy Awards and two Golden Globes from his work on theLord of the Ringsand Hobbit trilogies alone, he is truly one of the most lauded and beloved living film composers.

Images courtesy of Schott Music, Collider and Interviewly