Music in the movies: Howard Shore

Glen salutes the long and illustrious career of composer Howard Shore, whose work has accompanied many of maverick director David Cronenberg’s movies, as well as all three parts of The Lord Of The Rings...

Howard Shore has provided scores for over 50 films throughout his career to date, including numerous collaborations with David Cronenberg and The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Below are what I consider to be some of his finest scores to date…


Shore’s score for Videodrome is one of many collaborations the composer had with filmmaker David Cronenberg. To date this remains one of Shore’s creepiest and most atmospheric pieces as he provides the accompaniment to some truly bizarre and disturbing scenes.

So integral is the score to the film that it seems to form part of the narrative as it provides the perspective of the antagonist in this conflict between man and technology. It’s not the most accessible piece, but it’s very effective within the context of the film.

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Having built a reputation providing dark and challenging compositions for David Cronenberg; Big was something of a departure for Shore. Moving away from the electronic soundscapes that typified his earlier works, he instead utilised strings and piano to turn his hand to a light and suitably conventional piece. It’s extremely effective at conveying a sense of childlike wonder and charm that the film itself so effectively puts across.

It’s an important piece of work for Shore that showed he could handle conventional pieces as well as experimental works for genre films.

Tracking down a reasonably priced copy of this score is challenging, to say the least, but it’s worth the effort as it is quite spectacular.

The Silence Of The Lambs

Based on his compositions prior to the making of The Silence Of The Lambs, no doubt Shore would have seemed like the perfect candidate to provide a deeply unsettling musical backdrop that the film needed to be effective.

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Jonathan Demme and Tak Fujimoto’s imagery is such a large part of what makes the film so effective, but it could also be argued that Shore’s score plays an equally important role. It’s as cold and chilling as previous pieces, which is a perfect complement to the film’s setting.


Whilst the majority of the soundtrack to Seven is made up of sourced material, including an excellent version of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer and David Bowie’s The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, the highlight is Shore’s excellent score.

The two pieces by Shore that can be found on the soundtrack are Portrait Of John Doe and Suite From Seven. His work here recalls many themes Shore explored in his earlier works, particularly those with Cronenberg, as he creates an air of uncomfortable tension building towards the dramatic conclusion.

It’s not as extensive as much of his other works, but still stands up as some of his best work.


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Exploring similar themes to Videodrome, it was little surprise that David Cronenberg returned to Shore to provide a dark and menacing piece of work. Whereas the Cronenberg doesn’t quite match the quality of Videodrome, Shore exceeds the quality of his previous work as he seems to revel in going all out to create a relentless and manic piece of work.

There are times that I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing, but I’m always completely captivated.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring

For the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved trilogy, Shore managed to incorporate a great deal of the darkness that typified his earlier work, alongside sweeping and majestic compositions. The fact that he’s so adept at composing great works that bring to life the aforementioned moods made him the perfect composer for the trilogy.

The score is carried by a number of leitmotifs, many of which are explored in two of the standout pieces, Bridge Of Khazad Dum and Amon Hen. I’m always sceptical when scores are supplemented with original material from popular recording artists, but the material from Enya here is very effective, adding to the work as opposed to detracting from it.

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Shore won the first Academy Award of his career for his score here and it was very much deserved. It provides a perfect accompaniment to the film as well as working brilliantly well as a standalone listen.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

For the follow up to The Fellowship Of The Ring, Shore’s score for The Two Towers amps up themes of majesty and menace heard in the earlier piece, making this a much bigger score, but somehow it ends up marginally less effective.

This is perhaps reflected by its failure to garner any recognition from the Academy, although Howard did win a Grammy for his work here. The score was bound to lack the heart of the first, given that the first film was largely focussed on character building, whereas the sequel was more action orientated, therefore, a score that was grander in scale and more dramatic was required.

As well as being grander in scale, the soundtrack also features many more vocal tracks than its predecessor, featuring contributions from The Cocteau Twins, Sheila Chandra from Monsoon, Isabel Bayrakdarian from the Canadian Opera Company, and Emiliana Torrini who performed Gollum’s Song, which was penned by Fran Walsh and was originally intended to be performed by Björk. The song is the standout of the material contained in the soundtrack, brilliantly setting up the third instalment.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

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For the final instalment in the trilogy, Shore revisits many of the themes explored in the previous two films whilst channelling a sense of urgency and desperation that reflects the plight of the protagonists as their journey looks set to reach its conclusion.

From the opening that includes a heartbreaking rendition of the main theme of the trilogy played with a solo violin, through to the films many conclusions, Shore’s score is nothing short of excellent.

There are moments that it seems like Shore is channelling Bernard Herrmann, as he uses brass deftly to add dramatic tension. Once heard, this piece of work isn’t easily forgotten. The culmination of an extraordinary project by filmmaker and composer alike, it was little surprise that Shore won his second, much deserved Academy Award for his work here, as well as winning the award for Best Original Song for the Annie Lennox-performed Into The West.

The scores for the trilogy have experienced the same kind of double dipping as the DVD releases of the film. A few different versions exist, but I would highly recommend the complete recordings editions for the respective films. They’re pricey, but well worth the investment, given that the first two contain three discs with over three hours of music, and the last part includes close to four hours worth of material over for discs. The sheer quality and quantity of the material is hugely impressive and cements Shore’s reputation as one of the finest composers working today.

Given the wealth of material in Shore’s back catalogue there will, no doubt, be some of your favourites absent here. Please share your Shore highlights in the comments below.