The Lord of the Rings soundtrack: all you need to know about Howard Shore’s score

12 March 2020, 16:26 | Updated: 12 March 2020, 17:31

The Lord of the Rings soundtrack: all you need to know about Howard Shore’s score
The Lord of the Rings soundtrack: all you need to know about Howard Shore’s score. Picture: Getty / Working Title Films

By Rosie Pentreath

The ‘Lord of the Rings’ score is every bit as epic, sweeping, intense and moving as Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Here’s everything you need to know about the award-winning music...

Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score is packed with enough memorable, heart-wrenching melodies, epic brass sequences and tense, crunchy string build-ups to make it any music-lover’s favourite.

The Lord of the Rings has garnered Shore no less than four Grammys, three Oscars, two Golden Globes, and a raft of other awards.

It has also seen musical collaborators Fran Walsh and Annie Lennox scoop awards for their work on the song ‘Into the West’. And the soundtrack makes an appearance in the the Classic FM Hall of Fame each year.

Here’s everything you need to know about the trilogy’s enduring music.

Read more: ‘I write film music in a 19th-century world’ – Howard Shore >

The Lord of the Rings composer, Howard Shore at Locarno Film Festival.
The Lord of the Rings composer, Howard Shore. Picture: Getty

What are the main themes from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack?

There are some cracking tunes in The Lord of the Rings (thank you, Howard).

It wouldn’t be the Shire without those chirpy flute and whistle melodies, and nor would the Riders of Rohan have quite the gravitas they carry without Shore’s poised orchestral scoring.

And would Rivendell have looked quite so magical on screen without those undulating orchestral arpeggios? We think not. Here are our favourite moments in The Lord of the Rings score...

  1. Concerning Hobbits

    Concerning Hobbits is the very light Lord of the Rings melody first heard in The Fellowship of the Ring at the start of the franchise, and often in scenes of the Shire.

    The airy, syncopated passages evoke sprightly, nimble Hobbits, jumping up and down the rock steps in front of their Hobbit holes, and dancing around merrily at Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday party.

  2. Rivendell

    Rivendell is characterised by sweeping strings and woodwind and voice arpeggios, punctuated by harp glissandi and bells. The glimmering soundtrack makes the waterfall-lined valley on screen sparkle even more than it otherwise would. Sublime.

  3. Riders of Rohan

    When we first go to Rohan, we discover a magnificent castle atop a crag, and meet its horseback-dwelling people. The music for this is sweeping (like the land in front of the castle), dignified, battle-ready and magnificent.

  4. Gollum’s Song

    A Howard Shore-Fran Walsh-Emilíana Torrini collab (Torrini is an Icelandic singer-songwriter), ‘Gollum’s Song’ is as eerie and heart-breaking as the story of hobbit-like creature, Smeagol, and his descent into darkness with the powerful ring forged in the fires of Mordor.

  5. Helm’s Deep

    When our heroes arrive in Helm’s Deep, and brave fighting ensues, it’s a full orchestral extravaganza. The score is all rhythmic, packed chords in an elegant, syncopated rhythm as grand as the valley that the main battle of The Two Towers (the second film instalment) takes place in.

  6. The Last March of the Ents

    We love the Ents; those giant, living trees with personalities as gnarled and spikey as their aged boughs.

    In one of the final scenes of the second film, they march to battle, goaded into protecting Middle Earth’s natural integrity in the face of dark forces, swarms of orcs, and corrupt fighting over the all-powerful ring. The music is serene, with an incredible, sweeping undercurrent that brings those living trees even more to life.

Who is Howard Shore?

Speaking with Classic FM’s John Brunning at the time he was completing his score for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit (which came out a few years after The Lord of the Rings), Howard Shore said: “I write music every day and I have been doing that since I was a youngster. It doesn’t feel like a day to me unless that pencil is moving on those pages and ideas are being formed.”

The award-winning composer was born in 1946 and honed his craft at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied under American choral composer, John Bavicchi.

He has written scores for over 40 films, including The Fly, Silence of the Lambs, and The Aviator, for which he won the Best Original Score Golden Globe in 2005.

In 2003, he turned his score for The Lord of the Rings films into The Lord of the Rings Symphony, and conducted its world premiere in New Zealand in the same year.

A piano concerto by Shore was premiered by Lang Lang in 2010, and the composer has also dipped his foot in opera, with his first being The Fly which was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

Fran Walsh, Annie Lennox and Howard Shore pick up the Oscar for Best Original Song for ‘Into the West’ at the 76th Annual Academy Awards
Fran Walsh, Annie Lennox and Howard Shore pick up the Oscar for Best Original Song for ‘Into the West’ at the 76th Annual Academy Awards. Picture: Getty

Speaking about writing for Tolkien’s fantasy world, Shore says: “The world that I write in is very 19th-century and very green. I live in a forest so the connection to nature is very important to me.

“And I think that was also the connection to Tolkien’s work. I know how important that was to Tolkien and his writing: everything that was green and good.”

Alongside a prestigious career in composing for film, Shore has a claim to fame in being one of the original creators of Saturday Night Live and he was the American TV show’s music director from 1975 to 1980.

Read more: Five insane cover versions of The Lord of the Rings theme >

Has The Lord of the Rings soundtrack won awards?

Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings has been showered with award nominations and wins. As well as three Academy Award and two Golden Globe wins, the scores have picked up several other Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, BAFTA nominations (the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music in 2005 for The Return of the King, and the same in 2002 for The Fellowship of the Ring).

The music has also scooped four Grammys: the awards for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media and Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media in 2005 for The Return of the King; Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media in 2004 for The Two Towers; and the same in 2003 for The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Lord of the Rings soundtrack has picked up a veritable raft of other industry awards as well.

Who else wrote the music for The Lord of the Rings?

Eurythmics frontwoman Annie Lennox and lyricist Fran Walsh both collaborated with Shore on ‘Into the West’ (which picked up an Oscar and a Golden Globe, see above), and Walsh also wrote ‘Gollum’s Song’ with Shore.

Icelandic powerhouse Björk was approached to perform ‘Gollum’s Song’ for the film’s soundtrack, but declined due to the impeding birth of her daughter – singer-songwriter Emilíana Torrini performed instead.

Where can I listen to the music from Lord of the Rings?

You can listen to the complete recordings of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy on Spotify here (The Fellowship of the Ring), here (The Two Towers) and here (The Return of the King).

You will also hear highlights from the score on Classic FM.