Howard Shore: The Success

Howard Shore was born in 1946 in Toronto, Ontario.  He studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.  In 1969, he was one of the original members of the Canadian rock band Lighthouse.  Shore played alto saxophone in the band until 1972.  In 1975 Shore began his tenure as musical director and band leader of the Saturday Night Live Band.  He composed the music for the show opening as well as the closing theme Waltz in A (which can be seen here).  A variation of this theme is still used on the show today.  Shore again played saxophone in the band and was seen on screen conducting the band as well.  Shore (and the band) appeared in several skits appearing as “Howard Shore and his All Nurse Band” and “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band”.  He also was a main part in founding the Blues Brothers act, including giving the band its name.  He stayed at SNL until 1980, in which he had begun to score for various movies.
His first foray into motion pictures was with fellow Canadian director David Cronenberg.  Their first film together was 1979’s The Brood.  They collaborated on several dark films, including Scanners (1981), and Videodrone (1983).  While not composing the music in the film, Shore was the music director for Mike Nichols’ Silkwood (1983).  In 1984 Shore reunited with SNL creator (and old camp friend) Lorne Michaels for the sketch show The New Show (1984).  In their first work together, Shore collaborated with director Martin Scorsese for After Hours (1985).  He also scored one of the most popular Cronenberg films The Fly (1986).  In addition to many dark thrillers, Shore also composed the music to the lighthearted Penny Marshall film Big (1988).  Also in 1988 was the disturbing Cronenberg film Dead RingersDead Ringers is also the score Shore is first credited as conductor. 

The 1990s gave Shore a wide variety of styles and genres as he continued to be established as a major composer.  He reunited with Mike Nichols as music supervisor for Postcards from the Edge (1990).  The Silence of the Lambs (1991) marked Shore’s first work with director Jonathan Demme.  The score for Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) featured sax great Ornette Coleman.  By this point in the 90s, Shore began scoring more films each year like M. Butterfly, Mrs. Doubtfire and Philadelphia all in 1993.  The latter marked another score with director Demme.  Shore also composed the theme to Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 1993, which was produced by Lorne Michaels.  During an Danny Elfman/Tim Burton fallout, Shore stepped in to score the Burton film Ed Wood (1994).  Shore also connected with director David Fincher for the thriller Se7en (1995).  He continued his thriller scores for Cronenberg, notably Crash (1996), eXistenZ (1999) and for Fincher - The Game (1997).  His comedy scores around this time included That Thing You Do! (1996), Analyze This (1999) and Dogma (1999).            

Howard Shore’s rise in film music certainly had reached a peak by 2000.  He was not quite a household name among film composers, but his relationship with great directors and great movies brought him acclaim. 
A new chapter in his film career began when he got signed on to The Lord of the Rings.  He took up the monumental task of the trilogy with director Peter Jackson.  Creating tons of opera-like motifs for the films was certainly a challenge.  The scope of the films and orchestra was the biggest for Shore, who utilized large choirs and many featured instrumental and vocal soloists.  The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), won Shore his first Academy Award statue.  Due to temporary Oscar score ruling, The Two Towers (2002), was ineligible as an “original score”.  The rule was quickly overturned for the next year, as Howard Shore won Oscars for both original score and original song for The Return of the King (2003).  He also won the Golden Globes for the same awards.  The massive scores put Shore on the map to a whole group of film score fans and movie lovers. 

Even as the Lord of the Rings trilogy was released, Shore continued scoring other films, reconnecting with directors David Fincher for Panic Room (2002), and Martin Scorsese for Gangs of New York (2002).  He won another Golden Globe Award with the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator (2004), which joined Shore and Scorsese yet again.  Shore continued to go from epic to subdued music as evidenced in 2005’s A History of Violence (directed by Cronenberg).  Even after the massive success of The Lord of the Rings, Shore and Peter Jackson had a falling out over King Kong (2005), and Shore’s score was replaced at the last minute with a score by James Newton Howard.  (Shore still appears in a cameo as the conductor near the end of the film). 

Shore continued with top-notch and extremely varied scores to Best Picture winning The Departed (2006), directed by Scorsese.  He continued with Cronenberg with crime drama Eastern Promises (2007), and a very subdued score to Doubt (2008).  Shore joined the popular Twilight franchise with his score Eclipse (2010).  With Cronenberg, Shore composed the music to A Dangerous Method (2011), but more acclaim went to his score for Martin Scorsese’s children fantasy Hugo (2011).  For Hugo, Shore was nominated for the Oscar (which marked his appearance since Return of the King).  His score for Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) features the Canadian band Metric.  His most sought-after score is his return to Middle Earth with Peter Jackson.  They are reuniting for both parts of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and There and Back Again (2013).

Shore’s success also has arrived in other forms.  For example, he has his own record label, Howe Records.  He wrote the score to the MMORPG Soul of the Ultimate Nation in 2004.  His entry into concerto music has also been successful.  His concert work include Concertino for violin solo and chamber orchestra (based on themes from Eastern Promises), piano concerto Ruin and Memory (2010), cello concerto Mythic Gardens (2012) and an opera  of The Fly (2008).  In a great blend of concert and film worlds, Shore put together the Lord of the Rings Symphony, featuring highlights of the film scores, which has played around the world.  The films have also been projected with live symphony orchestra performing the score around the world. 

Howard Shore’s ability to adapt and vary his scores and technique make him a master at the craft.  His often subdued and brooding scores for David Cronenberg, to his dramatic scores for Martin Scorsese or his stunning work with Peter Jackson, his range of styles is apparent.  In this age of teams, Shore prefers to compose, orchestrate and conduct throughout the entire process.  As his output has continued to increase, his work has remained consistent among many genres. 

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  1. It was a nice blog with a great amount of detail. I am really glad to find a fellow fan of film composers. :)

  2. Very fascinating article! It's interesting how Howard Shore's life is similar to Bernard Herrmann - they both first worked and composed in broadcasting (Herrmann in radio and Shore in tv), and they both collaborated with terrific filmmakers but had occasionally had falling-outs with them.