Tuesday, February 3, 2009

John Howe Joins The Music of LOTR

Back in 2003, when I was eagerly bounding about London propping the first pages of my mocked-up book in front of any face that dared sit still for a few minutes, I would inevitably utter the following: "I want this book to have a real beauty to it. It needs to honor this beautiful music with beautiful words, photography, art, anything we can put at the service of Shore's music." It wasn't marketing boilerplate, I meant it. This was gorgeous, intelligent music for an amazing story -- itself imparted with precise, artful words. How could this book -- my book -- drop the ball? It would be an unthinkable disservice. Fortunately, I was realistic enough to know that I couldn't achieve this goal alone...

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films was written to honor and evoke J.R.R. Tolkien's writing. As such, the concept of the Music of the Ainur is a recurring device. Tolkien referred to this Music thusly:

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of me mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then Ilúvatar said to them: 'Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.'

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.

This beautiful myth is incredibly relevant in the context of our discussion. Middle-earth was literally created out of music -- the splendid, complicated music of interwoven themes. The parallel to Shore's work is obvious. But Tolkien's passage continues:

But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar, for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren. 

Some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first. Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.

This is a dramatic concept. And again, a parallel can be found in Shore's work where the commingling of beauty and brutality, joy and pain provides much of the emotional resonance. 

Tonight, I'm incredibly proud to announce that it is this very discord that has inspired the great John Howe to draw "Melkor's Theme," a new work of art that will be featured in The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films.

John and I have been in communication for the better part of the last several months. His final draft was delivered this Monday, and it's a stunning work -- a vortex of detail that exposes layers of details and nuance with each viewing. Here Howe has depicted, for the first time that I'm aware, the face of Melkor and the fury of his contact with a dawning world.

Now if you're expecting a full reveal of the work here... you don't know me very well. :) But I'm certainly not averse to offering a taste.

Thank you, John, for contributing your genius.

...And since we're on the subject, I'm also happy to announce that the book will be welcoming yet another guest contributor in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that announcement.


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