Televisual Worldbuilding and Howard Shore's Big Shoes: Amazon's Rings of Power and the Musical Extension of an Existing Franchise

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Paper presentation given at Sound on Screen 2023, Oxford Brookes University.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022-) is noteworthy not only through its record-breaking budget, its controversial adaptation of Tolkien’s legendarium or its extension of an existing franchise, but also through the use of composer Bear McCreary who until recently had been slowly making a name for himself in different corners of the film, TV and game industries. With Howard Shore providing only the series theme tune, the cultural legacy of Shore’s soundtracks – their ‘epic’ nature and significant fanbase – left some big shoes for McCreary to fill. Furthermore, licensing restrictions meant that neither composer could reuse musical material from the film trilogies. How, then, did McCreary go about creating music for Rings of Power, and in what ways does it relate to the pre-existing musical world of Middle-earth?

This paper seeks to explore these questions, looking firstly at Shore’s theme tune and its familiar approaches to conjuring a fantasy world, before focusing on McCreary’s scores. Analysis here uses musical examples to demonstrate similarities and is divided into three sections. First, an exploration of thematic relations and a focus on the opening intervals of McCreary’s themes. Second, an exposition on the use of non-orchestral instrumentation for exoticist or fantastic effect. Third, a focus on specific harmonic progressions including chromatic mediants and other tonal shifts. All three of these facets demonstrate ways in which McCreary aims to create something quite new, while drawing on established practices that are either specifically related to Shore’s Middle-earth music, or more generally influenced by popular approaches to fantasy scoring. What is also noteworthy about McCreary’s music is the sheer number of soundtracks released (one per series and one per episode), paired with the detailed information he has provided through blogs, articles and interviews, priming this music for the scrutiny of the forensic listener and (aca-)fan.

Period6 Jul 2023
Event titleSound on Screen
Event typeConference
LocationOxford, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational