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Welcome to the blog and this collection of original artwork inspired by The Lord of the Rings and J.R.R Tolkien's wider mythology of Middle-earth. Aside from the influence of the source writing of Tolkien influence is also drawn from Director Peter Jackson's film trilogy (2001-2003) and the highly regarded Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe. The magnificent musical score written for the film trilogy by Howard Shore also holds a significant influence upon the atmospheric and evocative quality of the works in this collection. From Mordor to the Misty Mountains combines landscape, miniature-scale and composite photography to depict locations, dramatic scenes and characters from the enduringly popular stories.

Contact: johncockshaw@gmail.com

PLEASE NOTE: This blog showcases Artwork (completed and in progress) and related exhibition news. There is NO option to purchase Art through this site at this time. Please visit from time to time as this may well change soon.

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Ascension, decline and a ring resounds: essay and artwork

A Ring resounds in Middle-earth:

An artistic response to the thematic theatrics of 
Howard Shore's scores

by John Cockshaw

Ring Cycle (2014)
Ascension and decline (2014)
A scene quietly unfolds onscreen.

A well-known wizard sits in front of a warmly-lit hearth in concerned contemplation,

The focus of his thoughts is simply a ring.

The orchestra stirs gently,

The strings swell ever so slightly,

An ancient-sounding musical theme is heard, circling with a breath-like regularity.

This is an early appearance of the History of the ring as identified and analysed by musicologist Doug Adams chronicler of Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings, and this breathing quality is a trademark of much of Shore’s music but also stands as one of the components that brings his Middle-earth writing to life so enticingly.

This is a theme of many guises and permutations over the course of a 10 hour plus film score that gives a musical voice to that most central of objects in Tolkien’s Middle-earth; The One Ring.  Through this theme the ring of power is bestowed with anthropomorphic qualities and assumes its central spot in the weighty drama with ever increasing diversity as the storytelling progresses.

Variations on a theme of The Ring of Power (2014) 
Howard Shore’s film score taken as a telling of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in its own right is a tremendously vast operatic work, a masterful orchestral powerhouse of a score written in the digital age of film music. Tied to the film trilogy it works beautifully and away from it works exactly the same on account of its multi-textured and thematically rich presentation.  It is a kingly gift to devotees of Tolkien’s books as well as enthusiasts of the film it accompanies and also to lovers of grand symphonic film music who might lament the lack of that trend in film music today.  Each of the separate scores for The Fellowship of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King form a separate act in a unifying and immensely satisfying whole.

Concert performances, lectures, a symphony, a whole book by Doug Adams and a trio of ‘complete recordings’ releases have sprung from this grand musical work – the legacy of Shore’s work has extended much further beyond the film trilogy it accompanies, but of course wouldn’t have been afforded the necessity or budget to come into being without it.  There will always be other fine orchestral interpretations of Tolkien’s Middle-earth to give it company, such as Johan De Mej’s Symphony No. 1 The Lord of the Rings, Stephen Oliver’s music for the much-loved BBC Radio adaptation and Leonard Rosenman’s score to the Ralph Bakshi animated film.  But none of these offer such an extensive effort at world-building through music that Shore achieves, and that is another particular aspect of Howard Shore’s score that defines its brilliance.  The benefit of in-depth planning and roughly a year-long period of preparation for each of the film scores is a circumstance that happens all too rarely on film projects simply for the lack of time, impossibly short deadlines and other conspiring circumstances. Shore’s The Lord of the Rings is a product of its unique circumstances with the composer being involved in the film production from an early stage in its development.  Canadian composer Shore came to the production with prior experience of composing music for literary adaptations and approaching projects with an operatic sensibility.  In his 2010 book The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore’s Scores Doug Adams comments that the search for the right composer for the project was a crucial element for the production team to get right, “the author’s complex literary structure required a worthy musical equivalent.  And then there was the epic tale itself, overflowing with cultures, customs, friendship, sacrifice, adventure and danger.” 

A Ring resounds in Middle-earth (2014)
It is no accident that a staggering amount of thematic and motivic components are alive in the score, approximately eighty at Adams’ and Shore’s count and more than I will even scratch the surface of here.  The approach to the score involved the use of the leitmotif and an impressionistic use of themes and musical ideas, particularly for the choral writing that referenced Tolkien’s own invented languages.  Cultures of Middle-earth possess unique instrumental ranges, orchestrations and rhythms that release a whole manner of musical alchemy when they interact and collide.  The softer and more introspective elements of the score express the overall themes and propel the weighty drama just as much as the most urgent clashes of orchestral might.  In terms of sheer scope, let alone the aspect of a central ring being the feature, it brings to mind Wagner’s grand opera Der Ring Des Nibelungen.  Shore’s work can certainly be described as Wagnerian on account of its thematic treatment but it is understood that if Shore’s Ring work has any comparative qualities to a Wagner operatic work then it is not the aforementioned Der Ring Des Nibelungen or Ring cycle but Parsifal.  In 2011 Doug Adams contributed to a concert-based lecture Of Myths and Rings: Shore and Wagner that examined comparisons between Shore’s Middle-earth music and Wagner’s Ring opera with a focus on the mythology that acted as inspiration for both composers’ epic Ring works.

The finding of the ring (2012)
Given my enthusiasm for Howard Shore’s complex film score as a partner work to Tolkien’s writing it was inevitable it would extend its influence to my approach for building a collection of Middle-earth-inspired artwork.  It was Shore’s music for Middle-earth as conveyed by musicologist Adams that introduced me for the first time to the idea that, conceptually, music could be described in landscape terms – that it could undulate like rolling hills, ascend great vertical heights (think Caradhras and the winding stair of the Western mountains of Mordor) and descend to deep cavernous depths of sombre dread (the Balrog deep in the Mines of Moria).  This was an incredibly useful concept to draw upon when forming an artistic approach that was very much landscape focused and used photography in an impressionistic manner.  As an artist I became compelled to make small references to the analysis of Shore’s musical storytelling in my work because the score has had exactly that kind of impact.  Some of my work references this music in a less oblique manner and is noted as such.  Many pieces from my body of work make reference to the titles of themes identified in Shore’s work and express ideas connected to the music.  With references to the following pieces I’d like to illuminate a couple of points exactly how this has been approached alongside other art pieces that reference musical ideas found in Tolkien’s source text in general.

The History of the Ring

The History of the Ring (2012)
In musical terms The One Ring is the most active element in Shore’s score and presented in many states, whether it be purely passive or recombining with a host of other thematic material in its striving to return back to Mordor.  The theme may begin in isolation from all elements around it but in the progression of Shore’s score and its story arc in interacts quite actively with the musical landscape of middle-earth.  The third age of Middle-earth is very much deeply affected by the plight of The One Ring and so this musical element weaves through a great many aspects of middle-earth’s musical identity.  In the ring’s dormant, slumberous state it is alive with the aforementioned breath-like movement and it is notable too that the melody cleverly draws a circular ring shape in music.  The theme hooks the attention of the listener with a set of multiple characteristics; it is seductive and sorrowful and alludes to a grand passing of time.  For all its pleasantness as a musical element it easily transforms into a sentient force intent on plotting its next movements.  The theme also has a dangerous edge revealed in its harmony where tell-tale signs uncover its underlying roots to the evil of Mordor.  The power of the ring and the evil of Mordor are exactly the same thing in story terms but also literally presented as such in music.  One of the additional themes for the ring and built from the same foundation of the history theme (4-5 pitches to be exact) is referred to as The evil of the ring and represents the musical identity of Sauron and Mordor.  There is ultimately no separating The One Ring from Mordor and a very close relationship musically is highly inevitable; for all the beauty and seductiveness the music of the ring offers the sense of evil and dread bound up with it is ever present – like a sting in the tail.

Wraith notes 

Wraith notes (2014)

As enlightened by the analysis presented by Adams’ commentary the initial nine notes of The history of the ring theme become, when played simultaneously, the pitches that comprise the Ringwraiths theme a ceremonial chant for chorus and orchestra and the musical representation of the nine black riders.

In Wraith notes the dark spectral figure of one of the nine wraiths stands in combination with ghostly stave elements.  It is a response to the music expressing death and dread with a single-minded purpose, and as the wraiths are servants of Sauron the music reflects this lifeless slavishness; this is literally music without life and as Adams point out ‘the melody line is almost mono-rhythmic and without contour, and creates its sense of deadly anticipation through ever-expanding voicings’.

Dark places of the world 

Dark places of the world (2014)
The title of the artwork Dark places of the world references a very specific thematic element in Shore’s writing – although it does not correlate exactly to what I have shown here visually rather its reference is much more impressionistic.  Shore’s theme of this name is a three-note brass element, layered vertically to provide a rising threat of dissonance for the most evil of moments in the mines of Moria; the fellowship’s fleeing from danger in the Khazad-Dum sequence.  Despite the theme title being directly referenced in this piece the content of the scene is set much earlier when the fellowship venture through the great halls and cavernous chambers of the dwarf city of Dwarrowdelf.  The impending encounter with the Balrog is foreshadowed ominously by the fire-like glow reflected upon the pillars of the scene and the hint of fire to the back of the composition.  The beast is out of sight for now but its presence and the threat it represents is perilously near.  The scene of the artwork also references the musical theme for Dwarrowdelf itself.  The halls of this city bestow an ancient grandeur and typify the industry and aspirational craft of the dwarves.  Howard Shore’s section of the film score for this specific location expresses this in expert strokes, the music of Dwarrowdelf reaches high to mirror the ambition of the dwarves but falls short of its reach only to fall solemnly into despair.  Any sense of majesty still evoked is twinned firmly with tragedy and the whole scene is now ominously empty and quiet – all but for the company of the fellowship who are truly dwarfed by the scale of the pillars and the enveloping empty space.  At this point in the story events will take a dire turn before they get better.  Appropriate to the ascending and descending characteristic of the music for Dwarrowdelf a subtle musical reference has been coded into the artwork by way of the huge pillars; rotate and view the artwork in landscape orientation will reveal the suggestion of musical staves.  When the piece is viewed in portrait orientation as intended these elements stand vertically to express the music’s ascending lift and simultaneous dismal fall into gloom and ruin.

DETAIL: Dark places of the world (2012)

The dreams of trees unfold 

The dreams of trees unfold (2012)
Treebeard uses song in his exchanges with Merry and Pippin upon their meeting in Fangorn Forest and the meeting is cause of a fair amount of wonder and bemusement upon finding the hobbits or ‘hole-dwellers’ don’t belong on any of the old lists that categorise the residents and beings of Middle-earth.  A song is also the point of one of the most poignant moments of Treebeard’s parsing with the hobbits; the lament of the loss of the entwives is a deeply tragic aspect of their existence.   The sorrow of this predicament is evident in the verses of the song in Tolkien’s text and it is also emphasised in the film and Shore’s score as a deep-rooted sadness and searching existential sorrow exemplified by forlorn string writing accompanying sweeping wide shots of the expansive forest.  There is no such expansive treatment in my image The dreams of trees unfold a reference to a line of the verse rather than any assigned musical theme.  Depicted is a sense of enclosed woodland space on the edge of a much more expansive scene and Treebeard is almost disguised in the surrounding trees, his focus searches outwards as expanses of time pass in middle-earth and yet the entwives remain lost.  The sorrow of the situation sits in what is also a scene of pleasant fresh-morning daylight and this mirrors the functioning effect of the music, for although this part of Shore’s score is sorrowful it is also one of the more lush and peaceful sections of music in an otherwise weighty and dramatic act for The Two Towers.

“When summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold;
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the west,
Come back to me!
Come back to me and say my land is best.”

The Two Towers Chapter IV Treebeard p.467 
The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R.Tolkien)

The dreams of trees - portrait and figure (2013)

Encounter in a woodland glade 

Encounter in a woodland glade (2012)

A meeting of two characters in J.R.R Tolkien’s wider middle-earth writing possesses a tenderly appealing musical aspect and is the focus of the artwork Encounter in a woodland glade.  It can be said that the identity of the meeting couple presented here is not rigidly assigned and many possibilities may be presented, but the scene is ultimately very resonant of the encounter between Beren and Luthien.  Beren, in his far travels, chanced upon the dancing figure of Luthien Tinuviel in the woodland of late evening and was captivated upon this encounter.  To express the meeting of this mortal and elf-kind the couple are seen at a distance enveloped in the evening-hued colours of the surrounding woodland, and I’ve deliberately chosen Autumn colours for their rich tones and captivating beauty.  The musical beauty inherent in the natural world is one that I always feel inclined to interpret in Tolkien’s writing and is summarised in this intimate artwork.

“Tinuviel’s joy was rather in the dance, and no names are set with hers for the beauty and subtlety of her twinkling feet...the ground was moist and a great misty growth of hemlocks rose beneath the trees...there Tinuviel danced until the evening faded late, and there were many white moths abroad...now did he see Tinuviel dancing in the twilight, and Tinuviel was in a silver-pearly dress, and her bare white feet were twinkling among the hemlock-stems”

Chapter 1 The Tale of Tinuviel p.10-11
The Book of Lost Tales Part II J.R.R Tolkien (Unwin Paperbacks) 

A very definite biographical slant on the artwork is made in reference to Tolkien’s own life.  The village of Roos in Holderness, East Yorkshire is well known to be the location of a similar scene to that of Beren and Luthien where Tolkien’s wife Edith performed a song and dance in a wood full of hemlocks, which made a great impression on Tolkien to the point of it inspiring his written work and extending to the touching story of ‘Beren’ and ‘Luthien’ being engraved on the respective gravestones of John Ronald (J.R.R) and his wide Edith in reference to The Tale of Tinuviel in The Book of Lost Tales Part II by J.R.R Tolkien.

Works cited and sources referenced:

The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Shore’s Scores by Doug Adams.  Carpentier / Alfred Music Publishing 2010

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Paperback) HarperCollinsPublishers London 2007 (based on the 50th Anniversary Edition published 2004)

The Book of Lost Tales Part II by J.R.R Tolkien George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) (Unwin Paperbacks) London 1986

Yorkshire Tour proves East Yorkshire can be Hobbit forming http://m.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/ 30 April 2012. Johnson Publishing Ltd

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