I imagine that composing the Hobbit’s soundtrack was a even bigger challenge than the Lord of the Rings’ one. When Howard Shore did the score for the other movies, he was still relatively unknown, the expectations were not that high. And yet he did what I consider to be one of the best musical works for cinema, ever. It’s as epic as the movies but it also stands on its own, and it’s overall an astounding body of work.
But now… now people were expecting the world of him. And while these pieces couldn’t be entirely original, they couldn’t be too similar either. There had to be some influences from The Lord of the Rings, and at the same time this had to be a new work. The movies are different, so are the characters, the tone, the time… and the question is: was he successful in achieving this?
You don’t need to go very far for the answer: take the first piece “My Dear Frodo”. Not one minute in and you are listening to the old Shire theme, and yet this music is so much more than that. It’s new, and yet it’s familiar; you are back in the Shire, but it’s a somewhat different Shire.
Howard Shore did an amazing job of creating a connection to his old work in a way that almost everyone can recognize. At the same time we don’t feel like the old themes are overused, that he resorts to the same things over and over again. So yes, I say he was very successful, and really, I wouldn’t expect anything else.
Let me give you another example: the “Riddles in the Dark” piece. At the beginning it includes the theme that we already associate with the Ring and its temptations. Here we see it used in association with Gollum, one of the victims of that same curse.
“The Black Rider” theme from the LOTR soundtrack, is also used when Thorin is attacking Azog, here one of the antagonists of the movie instead of the Nazgul. And why? What are Nazguls if not fallen kings who succumbed to power? Those who know Thorin’s whole story might take some clues from this…
It’s small details like these that make Howard Shore a great composer, and you can see this throughout the whole soundtrack. And although he wasn’t the one to compose the main theme, “Misty Mountains”, he incorporated portions of it in his own work, making it part of the overall flow.
In the end, the Hobbit is a lighter movie than the Lord of the Rings trilogy was. The soundtrack reflects that as well, while keeping the fullness we’ve come to expect. I don’t think it is too similar, nor too different. It’s a great balance of everything.
I won’t say if one work is better than the other, because I have yet to listen to the third movie’s soundtrack. But it’s a soundtrack that, although capable of its own merits, can very well be compared to Howard Shore’s previous work.