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Okay, here it is - I guess a day late is better than never. Note that there is a brief glossary of some of the musical terms employed here at the end.
A Speculative History of the Music of Arda
Music is important to Tolkien's legendarium. We are very frequently told of the fame of a given individual "in song," or how "songs are yet sung" of some event, or how it is "said in song" that such and such happened. But whereas certain aspects of the various cultures of Arda were spelled out in great detail - particularly the languages - very little is said about the music itself. This is to be expected; Tolkien was a professional philologist, but had little knowledge of music (though in his letters he expressed a liking of Chopin and a strong dislike of popular music). This results in some very large gaps in our knowledge of the music of Middle-earth; and, as with so many other gaps in the Legendarium, it is irresistibly tempting to try to fill them in.
There have been many musical compositions written that relate in some way to Middle- earth. These may be roughly divided into three groups. There are, first of all, popular songs that make reference to Middle-earth - most famously, a few Led Zeppelin songs. Then there are the Middle-earth soundtracks, some of which are actual soundtracks (Rosenman's for the Bakshi movie and Shore's for the Jackson movies) and others abstract program music (like de Meij's symphony). Neither of these categories concern the topic at hand. Finally, there are actual musical interpretations of the songs from the Legendarium - such as Donald Swann's work, or that of the Tolkien Ensemble. Accompanying these are a few essays that address the question: what did the music of Middle-earth sound like? Notable among these are Gene Hargrove's essay and David J. Finnamore's page. The tendency in these essays is to ascribe to the music of Middle-earth a general style similar to the style of Medieval European music. Finnegan says: "Middle-earth is mostly modeled on medieval and Renaissance western Europe with a fantastical, mythical twist. Therefore, it makes sense to use European music from before the 17th century in a similar kind of way as a model for the music of Middle-earth." Hargrove says: "Although in a footnote, Tolkien warns that the adoption of these early medieval languages to represent languages in LOR - for example, that of the Riders of Rohan - "does not imply that the Rohirrim closely resembled the ancient English otherwise, in culture or art, in weapons or modes of warfare, except in a general way due to their circumstances," music, or singing, because of its close relationship to the evolution of language in the Middle Ages, is probably an exception to his general warning."
This is certainly a reasonable way of going about things. But there is a problem. Middle-earth is our earth, but not our Medieval earth. Middle-earth is supposed to be ancient. It seems more than a little strange, then, that its music should be the sort of music that is peculiar to the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. It becomes even less credible when one considers the matter of polyphony. For there does seem to be polyphony in Middle-earth. In Bag End, the Dwarves begin singing "one by one," which suggests that they are singing different parts. In Rivendell, Frodo hears music of "interwoven words". The musical situation certainly appears to be something like that of roughly the thirteenth or fourteenth century. But it is hard to understand that musical situation in anything but the context of the thirteenth or fourteenth century - the context of the gradual rise of polyphony and the gradual demise of older forms. And it is quite incredible to suggest that such a situation existed not once in our history, but twice - once in the early Renaissance and once far, far earlier, before the rise of Rome or the fall of Troy.
A solution to this problem may be discovered through a consideration of the differences between art and technology in Arda and the same in the modern world. There is a modern tendency to view all such things through the lens of "progress" (although I think that there is simultaneously an opposite tendency). And this is not misguided. Today's technology is more advanced than that from a hundred years ago, and we are justified in thinking that a hundred years hence, technology will still further advanced. And polyphony really did develop out of monophony, through a process of sophistication and increase in complexity. But that is not how things work in Middle-earth. There it is not a matter of making newer and better things. There, great things, once achieved, often can never be achieved again. So it is for Yavanna and the Trees, Fëanor and the Silmarils, the Teleri and their ships. In Arda, decay and decline are dominant (though they may be reversed in the short term). Why should it not be the same for music? Perhaps we ought to imagine the music of Middle-earth as declining through the ages, so that the songs of Gondor are but echoes of the songs of Numenor; and those are but echoes of the songs of the Eldar in Aman. If we view the music of Middle-earth in this way, the situation becomes the reverse of the one we were considering above. Perhaps it does not represent the time at which polyphony was overtaking monophony; perhaps it represents the time at which polyphony was giving way to monophony, declining into monophony. Perhaps the evolution of music in the Renaissance ought to be thought of as the rediscovery of techniques and practices that were lost with the decline of Men and the departure of the Elves.
Let us adopt this conjecture as a premise, and attempt to tell a story about the evolution of musical styles in Arda.
The first music, and the greatest, that we encounter in the Legendarium is the music of the Ainur. There has been debate concerning whether this "music" is to be understood literally or figuratively. I have always understood it literally, and I will operate on that assumption here (though without arguing for it). Prior to the great music there are some early songs of the Ainur: "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 the 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". This tells us a good deal. When they sang alone, it was obviously monophony (though presumably of a marvelous and surpassingly fair kind). But there is here a specific reference to "harmony"; it seems then that there is homophony in this early music (when they sang "but few together").
After these earlier essays, the Ainur make their great music. Ilúvatar declares a great theme to them and commands that they show forth their powers in adorning this theme. This brings to mind a type of music known as heterophony wherein, as with monophony, all the voices sing the same general line, but there are slight differences among the various voice parts. But there is evidence that the great Ainulindalë is more than heterophony. They have already practiced harmony, and in fact Ilúvatar says "I will that ye make in harmony together a Great Music." And we can reasonably expect their song to be polyphonic as well, for several reasons. First, there are hints of polyphony to be found in the Third Age, and it violates our premise (as well as common sense) to suggest that this Third Age music was more sophisticated than the Ainulindalë. Second, the music is described thus: ". . . a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies, woven in harmony . . ." "Interchanging" and "woven" surely suggest polyphony. Third, it is clear that there is more than one melody progressing at once. First, Melkor decides to "interweave" his own music into the song. Ilúvatar responds by adding a new theme of his own, and then another. "And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance."
If the Ainulindalë was polyphonic, we might well expect that it was the very epitome of polyphony. Perhaps it is foolish to try to comprehend the actual sound of the Ainulindalë, but it is difficult to resist. In known musical history, there have been two periods that have decent claims to being the "height of polyphony," and two composers that have epitomized polyphony, each in his own way. These are Palestrina during the sixteenth century and Bach during the early eighteenth. Their differences illustrate the great change that occurred in western music around the year 1600. Palestrina's music may be thought of as first contrapuntal and secondly harmonic, while Bach's is first harmonic and secondly contrapuntal. In other words, Palestrina's music comes out of a very long tradition of thinking of each musical line as more or less a musical entity itself, and polyphony a result of the superposing these lines. In this sort of polyphony, there are strict rules about the progression of any of the individual melodies, but there is great freedom (though of course not total freedom) with regard to which notes are sounding together at any given time. The unit of harmony here is the interval, so that those rules that do exist concerning which notes may sound simultaneously are rules about intervals between two given notes.
Bach's polyphony, on the other hand, is firmly harmonic and firmly chordal. The tradition in which Bach is embedded thought first of the harmony and then of the progression of the individual lines. In this sort of polyphony, there is great freedom with regard to the progression of the individual melodies but strict rules concerning which notes may sound together. And whereas for Palestrina (and his precursors) harmony was thought of in terms of the interval, by Bach's time it was thought of in terms of the chord.
So, which style best approximates the music of the Ainur? Obviously, there is something to be said for Palestrina's style, for it is older and closer to the styles that we expect to find in Middle-earth itself. Moreover, there is something very natural about Palestrina's style that one might expect from the Ainur. But there is a great deal of evidence for Bach's style as well. The Ainur, unlike the composers of the Renaissance, seem to have learned harmony before counterpoint (for there is reference to harmony even in the earliest songs of the Ainur). It would be natural, then, for them to continue to think harmonically when they sang the great Ainulindalë. And when the music ends in ends in "one chord" - so chords must have existed at the time. But either way of thinking about the music of the Ainur is too limiting. Bach and Palestrina may have been the greatest human composers of polyphony, but we are dealing here with angels (or gods). Perhaps it is best to imagine a synthesis, a fusion, of Palestrina's style with Bach's, and perhaps even with Mozart's and Beethoven's - a sort of music where neither harmony nor counterpoint must come first, because they are so perfectly crafted together, where every note is exactly right in both its melody and its chord, where nature and artifice become one.
We move now to Arda. The first music after that of the Ainur is that of the early Elves. It appears that song was first inspired among them by the sound of water, wherein, it is oft repeated, there lives an echo of the music of the Ainur. So we may imagine that the Ainulindalë had some influence on these primitive Quendian songs. Of course, the question arises: to what extent is water really musical, and to what extent can it be mimicked? Are we to believe that the music of the first Elves consisted of gurgling and tinkling sounds? Probably not. David Finnamore speculates on a sort of mathematical imitation of the sound of water, leading him to consider chaos theory as a basis for early Elvish song. This is certainly an interesting avenue of speculation, but it seems to me that we ought not to stray too far from the norms of western music; for surely Tolkien seems to have thought entirely in terms of western music. Perhaps, then, the first songs of the Elves mimicked water more figuratively, through lines that rise and fall naturally and perhaps even through a clear, undisturbed quality of voice. These early songs were almost certainly monophonic, if the Elves even sang together at all.
The first great sundering of the Elves occurred when the Eldar departed for Aman. The Amanyar (and Sindar) were subsequently sundered from the Avari and from those of the Nandor that did not enter Beleriand until the Second Age. And when contact was reestablished, it was the Noldorin and Sindarin cultures that dominated the Avarin and Nandorin. We know, therefore, almost nothing about Avarin music. Of course, it is probably safe to assume that it remained less sophisticated than the music of the Elves of the west; but beyond that, all that can be made are poorly educated guesses.
The next great split among the Elves, and from our Beleriand-centric view perhaps the most important, is that between the Sindar and the Elves of Aman. It would be of great interest to know whether the use of musical instruments by the Elves began before or after this split. For if Sindarin and Amanyan instrumental practice developed from a common source, we might expect them to utilize the same, or similar, systems of tuning; if not, there is no need for their respective tuning systems to have anything in common.
In Aman, Elvish music must have reached its peak. Here, in the period before the Darkening of Valinor, we can expect to find the most sophisticated, most complex music created by the Children of Ilúvatar. In Aman the Elves must have learned a great deal about music from the Valar. There would then have been a clash, and probably synthesis, between the primitive, monophonic Elvish tradition (inspired though it was by water) and the new style learned from the Ainur. This probably resulted in great diversity in Elvish music of this period. If the music of the Ainur was indeed such a perfect synthesis of chord and melody, harmony and counterpoint, as I have speculated, it seems that the Elves would have had to assimilate this style in pieces rather than as a whole (for they could not achieve the perfection achieved by the Ainur). If primitive Elvish music included neither homophony nor polyphony (as seems likely) then the whole Elvish theory of harmony would be based on the music of the Valar; so, if our speculation concerning the Ainulindalë is correct, it would probably be based on chords. But unlike the music of the Baroque (and later periods) it may have been modal. That is, it may have employed more modes than the major and minor that have dominated since about 1600. And of course, the rules governing harmonic progressions may have been quite different - and probably more free. Alongside large polyphonic compositions modeled on the music of the Ainur, songs for single voice probably persisted from earlier days. These may have been enriched through exposure to the new style. Accompaniment, based on chords or intervals or both, may have been employed.
There are a few hints about Amanyan music in the texts. Of great interest is a passage in The Book of Lost Tales, when the Elves are gathering in Valmar for the festival. Of the Vanyar (here called the Teleri) it is said: ". . . the throbbing of their congregated harps beat the air most sweetly." Of the Noldor (here Noldoli): ". . . the music that their viols and instruments awoke was now more sweetly sad than ever before." And of the Teleri (here Solosimpi): ". . . their piping blent with voices brought the sense of tides and murmurous waves and the wailing cry of the coast-loving birds thus inland deep upon the plain."
This tells us much about the music of the Elves in general and also about the music peculiar to each kindred. It confirms that all three kindreds had ensemble music of some kind at this point. The Vanyar have what appears to be an orchestra of harps. The Noldor too do not sing here, but play "viols and instruments" - which sounds suspiciously like a modern orchestra. These pieces were probably chordal and polyphonic, and may even have resembled music of the early Baroque. The Teleri, on the other hand, play pipes - wind instruments - and mingle this sound with voices. There also seems to be a suggestion that the music of the Teleri retains the ancient water connection much more strongly than the others (as we would indeed expect). Perhaps, then, whereas the Noldor eagerly adopted the new "learned" practices of counterpoint and harmony, the Teleri integrated the new techniques more carefully and conservatively, so that they retained a greater freedom and a more natural sound.
Maglor is said to the be the greatest Noldorin minstrel, but we never hear of him playing a "viol". His preference appears, rather, to be for the harp. Perhaps this is because he is also a singer; whereas for purely instrumental compositions the Noldor employed their orchestra, for vocal pieces they turned to the harp. As suggested above, songs for voice and harp may have adopted a chordal approach to the accompaniment from the Valar. But it seems unlikely that Maglor would have been content with a simple melody/chords arrangement. He may have developed the chordal accompaniment on the model of the larger-scale Noldorin music, turning the harp into a little orchestra of its own and adding contrapuntal lines and subsidiary melodic figures. This may have resulted in a sound similar to the that of the Renaissance or Baroque lute. But the melodies would probably still have come out of the old Elvish monophonic tradition; though undoubtedly that style would be altered in subtle ways.
But we ought also to remember that monophony seems to have been preserved alongside the more sophisticated forms. In the Lost Tales, the Elves launch into a song "in unison" before the gates of Valmar; and we certainly have later examples of unaccompanied song. But the style of melody employed in these songs was certainly influenced by the new techniques.
The music of the Sindar would probably be rather different, since their style never met the high style of the Valar. The development of homophony and polyphony would here be much more gradual and more natural, if it occurred at all. It seems likely that it did, for it is suggested that Daeron at times played his flute while Lúthien sang. The Sindar probably did not have chords. If there was a formal theory of counterpoint at all, it probably dealt with intervals. But whereas it is easy to picture the Noldor writing treatises and studies on music theory, it seems that the Sindar would have adopted a much more free and natural attitude. But it is important not to think that Sindarin music was entirely less sophisticated, and inferior to, the music of the Eldar in Aman. For, according to the Lay of Leithian, Daeron is "mightiest of the three" (Maglor, Daeron, and Tinfang Warble). In what ways might Sindarin music surpass Noldorin? In partial contrast to Amanyan music, melody would be the most important element; and perhaps the rules concerning counterpoint would be unrestrictive enough that certain dissonances and rhythmic differences would be tolerated between the various parts. This would allow certain things to be done in Sindarin music that would sound wrong and out of place in Amanyan - for example, tension could be created through the use of dissonance. This lack of a strict formalism may also have resulted in freer and more frequent use of chromaticism. Daeron may simply have had a larger menu of notes to choose from than Maglor. This would be more likely if (as seems probable) Sindarin instrumental music retained a closer connection with vocal music than Noldorin did. For all sorts of chromaticism are open to the voice, which is not restricted to any particular mode or even tuning system, unless by conscious design. Daeron's solo flute pieces may have mimicked the voice quite closely, while bringing the ethereal, entirely un-voicelike tone quality of the flute to bear. They may have employed all sorts of chromaticisms and rhythmic complexities that we consider "romantic" or "modern", without ever straying from their naturalistic beginnings. And when Lúthien sang, a whole new vista of harmony and counterpoint would have opened up.
When the Noldor returned to Middle-earth, they must have left a part of their musical tradition behind. It is unlikely that their "viols and instruments" survived the passage of the Helcaraxë, or the burning of the ships at Losgar. They would have been forced to develop smaller-scale, more mobile forms of music. The solo song probably rose into a new prominence; polyphony may have survived in the form of music for small ensembles. "Harps" of various sorts may have been more mobile than other instruments, and thus come into wider use (these are not modern harps, of course, but any variety of lyre, Celtic harp, lute, etc.).
As the Noldor became more firmly established in Beleriand, their music probably evolved in two directions. The more mobile style discussed above probably persisted as a sort of "popular" style, while, particularly in such places as Gondolin and Nargothrond, there may have been a revival of Valinorean, "learned" styles. The popular style was probably minimally polyphonic, suited to a single voice with or without accompaniment. It was most likely influenced by the Sindarin style (and vice versa), though in what way it is difficult to guess.
It is difficult to guess whether the first humans developed music on their own or learned it from the Avari. The latter seems a bit more probable. At any rate, they certainly had music of a sort by the time they entered Beleriand; Finrod finds a crude harp in their camp. It is difficult to guess what this early Edainic music sounded like, for the culture of the Edain was almost immediately dominated by that of the Noldor. But it must be supposed that their music was non- chordal; they probably did not have much of a system of harmony at all. Harps may have been used as solo instruments, in which case the music may have been monophonic. If the harps were used to accompany singing, they were probably restricted to a few notes, interjected here and there, to reinforce the vocal line.
In Beleriand, the Edain were probably chiefly influenced by the popular style of the Noldor, with the Sindarin style a close second. The references we have to the music of the Edain suggest that solo song with harp accompaniment was a favorite style; this sort of harp-song was undoubtedly directly descended from the Noldorin harp-song. These songs probably employed chordal or semi-chordal harmony and may have sounded roughly like songs of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. The Edain probably had little contact with the more learned, "high" style of the Noldor, which was probably at its height in Gondolin. And even if they did hear this style, it is unlikely that the Edain could have imitated it, given their limited resources and their limited longevity. Of course, the Noldorin-inspired harp-songs were probably the most sophisticated of Edainic music. It is the lords of the Edain that appear to sing them: Tuor when he reaches the ocean, Húrin when Lalaith dies (though in the event he is too grief-stricken to actually sing). Those of less high lineage may have retained more of the primitive Edainic musical style and may also have corrupted the Eldarin style. This may have become increasingly true as the Edain fell on hard times. Perhaps the oppressed people of Hador developed a sort of slave music following the Nirnaeth (a style that did not require instruments and that was easily learned, and yet recalled the music of happier times).
What of Dwarven music? It seems probable, just as it did with humans, that the Dwarves learned music from the Elves. One could, perhaps, imagine them developing a primitive kind of percussion. As a matter of fact, real world archaeology suggests that the first music may have developed among cave people who found that banging stones together in unison produced a more pleasant effect than doing it randomly. The Dwarves may have naturally developed a similar technique in their forges. But that is pure speculation.
It seems likely that the Dwarvish musical culture would have resembled other aspects of their culture. Tolkien says that the Dwarves are "at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue . . ." (Letter 176). Perhaps they also sang the songs of their country, but with a musical "accent". Or rather, they adopted the musical styles of those around them, but injected them with something thoroughly Dwarvish. We have few references to their music in the First or Second Age. At the Nirnaeth, they bear up their fallen lord and leave the battle singing a slow dirge. This must have been quite chilling. It was probably a melody similar to those of the Elves, though undoubtedly lacking in certain Elvish subtleties; perhaps it was even in a mode peculiar to the Dwarves. It seems likely to have been monophonic: a great unison chanting by deep Dwarvish voices. It would have sounded roughly like Gregorian chant, but undoubtedly deeper and probably with more use of formal, repetitive figures. It would certainly need to be a well-known song, and an easy one both to remember and to sing.
Following the fall of Beleriand, the Elvish population in Middle-earth drastically declined and Elvish culture became increasingly backward-looking. It seems probable that very little stylistic development occurred in their music after the First Age. The one thing that seems most likely to have happened is the further synthesis of the Noldorin and Sindarin styles. But instead of achieving a real unity between the two styles, it is likely that the Eldar simply preserved both styles side by side, and used them interchangeably. It may be that polyphonic techniques were imported from the Noldorin style into the Sindarin. The result may have been something sounding roughly like the music of Palestrina and his contemporaries. Perhaps this is the sort of thing Frodo heard in Rivendell. Solo songs (sounding like plainsong) were probably preserved in both traditions. The "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" heard in Rivendell seems likely to have been in something of a Sindarin vein (the language is Sindarin, at any rate); indeed, it seems to recall Lúthien's song "Ir Ithil ammen Eruchín . . .". It therefore probably sounded like a rather free plainsong, tinged perhaps with chromaticism. It may have resembled old Roman or Byzantine chant more than Gregorian. The same general remarks apply to the hymn to Elbereth sung by one from Gildor's company. Galadriel's songs, particularly "Namarië" were probably more Noldorin - more firmly based in some modal system and therefore more restricted, but also more logical, more balanced. They probably resembled Gregorian chant fairly closely - we know, at least, that Tolkien thought of "Namarië" as sounding like Gregorian chant.
When the Edain removed to Númenor, they must have brought their Eldarin-dominated music with them, along with whatever "lower" styles they possessed. The largest population in Númenor was that of the folk of Marach, the third house of the Edain. These had suffered long enslavement by the Easterlings, probably forcing them to adopt a purely vocal, easy to learn, and easy to sing style. This would naturally have become a large component of Númenorean music. But Elros, the first king, was the foster-son of Maedhros and must have known Maglor in his youth, and heard his music. So, at least in the early days of Númenor, an imitation of Maglor's Amanyan style may have been very fashionable. This may have helped to maintain the harp- song as a favorite form. But it seems likely that chords would have been considered archaic, learned, and difficult. Perhaps when a Númenorean minstrel wanted to sound sophisticated, he strummed a full chord to each note of the song. As time went on, Númenorean knowledge (and understanding) of chords may have diminished. Harmony in terms of intervals may have begun to replace harmony in terms of chords. Perhaps droning (sustaining a single note or chord underneath the melody) became a common method of accompaniment. Of course, these techniques would differ from their counterparts in the real world in that they would be fragments and echoes of an older, more full system of chordal harmony, whereas in the real world they were precursors of the chordal system. Nonetheless these may have sounded something like the songs of the late Middle Ages.
Given the resources available to the Númenoreans, and the length of time for which their civilization lasted, it would be surprising if they did not develop larger-scale musical forms. Choirs are likely to have been formed, and maybe even instrumental ensembles. It would here be very helpful to know whether the Edain knew anything of the old Amanyan large-scale forms. But I think it most probable that Númenorean composers of choral music looked to the solo song and song with accompaniment for inspiration rather than to older Amanyan forms such as were preserved in Beleriand. If this is true, it is likely that a very large portion of this music was monophonic. But perhaps some of the more ambitious Númenorean composers adopted chordal practices and even counterpoint.
In the last days of Númenor, music with an Elvish bent was probably discouraged by the king and practiced only by the Faithful. It is hard to guess, though, what sorts of music might have been considered "Elvish" - for nearly all Númenorean music would have been derived from Elvish music. In any event, it was the Faithful that survived, and thus the Elvish style that was brought back to Middle-earth. In Gondor, the semi-chordal style that was popular in Númenor probably survived, largely intact, through the Third Age. In Arnor, however, as the kingdom deteriorated, these old songs might have taken on a sort of "folk song" characteristic. The Elvish modes and the rules governing melody and harmony were probably forgotten, though many of the old songs written according to those rules were remembered.
There was also probably a great deal of influence from the music of the neighboring peoples - the Men that either had not entered Beleriand at all or had not gone to Númenor. Among these were the Eotheod, later the Rohirrim. It is very difficult to make guesses about the music of the Rohirrim, since we know so little about their ancestors. Their music was undoubtedly a distant descendant of the same early Mannish music represented by the rude harp found in Bëor's camp. But in the intervening years it would have been influenced by Avarin music (about which we know nothing), Nandorin music (again nothing), possibly Dwarvish music, and maybe even Sindarin music, following the establishment of such realms as Thranduil's. One clue we have is that the songs of the Rohirrim are invariably written in alliterative verse. This suggests that their singing was not entirely unlike Gregorian chant, with great rhythmic freedom. Their style was probably purely vocal and almost certainly monophonic. They had horns, but there is no indication that these were ever used as musical instruments (in fact, it is unlikely that their horns were capable of such use). Nonetheless, it is possible to imagine that their vocal style imitated the sound of horns in some way, perhaps relying on frequent leaps of a fifth or fourth.
The Hobbits would have inherited, first of all, the same sort of music as the Rohirrim; for the Hobbits and the Rohirrim originated in the same region and even have related languages. But the folk songs of Arnor probably also had a profound effect on them. The native music of the Hobbits is always represented as strongly English and somewhat rustic. If indeed the old Númenorean style turned into a folk style in Arnor, it would have somewhat simpler and more formulaic (and thus catchy); and it is this sort of music that the Hobbits are likely to have picked up. As opposed to the music of the Rohirrim, their music would have been quite rhythmic (i.e. not rhythmically free) and would in tunes with repeating motives and even numbers of measures.
The music of the Dwarves in Bag End probably sounded rather strange to Bilbo at the time. The Dwarves are a stubborn folk and their musical style, like their language, would not have evolved very much. Again, it seems probable that most of their music was derived from Elvish music - so it may be that the music they played and sang in Bag End is the Dwarvish equivalent of the contemporary music of Rivendell and Lindon. They clearly have a real instrumental ensemble, suggesting that such things also survived in Elvish music. For the instrumental music of the Dwarves, we might turn to the early Renaissance for counterparts. But there must be little or nothing in our music that can match the singing of the Dwarves.
That is just a rough outline of one possible way of imagining the evolution of music within Arda. Undoubtedly there are countless others. Particularly suspect, I must confess, is the game of searching for counterparts to the various styles in the music of the last millennium and a half. But clearly Tolkien, a non-musician, imagined the music of Middle-earth as something rather like the music of Europe in the past few centuries. Is there any point in this game? Possibly not - it is simply fun to explore the Legendarium and to try to fill in the gaps. But this whole discussion makes obvious an interesting fact. While there is a great deal of music about Middle-earth, there have been very few attempts at writing the music of Middle-earth - that is, the sort of music that was actually heard in Middle-earth. There is Donald Swann's music, which has the distinction of having been approved by Tolkien. But it is really quite inauthentic, in both the style (which is distinctly post-Baroque) and the instrumentation (surely there were no pianos in Middle-earth!). The music of the Tolkien Ensemble does a better job at capturing the feeling of Middle-earth, but it also has some problems. Songs that were clearly sung a capella in the book are here given accompaniment, for instance. And the music is in general quite firmly embedded in the post-1600 chordal tradition.
So perhaps it's time for some of us nerds to try to write the real music of Middle- earth.
Appendix A - Glossary of Musical Terms
Chord - the simultaneous sounding of three or more pitches. In western music, chords are almost exclusively built by superimposing intervals of a third. Such chords are called "triadic". Chords have formed the basis of harmony since about 1600, but before that formal theory was concerned rather with intervals.
Counterpoint - the technique of combining two or more independent voice-parts; the polyphonic aspect of a piece of music.
Harmony - the technique of combining two or more different notes simultaneously; the homophonic aspect of music.
Homophony - Music in which the voices all execute the same rhythm but not the same notes, so that the melody of the lead part is supported by harmony in the other parts.
Interval - the simultaneous sounding of two notes, so called because the name of the particular combination is based on the distance of one note from the other.
Mode - The pattern of pitches within an octave used as the notes in a composition. The two modes most frequently employed in western music since about 1600 are the major and minor (though "minor" actually refers not to a single mode but to three closely related modes). Before this time, other modes (the old church modes) were employed commonly.
Monophony - Music in which all the voices are in unison, resulting in a single melodic line without harmony.
Polyphony - Music in which the different voice-parts are more or less independent.
Voice-part - a single line or strand of music.
Appendix B - Some Suggestions for Middle-earth Music
Note: I've added some links to Amazon.com, where you can hear short samples of the various types of music mentioned. Bear in mind that these are only meant to provide a very rough guide to what the music of Middle-earth might have sounded like.
Ainulindalë - Listen to Palestrina and to Bach, but realize that the music of the Ainur must have surpassed these and synthesized them. Nonetheless, they give an idea of the heights of polyphonic composition that the Ainulindalë must have surpassed. PalestrinaBach
Amanyan - Early baroque orchestral music may sound roughly like some Amanyan Noldorin music. Some pieces of Michael Praetorius and his contemporaries may be appropriate. Rennaissance or Baroque harp or lute may be appropriate for smaller-scale works. But there is nothing in our tradition that closely resembles the music of the Vanyar's "congregated harps" or the mingled pipes and voices of the Teleri. It is possible that, in certain very select cases, romantic or modern music may be found that suggest Amanyan music (though of course on the whole, these would be way off). For example, there are some bits of Faure's requiem that, one can imagine, suggest the music of the Amanyar - but even in these cases, one must always remember that the modern orchestra is probably wholly unlike anything in Middle-earth. Michael PraetoriusLate Rennaissance/Early Baroque luteBaroque guitarFaure's requiem
Sindarin - Again, there is probably some romantic or modern music that is partially appropriate. If my speculation concerning Sindarin chromaticism is correct, flute music of the French impressionists may be somewhat suggestive of Daeron's music. But these suggestions ought to be tempered by plainsong - particularly Old Roman and Byzantine. French flute music
Exilic Noldorin - for the lighter, more mobile style, harp and lute music of the late Rennaissance and early Baroque may be appropriate. Also, accompanied songs of this period are probably on track. But the unaccompanied songs probably resembled Gregorian chant, and thus the melodies of the accompanied songs may have been more in this style as well. Late Rennaissance accompanied song (only in tracks 4, 9, and 20 do you hear any actual song).
Edainic - Again, the Rennaissance and early Baroque are probably the best counterparts we can find in real music.
Rohirrim - Their music probably sounded quite a bit like Gregorian chant but may have employed more primitive modes than similar Elvish pieces. If my conjecture that they might have imitated the sound of horns is right, look for pieces that employ frequent leaps of a fifth or fourth.
I have read it, and enjoyed it. However, I can't (or should not) comment because I have an appalling ignorance of the subject. However, I have called the attention of people without this shortcoming to the lecture. I don't think it will be consigned to oblivion .