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Old 02-06-2010, 09:47 PM   #1
Bęthberry
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"A Speculative History of the Music of Arda", Steven Linden

As there are now at least two of us who have not contributed to the book (Legate and myself) who have copies of Music in Middle-earth, it is perhaps not too hasty of me to start a thread for discussion. I've chosen "A Speculative History of Music in Middle-earth" by Stephen Linden as the ur-paper.

I have long admired this paper since first reading it online and my admiration has increased as I've perused it in book form. It seems to me to be one of the few early articles on Tolkien's music that is based upon a logical extrapolation of hints and details given in The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit rather than upon an emotive response to Middle-earth culture . While there is nothing wrong with an emotive response, Linden's method is one which provides many avenues for thought and analysis rather than simple opinion. It is, as well, a method particularly well-known to many Downers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Linden, 75
Tolkien was a professional philologist, but had little knowledge of 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.
Sound familiar? I bet it does.

Linden begins by examining the tendency of many to equate the music of Middle-earth with that of the European Medieval Ages. But Middle earth is, as he says, far more ancient than the Dark or Middle Ages and he tries to place a particular musical development, the rise of polyphony, within that long span. And in good fashion he immediately finds a problem.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Linden, 77
Polyphony really did develop out of monophony [in our age], through a process of increasing sophistication and 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, Feanor and the Simarils, the Teleri and their white ships. In Arda, decay and decline are dominant, even if they can sometimes be reversed in the short term; the history of Arda is the history of the 'long defeat.' Why should the same not apply to its music?
From this conjecture, Linden then teases out a fascinating "evolution of musical styles in Arda" (77), from the nature of the Ainulindale, to the water inspiration of Elven music and how each group of Elves develop their music, to the possible styles of the music of the Edain and the Numenoreans, and finally concluding with Dwarven, Rohirric, and Hobbit music.

I won't spoil the fun of other Downers by examining some of his examples--I'm sure there will be others more knowledgable about music than me who will want to provide their own particular take on the possibilities which Linden uncovers. His speculations, though, are "irresistably tempting."
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Old 02-07-2010, 04:02 PM   #2
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Thanks for starting this first thread on an article from Music, Bęthberry!

Like her, I came across Steven Linden's article online; and it's nice to see it in book form, something I thought would suit it, when I finished reading it the first time.

Mr. Linden bases his speculative history of what music in Arda was like from the source materials in Tolkien's works, something I respect. He also has the humility to admit the fundamental difficulty he and anyone else like him faces:

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. Of particular note is the matter of polyphony, or contrapuntal music. In the real world, polyphony was not really developed until the latter half of the Middle Ages; yet there does seem to be polyphony in Middle-earth....The musical situation in Middle-earth appears to be something of roughly the thirteenth or fourteenth century. (p. 76)

When I read this, I smiled; because it is a musical equivalent of the hobbits, in a supposedly 'medieval' Middle-earth, having such nineteenth-century items as umbrellas and aneroid barometers.

Like Bęthberry, I liked his possible explanation for this problem, that music in Middle-earth was declining, and his speculation as to what that meant for the evolution of musical styles in Arda, which I'm going to let other readers find out for themselves.

One thing I particularly liked in his speculation was what the dwarves of Belegost in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in the First Age might have sung when they took away the body of their dead lord, Azaghâl:

Then the dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them. (The Silmarillion, Chapter 20, p. 233.)

He speculates that the 'dirge', which 'must have been quite chilling',

was probably a melody similar to those of the Elves, though undoubtedly lacking in certain Elvish subtleties; perhaps it was 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. (p. 85)

If any attempt is made to try and write such music I would love to know. After all, it's not any kind of music that can so scare Morgoth's foulest minions!

I agree completely with his conclusion here:

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....Perhaps, then, it is time for someone to have a try at writing the "real" music of Middle-earth. (p. 89)

I would certainly support any person or group who tries to do this.

Last edited by Faramir Jones; 02-07-2010 at 04:18 PM. Reason: I got the tense wrong, and was asked to make other changes
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Old 02-07-2010, 04:05 PM   #3
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This article is the one that impressed me so much that I thought it should appear in print, thereby giving birth to the idea of this book. Linden postulates one possible theory of musical history in Arda; others may choose to establish a different one, but they'll have to work hard to give it as solid a foundation as this one! The idea that the evolution of musical complexity is reversed from that of our own earth's music history is fascinating, and the textual evidence from Tolkien's Mythology supports it very well.

Linden looks closely at various musical styles in the Ages of Arda and compares the dynamics of their development with the Great Music of creation, suggesting as well different styles for various peoples, races, and groups.

Though a basic knowledge of musical history is helpful in understanding this chapter, the author has included a brief glossary of musical terms at the end to aid those less familiar with them.

Since we tend to enjoy speculative discussions here on the Downs, I'm sure many of you will enjoy reading this essay!
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Old 02-08-2010, 09:41 AM   #4
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I haven't read the article yet (needs to do that) but one question comes to mind - well many questions, but let's start with one...

Had Linden any opinion or argument about music in the ME in comparison to different musical cultures of the real world or is it just based on western musical tradition? So is it just the reversal of western musical history brought by applying the myth of the fall from paradise?

Paraphrasing the worn-out maxim: the Westerners are the geniuses of harmony, the Middle-easterners are masters of melody and the Indians the gurus of rhythm... and the histories of the music of these cultures vary and take different paths - not to talk of the variety of musical cultures in Africa, far-east...
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Old 02-08-2010, 10:50 AM   #5
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I haven't read the article yet (needs to do that) but one question comes to mind - well many questions, but let's start with one...
Here's hoping you can read it soon! I look forward to your many questions.

Quote:
Had Linden any opinion or argument about music in the ME in comparison to different musical cultures of the real world or is it just based on western musical tradition? So is it just the reversal of western musical history brought by applying the myth of the fall from paradise?
Linden works within the tradition of authorial intention. He, in rejecting David Finnamore's use of chaos theory as possible grounds for speculation, says that Tolkien thought "entirely in terms of western music". In his conclusion he admits there there are other possible ways to imagine the evolution of music, but in particular he states:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Linden, 89
But it seems that Tolkien, a non-musician, imagined the music of Middle-earth as something rather like the music of Europe in the past few centuries.
Perhaps a new member, Steven Linden, will register and post his replies here?
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Old 02-08-2010, 02:09 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry View Post
Linden works within the tradition of authorial intention. He, in rejecting David Finnamore's use of chaos theory as possible grounds for speculation, says that Tolkien thought "entirely in terms of western music".
That sounds a plausible POV - if and/or when it is the authorial intention we're after. And it would make it understandable also why peole keep imagining Middle-Age European music to the ME.

My question came initially from the fact that I myself have always thought the music of the ME being more like the music of our real world with all its different traditions and colours.

So we're once again face to face with the question of interpretation: should we try to understand the author and his intentions or should we make the most out of it (or should we try to find the hidden "Truth" concealed from the author and us)?

But in this case it comes with a twist as it's not a straightforward question like "is the story and romance of Aragorn and Arwen an allegory of Jesus Christ?", or "did Tolkien have a green agenda?", but a general question concerning things in the world he created but gave not too many hints into what he thought of them - or whether he had thought of them in the first place.

Like what was the first thing Gollum saw when he awoke on the fourth day coming back from Mordor? Or how the haradians brought up their children and what kind of games they played?
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Old 02-08-2010, 02:20 PM   #7
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Quote:
Perhaps a new member, Steven Linden, will register and post his replies here?
Or perhaps an old member will!

Quote:
Had Linden any opinion or argument about music in the ME in comparison to different musical cultures of the real world or is it just based on western musical tradition? So is it just the reversal of western musical history brought by applying the myth of the fall from paradise?
I intentionally restricted my speculation to western music. As Bethberry states, this largely stems from 'authorial intention'; I'm pretty firmly convinced that when Tolkien thought of music, he naturally thought of western music.

Of course, resting an argument on inferences about Tolkien's thoughts and intentions invites all manner of (the dreaded) canonicity issues. As a matter of fact, when it comes to canonicity I'm a Text (rathern than Author or Reader) person, so I am myself a bit uncomfortable with that argument.

I do think a weaker argument to the same effect can be made from the texts themselves; to wit, all of the instruments mentioned (as far as I can recall) are western instruments (fiddles, viols, clarinets, flutes, harps, etc.) I grant that 'flute' and 'harp' can refer to a variety of non-western instruments beside the western varieties; moreover, we are probably not to understand these instruments to be identical to their modern counterparts. Rather, names like 'clarinet' are translations of the original, Elvish or Westron, names for instruments that no longer exist. But this does, at least, suggest that those instruments resembled western instruments more than they did those of any other culture.

I confess this argument is not a supremely forceful one; and one could construct a history of music in Middle-earth that is not so firmly based on European music. But taken together with such things as Tolkien's Gregorian chant version of 'Namarie', his English folk song version of Sam's troll song, and the generally European character of Middle-earth in general, I at least am convinced that its music resembled western music more than it did any other modern tradition.

I should perhaps say 'the music of the Elves and Edain' - for I do think it would be quite in keeping with the spirit of Middle-earth if the Easterlings and the Haradrim, for instance, had rather non-western music.

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Old 02-08-2010, 02:25 PM   #8
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Nog, perhaps a quote from another chapter of this book answers your question on the music (whether Western tradition or not):

Quote:
Originally Posted by Heidi Steimel
All that we can do today is to compare a secondary world to our own, explaining in our languages and concepts music that could have been completely different. Only the creator of Middle-earth knew what it was like, and even he was limited by his own knowledge and experience in the primary world. (my emphasis)
Tolkien wrote about what he knew, and that means the music with which he was familiar. He was definitely more imaginative and creative with words than with music, which was not his forte (pardon the pun).

*cross-posted with Aiwendil, who said it all more eloquently - and with instruments as proof!!
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Old 02-08-2010, 03:46 PM   #9
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Wow. I for one didn't know we have the author here... Well great! (And added reason to get my hands on the text)

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Originally Posted by Aiwendil View Post
As a matter of fact, when it comes to canoncity I'm a Text (rathern than Author or Reader) person, so I am myself a bit uncomfortable with that argument.
...
I confess this argument is not a supremely forceful one; and one could construct a history of music in Middle-earth that is not so firmly based on European music. But taken together with such things as Tolkien's Gregorian chant version of 'Namarie',
his English folk song version of Sam's troll song, and the generally European character of Middle-earth in general, I at least am convinced that its music resembled western music more than it did any other modern tradition.
I think the textual evidence is quite clear with hobbits: looking at the lyrics or the instruments, dancing etc. referred to makes it look like more or less English / Irish / Welsh / Scottish folkmusic.

What I've been thinking just by myself is that the edain (and the hobbits) shared the Western tonality - with the major and minor scales, 7/12-note system etc. - but that other "races" might have something of their own.

I know it is a sham to say that the Haradians would have something like music of the sub-Saharan Africa and the Easterlings might have Far-Eastern music. It may be unimaginative or shallow but might fit also Tolkien's world-view?

So the enigma becomes the music of the elves - and the great prize, the music of the Ainur! The latter could be interpreted in the Pythagorean / Platonic / Hellenistic / Boethian fashion as to be "music of the spheres" not audible to human ear but of which the music we can play and hear is a vibration or reverbation of. I think Tolkien must have been aware of these theories from antiquity as the whole of creation in the Ainulindalë seems to echo that metaphysical understanding of music as the organizing-principle of reality.

But what about the music of the elves? To me it has always been more of a mystical thing... I would hate to think it along the lines of the corpus of the Western "classical music", or the Western tonality.
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Old 02-08-2010, 04:18 PM   #10
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But what about the music of the elves? To me it has always been more of a mystical thing... I would hate to think it along the lines of the corpus of the Western "classical music", or the Western tonality.
The one piece of music we have that came directly from Tolkien is his melody for Galadriel's "Namarië", which is in the western tradition, but certainly not "classical" - it is Gregorian chant. However, like language, this is our "translation", and the original could have been considerably more exotic. Perhaps some Asian influence could be imagined for Elven music.
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Old 02-08-2010, 05:35 PM   #11
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Nogrod - I think I more or less agree with you. I certainly don't think that the music of the Elves (or even the Edain or Hobbits) should sound exactly like western music of any variety. I just think that if one is going to take aspects of music of the real world as starting points and try to extrapolate to Middle-earth, western music is the place to start.

It's interesting you mention tuning systems, as this is a topic that has long held a certain fascination for me, though I mention it only briefly in the essay. I have thought that perhaps the Elves would have a system with more than 12 tones, but likely one of which the 12 tone system is a subset. Perhaps when humans sought to imitate Elvish music, they could not quite grasp the subtleties of the Elvish system and ended up with the 12 tone scale. I also rather wonder what system(s) of intonation they used (equal temperament, just intonation, etc.). I imagine Maglor probably wrote a treatise or two laying out the mathematics of the various systems.
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Old 02-08-2010, 08:07 PM   #12
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Wow. I for one didn't know we have the author here... Well great! (And added reason to get my hands on the text)
Actually, Nogrod, three of the authors are here on the Downs. That I know of, at least. I'm willing to bet that some of the others might lurk.

But I'm not telling. Have to suss it out for yourself. I will only say that they aren't the spambots.
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Old 02-09-2010, 09:17 AM   #13
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The one piece of music we have that came directly from Tolkien is his melody for Galadriel's "Namarië", which is in the western tradition, but certainly not "classical" - it is Gregorian chant. However, like language, this is our "translation", and the original could have been considerably more exotic. Perhaps some Asian influence could be imagined for Elven music.
I suppose it depends on your take of Tolkien's intentions. Certainly, one may take the artificial view that the lyrics and musical intention of Tolkien's songs were 'translations' of older, more exotic and arcane musical forms. However, I take Tolkien's poetry as I find it -- and I see his songs, particularly that of the Hobbits, as chanteys, ballroom ballads and English doggerel verse with which he would be most acquainted with throughout his life in and about the U.K. In addition, it is no coincidence that 'Namarië' is in the form of a Gregorian Chant, immersed as Tolkien was in the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. The plainsong chants' Latinate form and soaring monophony would certainly have inspired Tolkien in his youth and stuck with him as the vernacular musical form of Elves.
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Old 02-09-2010, 07:49 PM   #14
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Old 03-02-2010, 08:49 PM   #15
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Somewhere in Tolkien-- I think it was the conversation between Finrod and Andreth-- I came across a reference to the Final Music. And ever since then, this has always reminded me of that:

"Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the Morning Stars began
Father -love is reigning o'er us
Brother love joins man to man."
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Old 03-20-2010, 02:11 PM   #16
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Let me also express my delight with the chapter, I must add that I really like the explanation of the decline of the music, which makes good sense related to the portrayal of Arda as we have it.

There might be much more that I could write (and in general, I find it difficult to be able to post feedback to all things I found interesting in the book), but for now let me focus only on one thing which was mentioned on this thread, and which did was not covered very much (for simple reasons: lack of source material) covered in the chapter - the Dwarven music.

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One thing I particularly liked in his speculation was what the dwarves of Belegost in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in the First Age might have sung when they took away the body of their dead lord, Azaghâl:

Then the dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them. (The Silmarillion, Chapter 20, p. 233.)

He speculates that the 'dirge', which 'must have been quite chilling',

was probably a melody similar to those of the Elves, though undoubtedly lacking in certain Elvish subtleties; perhaps it was 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. (p. 85)

If any attempt is made to try and write such music I would love to know. After all, it's not any kind of music that can so scare Morgoth's foulest minions!
I am not sure if it sounds exactly the way I would imagine it, but especially speaking about music scaring somebody, I was immediately reminded of one thing every Czech person knows, and that's a reported flight of the army of the 4th crusade led against the Hussite revolution (this particular incident in 1427) - the story is that the Hussites marched to the battlefield singing their "anthem" Ktož jsú Boží Bojovníci (Ye Who Are Warriors of God) and the enemy simply fled in fear. You can find the song for example here, although I have heard it in far deeper voices too. But if one imagines that sung by thousand warriors (and not very "artistically conducted"), I think it might have a pretty strong effect. Not hard to imagine the Dwarves singing something like that either, or at least not for me - what do you think?

Even otherwise, I could imagine the Dwarven songs a bit more like this - and I think I have been always thinking about them as similar to for example the Russian and Orthodox chorals, resp. similar with usually everything only monophonic. As for the music they played at Bag End, however, I wonder if it would be also different than this - but maybe not as much.
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Old 03-21-2010, 09:51 AM   #17
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Boots A Czech anthem

I was interested in the anthem you referred to here, Legate:

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Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
I am not sure if it sounds exactly the way I would imagine it, but especially speaking about music scaring somebody, I was immediately reminded of one thing every Czech person knows, and that's a reported flight of the army of the 4th crusade led against the Hussite revolution (this particular incident in 1427) - the story is that the Hussites marched to the battlefield singing their "anthem" Ktož jsú Boží Bojovníci (Ye Who Are Warriors of God) and the enemy simply fled in fear. You can find the song for example here, although I have heard it in far deeper voices too. But if one imagines that sung by thousand warriors (and not very "artistically conducted"), I think it might have a pretty strong effect. Not hard to imagine the Dwarves singing something like that either, or at least not for me - what do you think?

Even otherwise, I could imagine the Dwarven songs a bit more like this - and I think I have been always thinking about them as similar to for example the Russian and Orthodox chorals, resp. similar with usually everything only monophonic. As for the music they played at Bag End, however, I wonder if it would be also different than this - but maybe not as much.
That is an impressive anthem; and I agree that it being sung by so many tough warriors would have had a 'pretty strong effect'!
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