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The music of the setting employs many themes from my cycle of epic scenes The Silmarillion—inevitably so, since it shares much of the same subject matter. Indeed this work may be regarded as an appendix to that cycle, bringing the whole story to an end in a manner more conclusive than was possible in the span of The Fall of Gondolin. The themes used in The Lay of Eärendil therefore have the same relevance as those in the larger cycle, and reference may be made to the analysis of that work.
By the very nature of its text, The Lay of Eärendil reflects and mirrors the musical nature of the score for The Silmarillion, and many of the motifs found in the ballad carry the same meaning and connotation as those in the larger work. Reference is however made throughout this analysis to the musical analysis of The Silmarillion, originally published separately and now also to be found in editions of the complete vocal score of the cycle; and to the analysis of The Hobbit included in this volume.
However the exact analogy must not be invariably taken for granted; although a considerable part of the musical material for The Lay is a direct extension of themes found particularly in Fëanor and The Fall of Gondolin, they are not be taken as direct dramatic parallels for the significance of the themes found there.
The very opening theme of The Lay is a particular case in point. Declaimed freely by the solo trumpet, it is consists of the four notes CDAG, which reflect the dedication of the work to Craig Harvey (Re being the French term for D). This theme recurs throughout the work, and is used to separate each of the verses of Tolkien’s original poem. But, as will be seen, it later assumes a dramatic reference of its own, becoming associated with the idea of Eärendil as the Evening Star:
The use of this theme gives a nod to the fact that The Lay of Eärendil in its original appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring is sung by Bilbo to an audience consisting almost entirely to the Elves of Rivendell, who subject the poem itself to a rigorous textual analysis once its recitation is completed. The imitations of the theme pass to violins, cellos, horn, back to flute and piccolo, trumpet, violins, horns and back to violins and horn again and are set against an increasingly elaborated orchestral texture which finally is underpinned by a throbbing A on the timpani which deliberately mirrors the appearance of Ulmo as Valar of the Sea in The Fall of Gondolin and will be repeated later (although it is not cited as a specific motif in the analysis of The Silmarillion):
The voice then enters with the opening words of the poem, which are accompanied for the first three bars by continuing statements of 1 by the violins; but this restatement of the opening theme is soon joined by a new one (21 in the Silmarillion analysis) which originally in Fëanor referred to the Two Trees that gave light to the land of the Valar, but which by the end of the cycle had assumed a more general reference to the Blessed Realm itself. Here it apparently simplistically reflects the reference to the boat built of timber, but it also has a further significance is showing the very special nature of the boat that has been created:
The statements of 2 return, but at the mention of the boat’s prow being “fashioned like a swan” a new theme enters on the oboe. In Fëanor this had a general significance as a theme of the sea (32 in the Silmarillion analysis) but it received its most extensive statement in that score in the prelude to the Third Triptych, where it had particular reference to the Haven of the Swans (under which title it appears in the Silmarillion orchestral suites that were subsequently extracted from the score). This theme will recur many times in the Lay, always with the same significance as a theme of the sea:
The first verse comes to a conclusion with a full orchestral statement of 1, given out by all four horns with their bells in the air.
The second verse opens with a full restatement of the theme of the House of Hador originally found in The Children of Húrin (113 in the Silmarillion analysis). Eärendil is of course a direct descendant of that House, through his father Tuor who also made extensive use of the theme in The Fall of Gondolin; and Eärendil will also be the father of Elros, the founder of the realm of Númenor (hence the further appearance of the theme in my rondo for piano solo Akallabêth, which tells of the downfall of that realm). Here the theme underpins the first part of the text in which Tolkien describes Eärendil’s armament:
Halfway through its course, this theme is accompanied briefly by a horn phrase (63 in the Silmarillion analysis) which will also recur in the Lay, always as a theme of battle and war:
Immediately after 6 reaches its conclusion, a new theme enters briefly in the tuba as the singer talks of Eärendil’s bow “of dragon horn”. This theme is not to be found in The Silmarillion, but derives from my earlier work on The Hobbit (14 in that analysis) where it was indeed the theme of the Dragon Smaug:
This theme is immediately succeeded by further statements of 7 and then, as the singer goes on to tell of his sword, two sword themes enter almost simultaneously. One, heard on trumpets, again derives from The Hobbit (26 in that analysis), where it depicts the elven blades used by Gandalf, Thorin and Bilbo:
The second, heard on woodwind, is the theme of Túrin’s sword from The Children of Húrin (110 in the Silmarillion analysis):
One bar later, as the singer tells of the gems that wreathed his helmet, another theme from The Hobbit (17 in the Hobbit analysis) is heard on the glockenspiel (it originally described the jewels found by the dwarves under the Lonely Mountain, specifically the Arkenstone, but here its use is more generic):
and this is followed in its turn by yet another new theme, this time from Fëanor (24 in the Silmarillion analysis), where it was symbolic of fire:
However in the Lay it becomes a more general theme, depicting the forces of nature rather than any specific manifestation of these. As such it will recur a number of times, while many of the other themes fleetingly heard here (9, 10 and 11) will not recur in the Lay even though they have a wider significance in other works.
Finally two other themes are heard, both of which will recur in the Lay. First is the theme of the One (1 indeed in the Silmarillion analysis) which in the Lay has a wider relevance as the theme of the Elder King (this reflects its later use in Fëanor, where it was also specifically used—as here—to refer to the Eagles as the special envoys of the Elder King):
To end the verse, as the singer tells of the emerald that Eärendil wore upon his breast, the woodwind and brass give out an initial statement of the theme always associated with the Silmaril itself (26 in the Silmarillion analysis)—and this will also inevitably recur later in the Lay:
This brings the second verse of the Lay to a conclusion with a general pause. The trombones then give out a new statement of 1 and this leads into the description of Eärendil’s early voyages which forms the third verse. The orchestra directly quotes one of the sea themes from The Fall of Gondolin (not cited in the Silmarillion analysis) which is also to be found describing the voyages of the Númenoreans in the Akallabêth piano rondo:
This is overlaid firstly by violin figurations which recall another of the textures in the same passage from The Fall of Gondolin, but then move in a totally different direction with the introduction of the theme of Arda as the Earth itself (7 in the Silmarillion analysis) which will again recur many times in the Lay:
This is repeated a number of times, descending in pitch from piccolo through oboes to clarinets and horns, as the singer describes Eärendil’s wanderings across the ocean. As the text moves on to describe his flight “from gnashing of the Narrow Ice” two themes from The Silmarillion are given simultaneously. The first, on trombones, describes the Northern lands where the rebellious Elves wander (48 in the Silmarillion analysis) before they are exiled from the Blessed Realm:
The second theme, on cor anglais, bassoons and strings, is the theme of Elbereth herself (3 in the Silmarillion analysis):
This is soon underpinned, as the singer two bars later sings of the shadow that lies on the frozen hills, by the appearance of Morgoth’s doom-laden rhythm from The Silmarillion (35 in that analysis) on timpani and bass drum:
Then, as the singer goes on to tell of “burning waste” 12 reappears before the return of 5 on oboe and cor anglais, and then another Fëanor theme (54 in the Silmarillion analysis) which there depicted the shores of Middle-earth but in the Lay assumes a wider significance:
and then for the first (but not the last) time is heard the theme of the Valar themselves (2 in the Silmarillion analysis), as the singer tells of Eärendil’s fruitless quest to find the Blessed Realm. It is heard here on muted horns, with an ominous muttering version of 5 on the timpani underpinning it:
But the storms overtake Eärendil, and the use of material from Fëanor shows that the cause here is the same, the wrath of the Sea itself (46 and 47 in the Silmarillion analysis):
Finally these themes are joined not only by 5 but also by another, the chaotic version of Morgoth’s theme also heard at this point in Fëanor (31 in the Silmarillion analysis):
Finally all these themes subside, and the cellos and basses give out a ppp statement of 1 to bring the verse to an end.
The next verse of the poem is entirely an addition of Tolkien’s which was made after the original version of the Lay was sent to the printers. Christopher Tolkien in The Treason of Isengard has explained how the author came to continue to revise his poem after its publication, and many of these later revisions have been introduced into the musical setting. The new verse, rather shorter than the others, describes how the sons of Fëanor launch an attack on Eärendil’s dwellings in Arvernien, and as such it of course utilises a good many other themes from Fëanor. The first of these is the theme of Fëanor himself (23 in the Silmarillion analysis):
The second is the theme of the Oath sworn by the sons of Fëanor (39 in the Silmarillion analysis):
The third is the theme of Battle first heard in the prologue to Beren and Lúthien (59 in the Silmarillion analysis):
All three of these themes are combined as the singer describes the attack, culminating in a massive statement of 26, before a new theme emerges. This is the motif of Elwing, Eärendil’s wife abandoned by him when he commenced his sea voyages; she is the grand-daughter of Beren and Lúthien, and has in her keeping the Silmaril which her grandparents took from Morgoth’s crown in that section of The Silmarillion:
This theme is not to be heard anywhere else in the composer’s Tolkien works; but it is immediately taken up by the woodwind and strings as the singer describes how Elwing throws herself into the sea to escape capture and the loss of the Silmaril (to the accompaniment of woodwind runs springing out of 28). At the end of this passage the timpani thunder out 1 very briefly before the next verse begins.
As Elwing comes to Eärendil bearing the Silmaril, 28 leads into 14 and this is developed at some length as he binds it upon his brow. As he turns his ship to make his way back across the seas, a new version of 15 is taken up as a string ostinato:
and this is then combined with the original version of 15 to underpin first 20 and then the theme of the Banishment of the Elves pronounced by Mandos (49 in the Silmariullion analysis), which Eärendil is now defying by the power of the Silmaril he bears:
As he passes away across the Ocean, the flute delivers a gentle reminder of 1 to bring the verse to an end.
The next verse contrasts three themes which are presented simultaneously, as Eärendil crosses the pathless seas. Firstly there is a rising theme in the bass:
against which there is presented a falling theme in the woodwind reminiscent of the Elves (2):
and these two themes are bound together with a third ostinato which adopts an idea from the second phrase of the theme of Men (6):
to depict the fact that Eärendil is bearing the appeal of the kindreds both of Elves and Men.
As he arrives on the shores of the Deathless Realm, another new theme is heard. This was not used in The Silmarillion but did figure in The Grey Havens, where it depicted Frodo’s dream of his similar arrival on the far shores of the Ocean:
and, because this is the Land of the Valar and the coming of Eärendil there will signify the end of the Loss of the Silmarils, the theme used in The Silmarillion for this Loss (33 in Fëanor) is now heard on muted strings for one last time:
which is followed by a fuller restatement of 34. This leads to a mysterious restatement of the theme of Elbereth (18) and a full-scale and massively scored statement of the theme of the Valar (21) over which 1 is declaimed to bring this verse of the poem to an end.
Eärendil takes counsel with the people of the Immortal Realm, and themes which have not been heard in the Silmarillion cycle now return after a very long absence. After a brief recapitulation of 2 and 4 comes the theme originally identified (6 in the Silmarillion analysis) with Vairë, the Weaver of Dreams:
and then Eärendil is led through the Calacirya, the Pass of Light, and vertiginous themes plunge upwards and downwards sheerly on all sides:
to be followed immediately by the fateful chords associated with Mandos as Lord of Death (19 in the Silmarillion analysis):
As Eärendil passes further into the Realm of the Immortals, more of their themes are restated: that of Ilúvatar (13) is followed again by that of Vairé (36), and then by a combination of the theme of the Elves (2) with that of mortality (heard here in the version 125 associated with Eärendil’s parents in the Silmarillion analysis):
as Eärendil consults concerning the futures of Elves and Men. The verse then continues with the music associated with Vairé as Weaver of Dreams, and after this has built to a climax a distant echo is heard of the theme of Earth (16) and 1 is heard on harp harmonics to bring the verse to an end.
The next verse introduces the idea of Eärendil as the Mariner, the messenger who will bring hope to the beleaguered peoples of Middle-earth, and it begins with the themes associated with Ulmo in The Fall of Gondolin (143 in the Silmarillion analysis), now definitively underpinned with the throbbing of 3:
As the singer begins the next verse, another new theme is heard which was associated in The Silmarillion with the infant Eärendil himself (176 in the Silmarillion analysis); Eärendil is receiving the gift of rebirth:
and as his boat is hallowed by the Immortals, many of the preceding themes crowd back. Firstly we hear the theme of the Silmaril itself (26), overlaid with 40; then, as Elbereth sets the Silmaril on his mast, 26 is counterpointed with 18; finally 38 leads to a restatement of 16 before 1 is played delicately by the bassoons.
The next verse of the poem consists entirely of a rumination on 1, played initially as an ostinato on harp and celesta and then condensed into a series of chords. Against this the solo violin and cello weave repetitions of 4 before the opening material 2 returns. This is followed by the return of 12, 16 and finally 20 to depict the “grey Norland waters.” The statement of 1 at the end of this verse turns for the first time to the minor mode, and is overwhelmed by a massive orchestral statement of 40.
The final verse begins with a restatement of 6—treated here almost like a recapitulation of a second subject in classical sonata form. It leads into a doom-laden declamation of 38 (against which 40 descends on tremolando violins), and this is followed by final statements of 20 and 39. The last four lines of the poem are introduced by a new theme in the orchestra:
and at the lines “the Flammifer of Westernesse” 4 is restated for the last time, before a massive orchestral statement of 38 and the return of 41 on woodwind. The final statement of 1 is left to a solo violin in harmonics at the utmost extreme of its range.
above: Craig Harvey, to whom The Lay of Eärendil is dedicated
The long poem The Lay of Eärendil is included in the text of The Fellowship of the Ring, where it is sung by Bilbo at Rivendell. The version published was not however it seems the author’s final version of the poem, since Christopher Tolkien has established that his father continued to make alterations to the text after the approved version had been sent to the printers. The text used in this setting makes use of many of those later alterations and additions. This is not exactly the same version as cited in Hammond and Scull's Companion to the Lord of the Rings. I have continued to use some of Tolkien's wording as published in The Fellowship where I feel he might have wished to preserve this: one example is in the line Her prow he fashioned like a swan, where I have kept the published Her prow was fashioned which is more euphonious when sung. I note that Tolkien himself frequently preferred the more 'poetic-sounding' version of the text where there was more than one alternative; but also I am now more accustomed to the words through which I originally encountered them, of course.
Eärendil was a mariner
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan,
and light upon her banners laid.
His coat that came of ancient kings
of chainéd rings was forged of old;
his shining shield all wounds defied,
with runes engraved of dwarven gold.
His bow was made of dragon-horn,
his arrows shorn of ebony,
of triple steel his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony,
his sword was like a flame in sheath,
with gems was wreathed his helmet tall,
an eagle plume upon his crest,
upon his breast an emerald.
Beneath the moon and under star
he wandered far from Northern strands,
bewildered on enchanted ways
beyond the days of mortal lands.
From gnashing of the Narrow Ice
where shadow lies on frozen hills,
from nether heats and burning waste
he turned in haste, and roving still
on starless waters far away
at last he came to Night of Naught,
and passed, and never sight he saw
of shining shore not light he sought.
The winds of wrath came driving him,
as blindly in the foam he fled,
from west to east and errandless,
unheralded he homeward sped.
In might the sons of Fëanor
that swore the unforgotten oath
brought war into Arvernien
with burning and with broken troth;
and Elwing from her fastness down
then cast her in the waters wide,
but like a mew was swiftly borne,
uplifted on the swollen tide.
Through hopeless night she came to him,
and flame was in the darkness lit;
more bright than light of diamond
the flame upon her carcanet.
The Silmaril she bound on him,
and crowned him with the living light,
and dauntless then with burning brow
he turned his prow at middle night.
Beyond the world, beyond the Sea,
then strong and free a storm arose,
a wind of power in Tarmenel;
by paths that seldom mortal goes
from Middle-earth on mighty breath
as flying wraith across the grey
and long-forsaken seas distressed;
from east to west he passed away.
Through Evernight he back was borne
on black and roaring waves that ran
o’er leagues unlit and foundered shores
that drowned before the Days began,
until he heard on strands of gold
where ends the world the music long,
where ever-foaming billows roll
the yellow gold and jewels wan.
He saw the Mountain silent rise
where twilight lies upon the knees
of Valinor, and Eldamar
beheld afar beyond the seas.
A wanderer escaped from night
to haven white he came at last,
to Elvenhome the green and fair
where keen the air, where pale as glass
a-glimmer in a valley sheer
the lamplit towers of Tirion
are mirrored on the Shadowmere.
He tarried there from errantry,
and melodies they taught to him,
and sages old him marvels told,
and harps of gold they brought to him.
They clothed him then in elven white,
and seven lights before him sent,
as through the Calacirian
to hidden land forlorn he went.
He came unto the timeless halls
where shining fall the countless years,
and endless reigns the Elder King
in Ilmarin on mountain sheer;
and words unheard were spoken then
to folk of Men and Elven-kin,
beyond the world were visions showed
forbid to those that dwell therein.
A ship then new they built for him
of mithril and of elven-glass
with crystal keel; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore; on silver mast
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
of fire unstained by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him undying doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.
From Evereven’s lofty hills
where softly silver fountains fall
his wings him bore, a wandering light,
beyond the mighty Mountain Wall.
From World’s End then he turned away,
and yearned again to find afar
his home through shadows journeying,
and burning as an island star
on high above the mists he came,
a distant flame before the Sun,
a wonder ere the waking dawn
where grey the Norland waters run.
And over Middle-earth he passed
and heard at last the weeping sore
of women and of elven maids
in Elder Days, in days of yore.
But on him mighty doom was laid,
till Moon should fade, an orbéd star
to pass, and tarry never more
on Hither Shores were mortals are;
till end of Days on errand high,
a herald bright that never rests,
to bear his burning lamp afar,
the Flammifer of Westernesse.