THE SILMARILLION

 above: photograph by Betty Godfrey
 
the following music samples are available on the relevant pages
Fëanor           The waters of Cuiviénen: The Two Trees
Beren and Lúthien        The woodland glade: Lúthien's dance 
The Children of Húrin       Funeral March: The death of Morwen
The Fall of Gondolin      The horns of Ulmo: The passage to Valinor
 
 
My own interest in the works of Tolkien goes back now for over fifty years.  I think it was in 1956 that I was given a copy of The Hobbit by my then sister-in-law Lois Mitchison (daughter of the novelist Naomi Mitchison whose recommendation of The Lord of the Rings originally appeared on the dust-jackets of the first edition).  At that time I was so overwhelmed by it that I spent a considerable amount of time creating a dramatic adaptation of sections of The Hobbit and dragooning all my neighbours and friends into performing parts.  I might note in passing that my perverse admiration for villains rather than heroes was clearly prefigured in my preference in these dramatic recitals for the character not of the clearly sympathetic Bilbo Baggins but for the morally flawed and unsuccessful Thorin Oakenshield; this may be regarded as having some bearing on my later treatment of the similar characters of Fëanor and Túrin. 

Following this initial attempt at a Tolkien stage-work, it may seem odd that I did not then proceed to an acquaintance with The Lord of the Rings, which had just then been published; but, be that as it may, I did not.  In fact, I did not read The Lord of the Rings until ten years later, when my enthusiasm for the works of Middle-Earth was at once rekindled.

During these years, although I had learned to read music, undergone some lessons in elementary harmony, and had even undertaken some embarrassingly naive compositions, the fact that my mother was a visual artist had the result that my own aesthetic leanings in those years had also tended towards the visual arts.  I will not say that reading Tolkien afresh at the age of 16 awoke my musical sensibilities (other things happened at that time which I am inclined to think may have had considerably more significance), but it is certain that my first major orchestral work was intended to be a suite of short symphonic sketches and songs inspired by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  I still have some of the drafts for this work (which was never completed) and, although a woeful and often embarrassing lack of experience is apparent, a not inconsiderable number of the musical motifs and themes in these drafts often found their way (in a transmuted guise) into later works.  The initial idea for the theme of Sauron in Beren and Lúthien is one such.

Slowly but surely over the years these “symphonic sketches” grew, and by the early 1970s I had drafted a grandiose design for performing The Lord of the Rings (incorporating The Hobbit) as an opera cycle which would have extended over thirteen evenings!  Although none of the operas ever reached completion, both the evenings which would have constituted The Hobbit were fully drafted and the opera The Black Gate is closed (Book IV of  The Lord of the Rings) was substantially scored—again, possibly, my liking for the flawed character attracting me to Gollum’s crisis at an early stage.  Some of the sections written then I still find worthwhile; other ones, less so.

In any event, the whole idea foundered when I approached United Artists, who had then recently acquired film rights to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, enquiring about the possibility of arranging performances of The Hobbit section of the cycle, to be encountered with a flat refusal to consider the possibility.  Much of the material already drafted, and now abandoned, has since found its way into other works; but I still find it regrettable that some of the other items, particularly the song settings, made at this period are unlikely to see the light of day at any rate in their original form (the song of Beren in the dungeon in Beren and Lúthien is an exception, being a reworking of the song originally given to Sam in a similar situation in The Lord of the Rings).  However, some of the purely orchestral material for The Hobbit was performed in London in 1971, and other parts of it have emerged in my Third Symphony Ainulindalë and my rondo for solo piano Akallabêth, subsequently re-emerging in material for The Silmarillion.  Other later works written in the late 1970s and 1980s, such as the setting of Shadow-Bride  (performed in London in 1977) and Daeron (performed in South Wales in 1985) also formed material which was subsequently incorporated into The Silmarillion.

When The Silmarillion was first published, I found the tale of Túrin Turambar immediately attracted me as the possible foundation of a dramatic work.  It was at once less discursive and extensive than others of the tales in The Silmarillion, and (presumably as a result of its early separation, initially as a long alliterative poem and then later as a story in its own right) was generally fairly self-contained.  However, the very brevity of much of the writing meant that dramatic situations would have to be largely the manufacture of the composer, and I was at this stage reluctant to undertake the sort of tinkering with the author’s intentions which would be involved (the later adaptations required for Beren and Lúthien, and even more extensively for The Fall of Gondolin, left little choice in the matter).  The later publication of the Unfinished Tales resolved the problem; there was now plentiful (in places, indeed, excessive!) material which could be employed.  And, as soon as I realised this, I wrote at once to Rayner Unwin and, after sight of the proposed text and hearing a section of the opening scene, received agreement to proceed.

An additional problem now presented itself.  I had originally thought of the proposed work as a straightforward opera, presented in conventional scenes; but it soon became clear that, since some excision of the various episodes in the original story was essential to keep the work within reasonable bounds (in The Children of Húrin Mîm and the outlaws were early casualties) there was also a need for a narrative element which might provide some commentary, and this was resolved by incorporating some choral episodes into the interludes between scenes.  This choral element was somewhat increased as work on the score progressed, until in later works like Fëanor it completely takes over the whole action for the first three scenes.  The result is something of a hybrid; although The Silmarillion could well be staged as a series of operas, it could also be performed in a purely concert version and thus might be attractive to choral societies as an alternative to similar semi-dramatic works such as The Dream of Gerontius or The Damnation of Faust.  The chorus thus assumes the role of the teller of the tales, filling both a functional and a dramatic role.  Against this background the soloists assume the dramatic function.

It was only following the performance of sections of The Children of Húrin by the Tolkien Society in 1982 that I was sent a draft libretto by Denis Bridoux for a proposed Beren and Lúthien.  This was wildly different in almost every way from the final text as used in the cycle, which derives from my own drafts made at that time; scenes that he had included, I had omitted, and vice versa; and the two versions had not even been able to agree in a three-act structure where the breaks between acts should fall.  Nonetheless this in its turn set me thinking, and expanded my thinking in a somewhat alarming direction.  I had already been perturbed by the sheer weight of explanation which had perforce been omitted from Húrin and, idly toying with the idea, sketched out in one evening a complete four-opera cycle.  Between them these four legends contained a brief summary of the whole history of the First Age of Middle-Earth.  I immediately dismissed the idea as nonsense; I wrote to Helen Armstrong of the Tolkien Society in January 1983 that there was nothing like enough text for a first act of Fëanor and far too many characters involved for straightforward explanation to be possible; also that there was no text at all for the end of The Fall of Gondolin (unless one returned to a wholesale reworking and rewording of the early 1917-1920 drafts), and that there were dreadful gaps in structure everywhere.  It will be seen in what manner and by what means these drawbacks were gradually obviated.

I would like to make some observations on the manner in which I approached the Tolkien texts.  It was immediately apparent when I came to look at the story of The Children of Húrin that it would be impossible to render the work fully self-contained without also including  substantial  explanatory   references  to  other  sections of The Silmarillion, which in their turn would seriously unbalance the work; music is not at its best when dealing with extensive explanations, even in Wagner.  Such basic premises of the plot as who Morgoth was, how Húrin’s family came to be in Dor-lómin, or even how Húrin came to be in Morgoth’s power at all, had to be taken on trust.  Some other names could be glossed for the benefit of “non-specialist” audiences (for example, “the earth” could be substituted for “Arda” where it occurs) but others, such as Angband or Doriath, could not, and again these had to be taken as read.

Faced with these explanatory problems, Christopher Tolkien did at one stage suggest to me that any attempt to preserve narrative appearances should be foregone; but I was anxious as far as possible to maintain a dramatic unity and, moreover, amongst all these considerations to retain wherever feasible the exact wording of the author (again, in Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin, where the original texts were written at different periods and in vastly different styles, other compromises had to be sought).  Obviously all these were incompatible criteria, but with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien I have contrived to overcome some of them, and I hope that it may be thought that the efforts have been worthwhile.  I have, incidentally, taken the precaution of “trying out” the text in isolation on various friends who had not read The Silmarillion and I am happy to report that they have confirmed that the final text does indeed hold together in its own right.

In The Lord of the Rings the plot proceeded by way of a series of overlapping stories, one proceeding in isolation and then being tied up in due course with another subplot (the BBC radio adaptation of the 1980s “rationalised” this by introducing a purely chronological order—later restored—as did Peter Jackson’s cycle of films).  In The Silmarillion Tolkien retained for the most part a strictly chronological approach, but in the context of a cycle consisting of four parts each of which was intended to be performable in isolation, it has been necessary to considerably alter this.  The strict chronological sequence would be something like this:

 

Fëanor, Prelude and Scenes 1-5

Fëanor, Scene 9 [first part]

Fëanor, Scenes 6-8

Fëanor, Scene 9 [second part]

The Fall of Gondolin, Prologue and Scenes 1-3

Beren and Lúthien, Prologue

Fëanor, Epilogue [taking the story in its original form]

Beren and Lúthien, Scenes 4-9

The Children of Húrin, Prologue and Scenes 1-5

The Fall of Gondolin, Scene 4

The Children of Húrin, Scene 7

The Fall of Gondolin, Scenes 5-6

The Children of Húrin, Scene 6

The Children of Húrin, Scenes 8-9

The Fall of Gondolin, Scene 7

The Children of Húrin, Epilogue

Beren and Lúthien, Epilogue

The Fall of Gondolin, Scenes 8-9 and Epilogue
 

This may seem like a frightful tangle, but in context it does seem to work.  The Silmarillion is not therefore like Wagner’s Ring or Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha (to take two examples) where dramatic and musical logic demands that the work be performed in one particular order.  It would be conceivable that in a complete performance of the Silmarillion cycle, the four works could be performed in any order (except that Fëanor clearly comes first) without doing violation to dramatic sense.  But the music is not similarly amenable to rearrangement.  Even though Húrin was written first, and Beren last, the sketching of the music for the whole of the cycle, and its composition, was always intended as an evolving unity.  The theme of Doriath, for example, only partially given in Húrin, is clearly a development of its earlier appearances in the first scene of Fëanor and (more elaborately) in the fourth scene of Beren.  To perform the individual sections of the whole in a rearranged order would  disturb this carefully designed evolution.

This analysis is intended as an exploration of the whole of The Silmarillion cycle, and intends to explain how the text and the music were adapted and composed, as well as to give some insight into the mythological, psychological and other considerations which underlay the construction of the work.  I should perhaps add that these are purely my own considerations in regard to the sequence of epic scenes which constitute the musical work, and have of course no validity in the context of Tolkien’s own considerations in the literary work which underlies the cycle; these considerations are exhaustively dealt with in Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle-Earth, especially in volumes 1-5 and 10 onwards, without which indeed the composition of the musical work would have been impossible.

The index of themes given below gives brief ‘titles’ for all the motifs in the cycle as a whole, cited in the musical analyses of each individual work.
 

INDEX OF THEMES

 

1              Ilúvatar

2              The Valar

3              Elbereth and the Stars

4              Morgoth

5              Yavanna and Nature

6              The Night of Nought

7              The Earth

8              The Elves

9              Angband (I)

10           The Elvenkingdoms, later Doriath

11           Morgoth as Stirrer of  Strife (I)

12           Morgoth as Stirrer of Strife (II)

13           Desire for Light

14           Evil

15           Glaurung

16           The Orcs

17           Thunderstorm

18           Morgoth’s Curse [original]

19           Mandos

20           Rebirth

21           The Trees of Valinor

22           Finwë, later Finrod

23           Fëanor

24           Fire

25           Fingolfin

26           The Silmarils

27           Ungoliant

28           Yea, with both hands

29           The Sea [original]

30           Morgoth’s Advance (I)

31           Morgoth’s Advance (II)

32           The Sea [definitive]

33           Loss

34           Death of Finwë

35           I am the Elder King

36           Fëanor’s Curse

37           Come away!

38           Fair shall the end be

39           The Oath [definitive]

40           The Oath [original]

41           Morgoth Bauglir

42           Humanity [1st phrase,  original]

43           Ulmo

44           Kinslaying (I)

45           Kinslaying (II)

46           Storms

47           The anger of the Sea

48           The shores of Middle-Earth (I)

49           Banishment

50           Treason

51           Murder

52           Humanity [2nd phrase]

53           The Balrogs

54           The shores of Middle-Earth (II)

55           The burning of the ships

56           Death of Fëanor

57           Dagor Bragollach

58           Battle (I)

59           Battle (II)

60           Battle (III)

61           Sauron

62           Beren

63           Beren’s heroic deeds

64           Nargothrond

65           Gorlim

66           Eilinel

67           Daunting [original]

68           Sauron’s enchantment

69           Tarn Aeluin

70           Beren’s lament

71           Vision of peace

72           Desire for vengeance

73           Daeron (I)

74           Daeron (II)

75           Lay of Leithian (I)

76           Lay of Leithian (II)

77           Lúthien (I)

78           Lúthien (II)

79           Beren and Lúthien

80           Beren’s desire

81           Lúthien’s dance (I)

82           Lúthien’s dance (II)

83           Beren’s despair

84           Thingol

85           Death

86           Melian

87           Beren’s Oath

88           Daunting [definitive]

89           The wolf

90           Namárië

91           Beyond all towers

92           Sauron’s defiance

93           Love (I)

94           Angband (II)

95           The plain of thirst

96           Lúthien’s disguise

97           Morgoth [developed]

98           Morgoth enthroned

99           Morgoth [softened]

100         Morgoth’s desire

101         Lúthien’s dance (III)

102         The Eagles

103         Beren dying

104         Farewell now here

105         Beloved fool

106         Love (II)

107         Death to Life

108         Húrin, later Túrin

109         Morgoth’s Curse [definitive]

110         The sword

111         Morwen

112         The Narn [original]

113         The House of Hador

114         Woodland gleams

115         Niënor

116         Beleg Cúthalion

117         Mablung

118         Túrin’s shadow

119         Lightning

120         Gwindor (I)

121         Gwindor (II)

122         Gwindor (III)

123         Finduilas

124         Winter

125         Humanity [1st phrase, definitive]

126         Túrin and Finduilas

127         Túrin’s defiance

128         Túrin haunted by dreams

129         Túrin driven away by Glaurung

130         Wood of Brethil

131         Love (III)

132         The Men of Brethil

133         Brandir

134         Túrin’s recovery

135         All my deeds

136         Turambar

137         Níniel

138         “Kullervo”

139         Mourning

140         The Narn [definitive]

141         Tuor

142         Wedding March

143         Voyage over the Ocean

144         Gondolin (I)

145         Gondolin (II)

146         Gondolin (III)

147         Idril Celebrindal

148         Aredhel

149         The ride of Aredhel

150         Nan Elmoth [original]

151         Turgon

152         The Law of Gondolin

153         The woods

154         Nan Elmoth [definitive]

155         Eöl

156         Eöl and Aredhel

157         And they wandered far

158         Maeglin

159         Ecthelion

160         Caragdûr

161         Sufferings of Mankind

162         Voronwë

163         Voronwë’s voyage

164         Akallabêth [1st phrase]

165         Akallabêth [2nd phrase]

166         Sauron [developed]

167         Tuor’s vision

168         In a dim and perilous region

169         The swell of the Ocean

170         The union of Elves and Men

171         Idril’s sympathy

172         Wedding bells

173         Love of Tuor and Idril (I)

174         Love of Tuor and Idril (II)

175         Hymn to Ilúvatar

176         Eärendil

177         The fall of Maeglin

178         The lapping of the waves

179         I know a window

 

 

The style of this analysis is based upon that adopted by Ernest Newman in his description of Wagner’s Ring - a summary of the plot with musical references to illustrate the use of the various motifs in that context. As such it has a tendency to become a series of cross-references which may give the impression that the whole score is simply a tapestry of various motifs in counterpoint with each other. This is misleading. My personal use of the motifs is far more instinctive and much more of a purely emotional reaction to the text than the analysis in isolation may convey.

An alternative form of analysis might be based on the formal approach adopted by Deryck Cooke is his description of the Ring issued on CD, taking the basic forms of the various motifs and showing how they are related to each other. For example, the motif of the Elves (8) is clearly a close cousin to that described as “Voyage over the Ocean” (143) and in my setting of the Lay of Eärendil the relationship is quite clearly demonstrated as one transforms into the other in the context of that score. Similarly both of these themes have a close affinity to that of Yavanna and Nature (5) which is itself later symphonically developed into the theme for the Two Trees (21). The descriptions of these themes are therefore only a part of the whole fabric of the complete score.

At the beginning of the analysis of The Children of Húrin I quote from a short essay prepared at the time when the score was far complete, but which demonstrates the philosophical and mythological basis on which the various themes evolved. This may be found of value in recognising the relationship between the various themes - in particular their various harmonic and melodic structures.

Finally may I note that the labels attached to the themes in this analysis are used for convenience only. The emotional and psychological impact of their employment is only suggested by these labels. For example the theme described as “Loss” (33) because of its initial appearance immediately after the destruction of the Two Trees, when it returns at the end of the Fall of Gondolin, clearly has assumed a far wider significance and indeed implies a sense of restoration rather than loss.

 
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