"I feel as if I was inside a song"The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

The origins of music in Middle-earth – or in the whole of Arda for that matter – are clearly supernatural. It is hard to think of any universe in which music plays a more important role in its creation. By describing the creation of the world as an act of music, Tolkien implies its importance in the actual world. How can music – in a world created by music – not remain important? We will have a look at how the author describes this “First Music”, but beforehand let us go back to our world and the importance of supernatural music: As Kristine Larsen points out, ancient world and medieval music theory was based on the connection between earthly music and its counterpart in the “spheres”. She quotes Boethius, who
described three discrete types of music: that of the universe, human music, and music created by instruments.
Larsen, 11
This fits perfectly with the music present in Tolkien’s myth: There is music of the universe, the Music of the Ainur to be precise, even though we could even say that in this case the music actually is the universe. There is “human music”, which we shall interpret as vocal music, and there is instrumental music. While in our world we cannot really say that the physical world resembles the music, we can very much say that music resembles the physical world. Scientists as early as Johannes Kepler
discovered that the ratio of certain properties of planetary and lunar motions were approximately the same numerical value as that between notes in chords.
Larsen, 12
Larsen then lists a sizable number of connections between music and the universe even predating classical western culture and refers to one of the rare occurrences of music based on astronomy in more recent times: Gustav Holst's The Planets, which opened to him "new worlds of sound" (Larsen, 12). Larsen also notes that the Music of the Ainur is one of the texts by Tolkien to have stayed more or less the same over the years and has not seen too many revisions. (Larsen, 14). For our purpose this serves to sufficiently prove that Tolkien without doubt has intended for music to take a major role in his universe, its importance having remained unchanged over all the iterations of his texts.

In this paper we will be concerned with the actual sound of the music in Middle-earth, so it is imperative to find out how it might have sounded like. We will have a look at the music of the Ainur in the following section, with an analysis of the music of the peoples of Middle-earth later on. While the music performed or mentioned in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit undoubtedly is real, acoustic music, can we say the same thing for Tolkien's "music of the spheres"? After all, when the Ainur came together for their First Music, there was no matter, so there could not have been sound waves in the traditional sense. Larsen gives us the material for one possible explanation: Scientists today are able to make radio waves sent out by astronomical objects audible by converting them into sound waves. This very frequently is done with eruptions on our sun, whose surface bubbles with a period of about five minutes, a phenomenon discovered in 1962. This "solar symphony", as Larsen calls it, can be made audible. (Larsen, 17). Now we can form a theory based on this: If we can make radio waves into music (technically speaking: sound waves), then the Ainur could have made music into radio waves. The music of the Ainur then would constitute a "radio programme of the universe", very similar to a radio programme from earth - with a beginning, an end and some content in-between. It would be possible to take this theory even further, but for now we shall leave it at that, after all our goal merely was to find suitable proof that we can indeed see the music of the Ainur as real, factual music.