"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 most notable and interesting feature of the creation of the physical world in Tolkien’s mythology undoubtedly is its foundation on music. What is in the music, becomes physical reality – or at last in a form heavily inspired by and based on said music, as we have seen in the course of discussing the “performance” aspect of the music of the Ainur.
In most writings, scholars have compared the music of Middle-earth in its general style to our medieval music. In his article A Speculative History of the Music of Arda, Steven Linden suggests an interesting theory about the development of music in Arda: To solve the dilemma how a music from an ancient world such as Middle-earth can sound very much alike to music tens of thousands of years later, while having completely different social and political as well as environmental variables – our world neither has mithril nor balrogs, just to mention two examples – Linden proposes the concept of “reverse progress”:
There is a modern tendency to view such things [the development of music] through the lens of “progress” [. . .] And it is valid, at least to a degree, in the history of music as well. Polyphony really did develop out of monophony [. . .] But that is not how things work in Middle-earth. [. . .] There, great things, once achieved, often can never be achieved again. [. . .] In Arda, decay and decline are dominant [. . .].
Linden, 76f
What this means is that we can assume that the stylistically most highly developed music was the music of the Ainur. This music, performed by gods, in its technical characteristics (use of counterpoint leading to perfect polyphony, choice of harmonies, melodic properties) can be considered as the ultimate peak of music - what else than the very best could a gathering of Gods, with the Allfather himself presiding this heavenly orchestra, possibly bring forth? This perfect music was then passed on to the Elves, then to the Men and all the other peoples of Middle-earth. Ultimately, all music is therefore based on this First Music, which is the reason why in this paper we are dealing with it so extensively. Linden imagines the actual sound of this music as a mixture of the styles of Palestrina and Bach, the "very epitome of polyphony" (Linden, 78f). After this perfect, most highly developed music, all music that followed is of lower complexity and ultimately skill. Whenever dealing with the music of a particular people in due course, we will have a further look at what Linden has to say about this topic. For now we will base the interpretation of our findings on this premise: That musical development is reverse in Middle-earth, so that the older a piece of music is, the “higher in art” it will probably be.