"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

After going to the physical world, some Ainur, who then became the Valar and Maiar, took physical form. Some evidently also played instruments; Steimel lists several from the Silmarillion:

Manwë, highest of the Valar, is said to have “trumpets”, in the plural. Steimel notes that nowhere it is stated that he himself played (Steimel, 92). In Arda, the Ainur took a physical form, evidently human, so he would have been able to, but not several instruments at the same time. So in this case we can assume that those trumpets were played by subordinates to mark him approaching or to send other messages. Nothing suggests any polyphony nor harmony, so the trumpets were played in unison, quite like regular signal trumpets, possibly in fifths or fourths, but certainly with signal calls, not melodies.

Ulmo, Lord of the Water, through whose element the First Music is still audible, has horns made of conch shells. He definitely plays them himself, as is described in the Book of Lost Tales 2. Steimel notes that these horns could play melodies, “producing music that is art, not merely a signal” (Steimel, 93).

The last instrument mentioned is the horn of Oromë, the hunter. We do not know its material, but as a hunter, Oromë could maybe have made it from the horn of an animal or possibly asked the smith Aulë to craft it for him, as Steimel suggests. Like Ulmo, Oromë was certainly capable of playing melodies. As to the question what he (and possibly other Valar/Maiar) played, we have no information. It is likely that they played some melodies from or modelled after the First Music. It is interesting to note that Ulmo is described as having several horns, not just one. It should be safe to assume that these horns are not identical and differ in tuning and possibly even range. If this indeed were the case, it would suggest some form of musical ensemble formed by the Valar. Why else should he have more than one horn if not in order to be able to play in different keys or for different musical requirements within a piece, for example long solo lines or providing notes filling up the harmony?

All those instruments certainly were natural horns, so while by possessing more than one instrument Ulmo would be able to play in different keys, Oromë was not with his single horn. While at the first glance this would speak against some form of Valar orchestra, there is nothing that speaks against Oromë using someone else’s horn or possessing additional instruments himself.