Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Music of Middle Earth (Part 1): Elves

The elvish folk were passing bowls from hand to hand and across the fires, and some were harping and many were singing.. Loud and clear and fair were those songs... - J R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Ever since rewatching The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit  I have been haunted by the images of elves and the beautiful world of Middle Earth, and I have been deliciously tormented by an incredible longing for this most beautiful of fantasy worlds. The feeling is akin to unrequited love - painful and sweet, and sorrowful - and yet life without it lacks a vibrancy and colour, and because of it, themes of music surround me and I thrill, rejoice and am sad...

For my re-awakened love of Middle Earth has inspired me to seek out the music of the Elves - and my virtual quest led me not just the music of the "Official Soundtrack" (which I already had), but the "Complete Recordings" - themes of music that pervade every second of the movies without always the viewer's conscious awareness, and which have such a great impact upon the "magic" of the world. 

And in Youtube I found themes that both satisfied my longing, and inflamed it. They now form a constant, repeating background melody in my mind; and are behind my every thought and movement. And though I speak and walk on Earth, my thoughts are filled with the music of the Quendi...

Furthermore, I discovered a wonderful website, A Magpie's Nest which contains a record and analysis of every single melody of the Lord of the Rings movies, whether it appears in the CDs or not, and lyrics to the songs also. And reading the lyrics I came to an even greater understanding of just how marvelous the  Lord of the Rings movies were - the incredible integrity connecting the music with the story, the world and the very words of Tolkien. For oft-times in the background to some scene there would be choral singing, and to the listener the words are incomprehensible, for they are in Sindarin or Quenya, the language of the elves. But the lyrics are taken from Tolkien's writing, and they are all significant, even if they are not understood. But they add integrity to the movie, and finding the lyrics was to me like discovering treasure...

Go forth friends, and journey with me through a landscape of magic evoked by the music of the Elves 

The Passing of the Elves (A Elbereth Gilthoniel)

This piece most perfectly expresses the sadness I feel - for it is the song of the elves as they pass from Middle Earth to Valinor, never to return. In it is the beauty and magic and mystery of the elves, and their voices are sorrowful for they love Middle Earth, and although they are leaving it for a land still more fair and deathless, they mourn as they depart. But their sorrow at leaving Middle Earth surely cannot be compared to our sorrow - for to me the thought of a world without elves is immeasurably sad (although the "Lingerers" supposedly remain, invisible as the muses of the arts, inspiring humankind to the creation of all beautiful things...)

The lyrics are from one of the many Elven hymns to Elbereth Gilthoniel, the Queen of the Valar and Starkindler as she was named, of all the Valar most beloved of Elves, for her stars were the first things that they saw when they awoke in Middle Earth. The hymn is sung in Sindarin.

Fanuilos heryn aglar
(Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!)
Rîn athar annún-aearath,
(O Queen beyond the Western Seas!)
Calad ammen i reniar
(O Light to us that wander there)
Mi 'aladhremmin ennorath!
(Amid the world of woven trees!)

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
(Gilthoniel! O Elbereth!)
I chîn a thûl lin míriel
(Clear are thy eyes and bright is breath,)
Fanuilos le linnathon
(Snow-white! Snow-white! We sing to thee)
Ne ndor haer thar i aearon.
(In a far land beyond the Sea!)

A elin na gaim eglerib
(O Stars that in the Sunless Year)
Ned în ben-anor trerennin
(With shining hand by thee were sown,)
Si silivrin ne pherth 'waewib
(In windy fields now bright and clear)
Cenim lyth thílyn thuiennin.
(We see your silver blossom blown!)

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
(O Elbereth Gilthoniel!)
Men echenim sí derthiel
(We still remember, we who dwell)
Ne chaered hen nu 'aladhath
(In this far land beneath the trees,)
Ngilith or annún-aearath.
(Thy starlight on the Western Seas.)

Rivendell (Many Meetings) - Hymn to Elbereth

When I first watched The Fellowship of the Ring, that night I lay awake for hours with this theme resounding in my mind. It is the most recurring and recognisable Elven theme in the Lord of the Rings movies, and it returns in The Hobbit.

While the lyrics to the song are, like "The Passing of the Elves", taken from a hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel, this song has none of the former's sorrow, for it is not a lament, but full of deep joy and a worshiping of beauty.

Nef Elbereth Gilthoniel 
(O Elbereth Star-kindler) 
Silivren penna míriel 
(There slants down like shining jewels) 
Elbereth Gil...

Give up the Halfling

This piece of music is stirring and heroic, emphasising the courage inherent in the elves. Although I know some Tolkien purists disliked that in the Fellowship Arwen faces down the Black Riders, I personally always shiver with admiration and inspiration when she raises her sword and calls "If you want him, come and claim him!" then invokes the waters to gallop down and wash the enemies away.

The lyrics are in three languages, Sindarin, Adûnaic (the language of the Men of Numenor) and English.

The woman's voice sings from the Lay of Luthien Tinuviel, and her words are:

Tinuviel elvanui 
(Tinuuviel the elven-fair) 
Elleth alfirin 
(Immortal maiden)

The chanting of the Ringwraiths are:
Nêbâbîtham Magânanê
(We renounce our Maker)
Nêtabdam dâur-ad
(We cleave to the darkness)
Nêpâm nêd abârat-aglar
(We take unto ourselves the power and glory)
îdô Nidir nênâkham
(Behold! We are the Nine)
Bârî’n Katharâd
(Lords of Unending Life)

Then in English Arwen sings to Frodo:

What grace is given me
Let it pass into him
Let him be spared
Mighty Valar
Save him

Enya - Aniron

This is the most enchanting and ethereal love-song ever written, worthy of the tale of a love such as that of Arwen and Aragorn, immortal elf and mortal man. The lyrics are exquisite - and yet the "desire" for of Aragorn for Arwen Undomiel is like the impossible desire of a man for a star, so beautiful and out of reach. Well is she named "The Evenstar" - the star that shines like hope in the darkness of Aragorn's lonely road, a light beyond the fires of battle and above the evil and death - but, as he fears she could also represent the star that glimmers unobtainable above. Yet in this scene she gives him the Elfstone - her star-like pledge. Without her free choice, the man could never reach the star - but if she chose, she could give it to him. And so she does, forsaking of free will her immortality.

O môr henion i dhu: 
(From darkness I understand the night) 
Ely siriar, êl síla 
(dreams flow, a star shines.) 
Ai! Aníron Undómiel 
(Ah! I desire Evenstar.)

El eria e môr 
(Look! A star rises out of the darkness.) 
I 'lir en êl luitha 'uren 
(The song of the star enchants my heart). 
Ai! Aníron... 
(Ah! I desire...)

The Diminishment of the Elves (Gilraen's Memorial)

This song contains the theme of "The Diminishment of the Elves" (yet another Hymn to Elbereth sung sorrowfully), but also deals with the concept of destiny for Aragorn and Arwen. Gilraen was Aragorn's mother, and she named him "Estel" or Hope, after his father was killed and she feared that evil would take her son before he was grown. So the young Aragorn was raised in Rivendell, and there he fell in love with Arwen, Elrond's daughter. The first two verses of the song are heard when Aragorn kneels by the statue of his mother, and deal with her love and care and fear for her son, but as though the words were singing through his mind and in his memory (hence the male singer). The second and third verses are sung concurrently, by two different choirs, one continuing Gilraen's song and the other beginning "The Diminishment of the Elves" -  as if one choir sings of Aragorn's destiny as his "father's son" (the king of Gondor), and the other of Arwen's inevitable "diminishment" if she does not go to the West - the two fates that bode to promise hardship and sorrow on them both, and doom upon the union of elf and mortal man...

From the doleful vocals the instrumentals after the singing become hopeful, and eventually build to a glorious, confident and heroic theme - the binding of the Fellowship.

Estel (Hope.)   Le iôn adar lín (You are your father's son.) U iôn naneth lín  (Not your mother's child,) A ché neg a ion neg (Little boy, little one.)

 Tolo na rengyne thei lien (Come into my arms.Slaying demons in the shadows) Dan na si fuin  (Night is falling).

 ... ilos lelin na thon (...white, I sing to you) Nefaer sí nefaearon (Beyond the sea, here beyond the great sea.)
Aragorn at the memorial of Gilraen, his mother

Arwen's Song

Unusually for the Elven songs, this one is sung in English rather than Quenya or Sindarin, yet the melody is haunting and ethereal and very Elven sounding. Arwen sings this as Aragorn leaves her for Rohan, and she sings of the inevitability of his destiny, the approaching darkness; of her bleakness and loneliness, and the fading of the glory of the elves. For she cannot wait for him forever - she must go to Valinor or if she remains, the shadow of Mordor may kill her, unless Aragorn embraces his kingship.  But as yet he refuses to do so...

With a sigh you turn away
With a deepening heart
No more words to say
You will find that the world
Has changed forever
And the trees are now turning
From green to gold
And the sun is now fading
I wish I could hold you closer

Arwen's Fate (The Grace of the Valar)

This song is another Elven song of mortality - it is heard as Arwen revives Aragorn in the river, by the "grace of the Valar", but it warns of the inevitability of death for Men, reminding that though Aragorn's life can be spared by miraculous means once, his death is an inescapable doom, and the decision that Arwen must make is whether or not to share his doom. The song is sung in Sindarin.

Immen dúath caeda
(Shadow lies between us)
Sui tollech, tami gwannathach omen
(as you came, so you shall leave from us)
Lû ah alagos gwinnatha bain
(time and storm shall scatter all things)
Boe naer gwannathach, annant uich ben-estel
(Sorrowing you must go, and yet you are not without hope)
An uich gwennen na ringyrn e-mbar han
(For you are not bound to the circles of this world.)
Uich gwennen na 'wanath ah na dhín.
(You are not bound to loss and silence.)

Boe naid bain gwannathar, 
(All things must pass away) 
Boe cuil ban firitha. 
(All life is doomed to fade…)
Arwen revives Aragorn

The lyrics of the song are ambiguous - they could refer to Arwen's difficult choice (for she is not bound to mortality and has the chance to depart Middle Earth for Valinor), or it could refer to Illuvatar's "gift" of mortality to humanity- of the souls of Men being able to depart the world entirely and go beyond the Houses of Mandos (where the souls of elves go before being reborn), for places unknown.

This second meaning is supported by one of Tolkien's Appendices to the Lord of the Rings where Aragorn, after a long and happy life chooses to "give up his life" before he becomes a dotard and incapable. Arwen tries to persuade him not to do this, but he tells her that his time is come and that she should now leave him and go to the West.

"Nay, dear lord," she said, "that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear the hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.
"So it seems," he said. "But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory, Farewell!" 
Arwen at the deathbed of Aragorn

The Grace of Undomiel

This song is a foreboding - a revelation of what would follow should Arwen decide to leave for Valinor with the rest of the Elves;  the consequences of what thus "would never be" ; of her regret and pining, and her immortal life without Aragorn. In this scene, Arwen has a vision of the son she would have if she stayed, she suddenly realises that though her father's prophecy of her future desolation when Aragorn eventually succumbs to his mortality is true, the sorrow would be worth it if she had a love-filled life and a child. The music that stirs when she makes her momentous decision to turn back is spine-tingling and triumphant.

Ngîl cennin eriel vi aduial
(I saw a star rise high in the sky)
Glingant sui mîr
(It hung like a jewel)
Síliel mae.
(Softly shining.)
Ngîl cennin firiel vi aduial,
(I saw a star fade in the sky)
Dúr, dúr i fuin
(The dark was too deep and so light died)
Naenol mae.
(Softly pining)
An i ú nathant
(For what might have been)
An i naun ului
(For what never was)
A chuil, anann cuiannen
(For a life, long lived)
A meleth, perónen
(For a love half given)

Arwen's vision

Lament for Gandalf

In the moonlit, echoing forest the Elves of Lothlorien mourn the death of Gandalf, and in their lament call upon him by his older names, Olorin the maiar, and Mithrandir. The first verse is sung in Quenya, and the second in Sindarin - both Elven languages - a combination which implies a universal lament on behalf of all the Quendi, for the fallen Gandalf.

A Olórin i yáresse
(O Olórin whom in time past)
Mentaner i Númeherui
(The West-lords sent)
Tírien i Rómenori
(To guard the East-lands)
Maiaron i oiosaila
(Of Maiar, the Ever-wise)
Manan elye etevanne
(What drove you to leave)
Nórie i malanelye?
(That which you loved?

Mithrandir, Mithrandir!
A Randir Vithren!
(O Pilgrim Grey)
(You will not wander)
 amar galen
(the green earth)
I reniad lín ne môr, nuithannen
(Your journey in darkness, ended.)
In gwidh ristennin,
(The bonds cut,)
i fae narchannen
(the spirit rent)
I Lach Anor
(The Flame of Anor)
ed ardhon gwannen
(From earth departed)
Calad veleg, ethuiannen.
(A great light, blown out.)

And then the chorus deals with the passing of the elves... It is sung in Quenya.

Melmelma nóren sina
(Our love for this land)
Núra lá earo núri
(Is deeper than the deeps of the sea)
Ilfirin nairelma
(Our regret is undying)
Ar ullume nucuvalme
(Rather than submit)
Nauva i nauva.
(What should be shall be.)


The Host of the Eldar

This song appears as a herald of relief for the beleagured mortal forces of the Rohan, led by King Theoden, and as they march to honour the ancient allegience between human and elf, they chant powerfully of the fall of the forces of evil. Yet the second verse belies their confidence, and reveals their sacrifice, although the mortals do not understand their song (for it is in Quenya). The elves were not bound to help the Rohirrim, and they could have left for the Grey Havens and thus passed to safety without loss of life. As they are ageless, so their love for life increases - and their love for the land. Thus they fight, but their "regret is undying" for whether they die in battle or leave for the Grey Havens after victory, they must leave Middle Earth forever... This second verse is a repeat of the chorus of the "Lament for Gandalf", thus presaging sorrow and loss...

Man ammen toltha i dann hen morn  
(Who brings to us this token of darkness)  
Si dannatha  
(Will fall)

Melmemma nóren sina   
(Our love for this land)  
Núra lá earo  
(Is deeper than the deeps)  
Núr(i). Il(firin) nair(elma)  
(Of the sea. Our regret is undying)

The Elves at Helms Deep

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