Michael Sparrow – Ainulindalë: The Music of the Gods – Blog Post 2

“Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.”

As I mentioned in my first blog post,the final product of my research project will be a full-length composition that is, in essence, a retelling of the creation myth of Middle-earth found in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (quoted above). In this piece, each of the instruments represents a different one of the Valar, the gods of Middle-earth; for more details on who is who, see my first post. The goal of this post is to describe the framework within which the remainder of my project will take place. There will be four movements in my piece, each of which has a different orchestration – that is, each features a different set of characters – and describes a different event in the prehistory of Middle-earth. Each of these will be described below; throughout those descriptions I will be referring to three distinct musical leitmotifs, which are meant to represent creation, peace, and war. I have not nailed down specifically what each one will sound like yet, but I do know certain elements I want to include in each. The creation theme is always found as a duet between two characters, and features a specific order of pitches that slowly build a full diatonic set as they are introduced one by one. The peace and war themes are overall very similar, but the former is in a gentle, legato major and the latter is a harsh, marcato minor. Without further ado, the four movements:

I. “The Music of the Ainur”

The first movement of my piece describes the Music itself by which Middle-earth was created; it features the full ensemble, and is in B-flat major. It begins with a piano solo, in which Eru introduces the creation theme as a duet between his right and left hands; following this, the Valar are introduced one by one, each one harmonizing with Eru in variations on the creation theme. Without getting into too much detail, three times in the Ainulindalë Melkor tries to subvert the Music of Eru with his own designs, and three times Eru adapts his music to subsume Melkor’s rebellion. These three events are represented by dissonance between the strings and the rest of the ensemble; the first transition will be to the peace theme, the second to the war theme (in Bb minor), and the last one will be a single chord, described by Tolkien to be “deeper than the Abyss” and “higher than the Firmament,” that Eru plays alone.

II. “The First War”

The second movement takes place after Eru brings the Music into Being, and the Valar – including Melkor – take on physical form and descend into Middle-earth to oversee its development. This movement features every character except Eru, and will be in ternary (A-B-A’) form; the A sections are in A minor, and the B section in B-flat major. Melkor spends much of the prehistory of Middle-earth trying to undo everything the Valar are doing to prepare the world for the coming of the Elves; two incidents of this struggle are described in the A sections of this movement, which feature the war theme. The intermediate B section recounts a brief moment of respite, known as the Spring of Arda, during which Melkor hides in his northern fortress to regroup; it features the creation theme as a duet between trombone and flute, in which Aulë and Varda construct great lamps to give light to the world, followed by the peace theme led by Manwë.

III. “Yavanna and Aulë”

The third movement tells of the creation of the Two Trees of Valinor and the race of the Dwarves; it features a greatly reduced orchestration consisting only of oboe, French horn, trombone, and piano, and is in E-flat major. The creation theme will be the most prevalent in this movement: it appears first as a duet between Nienna and Yavanna, whose combined efforts result in a new source of light for the world – the trees Telperion and Laurelin, who adopt for a time the instruments of their creators. Following this, Aulë, straying from the will of Eru in his eagerness to create, fashions the race of Dwarves; in token of the fact that this people not in the plan of Eru from the beginning, Aulë attempts to play the creation theme by himself, in a halting and uncertain manner. Eru arrives after a while and engages in dialogue with Aulë, and the two are reconciled; they then replay the creation theme once again as a duet between piano and trombone.

IV. “The Awakening of the Firstborn”

The fourth and final movement of my piece recounts the events surrounding the coming of the Elves, firstborn of Eru, to Middle-earth; it once again features the full orchestration, and is in C major. It begins with a “council” held by a quartet of Valar – Yavanna, Oromë, Tulkas, and Mandos – seeking to decide how best to prepare the world for the imminent arrival of its new tenants. This is followed by a creation duet between Varda and Eru, the former creating innumerable stars to instill a love of light in the Elves, and the latter awakening this people at the pools of Cuiviénen. After the duet, the Elves adopt the piano as their own instrument, but haltingly and only one note at a time, as they explore their world in curiosity and wonder. At this point, the Valar gradually reenter one by one as they resolve to wage war on Melkor to protect the Elves from him, the movement modulates to C minor and a grandiose war theme, and the piece concludes triumphantly in C major again.

As another aspect of my project, I will be in contact this summer with a number of professional composers from whom I intend to garner advice and guidance as I pursue my composition. I have reached out to two so far – Andrew Cote, located in Fairfax, VA; and James Young, based in Baltimore, MD – and am awaiting responses; if I can set up a meeting with one or both of them, I will take feedback on my above project outline, and through the summer I will be sending them progress reports to ensure that my actual musical content is of high quality. I emailed Mr. Young in April as a point of first contact, and he recommended four pieces for me to listen to (all except the Gilbertson and Holst, below) so that I could acquaint myself with similar work that composers before me have undertaken. In my next post, I will summarize the important things that I learned in my meetings with these composers, and will include several musical excerpts from my work-in-progress that illustrate the themes and narrative events that I have outlined above.

Louis Andriessen, “De Materie,” Part I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNIM5cRA5Ak

Michael Gilbertson, “Concerto for the Cosmos:” https://soundcloud.com/rocoreplay/sets/roco-in-concert-space-the-final-playground (tracks 2-6)

Gerard Grisey, “Espaces Acoustiques:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQgLU0gjPtI

Gustav Holst, “The Planets:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isic2Z2e2xs

Darius Milhaud, “La Creation du Monde” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3GPtgY9hSQ

Per Norgard, “Terrains Vagues:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX8Jy3Zm4bI

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