Bilbo Singing


I find Bilbo's last requests to Frodo interesting. After Frodo dons his old clothes over the mithril mail, Bilbo says "All I ask in return is: take as much care of yourself as you can, and bring back all the news you can, and any old songs and tales you can come by." We know Bilbo is a collector of lore and tales; after all he is writing a book or two, but songs? Of course the words of the songs will contain bits of lore and stories, but have we ever considered the the music, the melodies and/or harmonies? I think Bilbo is also a collector of tunes.

The text gives many accounts of re-using of old tunes by hobbits. Consider the walking-song hummed and then sung by Frodo, Pippin, and Sam; "Bilbo Baggins had made the words to a tune that was as old as the hills, and taught it to Frodo as the walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure." And apparently Frodo taught it to Sam and Pippin.

Merry and PIppin used the old dwarf tune in their song, "Farewell we call to hearth and hall", "It was made on the model of the dwarf-song that started Bilbo on his adventure long ago, and went to the same tune." I wonder how they learned it - not from Bilbo's book that few had seen. I guess Bilbo had taught it to Frodo as they walked and talked of Adventure and that Frodo taught it to Merry and Pippin.

When Frodo sings "The Man in the Moon" in Bree, it was well received, and the folk there (hobbits and men, I assume), shouted, "Let's have it again, master", and when Frodo begins it again, "many of them joined in; for the tune was well known, and they were quick at picking up the words." It seems that hobbits and men shared a common body of well-known tunes.

At the troll-glade, Sam sings his new song; "standing up, with his hands behind his back, as if he was at school, he began to sing to and old tune". This is one old tune that we actually know, since Tolkien sung it himself, "the fox went out". I learned the same song to a slightly different version of that tune when I was a boy.

Much later, when Sam thinks he is alone and all is lost as he sits in the tower of Cirith Ungol, "he murmured old childish tunes out of the Shire, and snatches of Mr. Bilbo's rhymes that came into his mind ... and then suddenly new strength rose in him, and his voice rang out, while words of his own came unbidden to fit the simple tune. In western lands beneath the sun..." It is interesting to me that the size and metric structure of this song of Sam's is the same as Bilbo's song that he sings to Frodo in Rivendell after he makes his final requests. I would not be surprised if Sam is singing the same tune.

Therefore, I suggest a possible old tune that would fit these two songs, one that many of us know. The tune is the tune used for "Auld Lang Syne", which Robert Burns stated was "an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man." This seems the right sort of tune for Bilbo' song telling of his memories of times gone by. I offer music notation of that tune with Bilbo's words for those who can read and write music (hoping like the Gaffer, that no harm comes of folks learning musical notes - like Sam learning his letters).

I Sit Beside the Fire and Think - Auld Lang Syne.jpg

I'd also like to suggest an idea of what it might sound like to listen to Bilbo singing his song to an old tune like this. When Pippin converses with Bergil, his voice does not betray him, and 10-year-old Bergil seems to assume he is about the same age. When an Orc torments Pippin, he says "I'll make you squeak". And when Snaga hears Sam singing in Cirith Ungol, he says, "stop your squeaking". All of this suggests that a hobbit voice is high pitched, like a young human boy, not lower-pitched like a human man. There are also many references in The Hobbit to the sound of Bilbo's voice as being high-pitched. Since Bilbo has not aged since then, I think his voice has not changed, and when he sang, it would sound like a human boy-soprano. I therefore provide the following link to a boy-soprano singing Auld Lang Syne (but in German). Subtract the orchestra and the harmonies, and substitute Bilbo's words, and I imagine this is how it would sound:

Boy-soprano singing
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Well-Known Member
Great speculation TThurston,

Going back to JRRT's concepts in 'Lost Tales' when he was often playing with the 'real' ancient origins of modern myths, or to Frodo's song in the Prancing Pony as the origin of 'Hey Diddle Diddle the Cat and the Fiddle', he would have loved the concept that Bilbo invented the tune of 'Auld Lang Syne'. He would have loved the concept so much, that it is entirely possible that this is the tune he had in mind for 'I Sit Beside the Fire and Think'.