Songs in The Lord of the Rings

JJ48

Well-Known Member
I understand that for many of the more poetic among us, the poetry is the most interesting piece of the poems in Tolkien's works. However, so many of them are described as songs, or are mentioned as being sung by the characters. I know we have examples of Tolkien himself singing Sam's Troll Song, but how many of the songs have tunes which are known?
 

TThurston

Member
A little parable and a modest proposal ...

Imagine that someone prints a collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh, but due to publishing constraints, they are only able to print the paintings in black and white. Later, a group meets to discuss those paintings, based on this publication. They talk about all sorts of technical things like brush strokes, compare different parts of the images, etc. But of course, color is never mentioned.

That is what we are doing we study our non-musical representation of the songs from the Lord of the Rings and we look at them strictly as poetry, not as songs. It is van Gogh without color.

When I come to the songs in Tolkien, I always sing them. They may never be the same from one singing to the next, but for me, they are always songs, not simple poems.

Corey has a background in music. I suggest that he consider ways to discuss Tolkien's songs as songs, not simply as poetry.
 

Bruce N H

Active Member
From my vast amount of research (i.e. Google) there are three recordings of Tolkien singing his poems on Youtube:

Troll Sat Alone:

Namarie (Galadrie's farewell song in Quenya). Interestingly, one of the Youtube commenters notes that this is almost the same tune as used in traditional Catholic mass to sing passages from the book of Lamentations. That's a cool connection to the content of Galadriel's song.

And from the Hobbit, Chip the Glasses and Crack the Plates:

Bruce
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Namarie (Galadrie's farewell song in Quenya). Interestingly, one of the Youtube commenters notes that this is almost the same tune as used in traditional Catholic mass to sing passages from the book of Lamentations. That's a cool connection to the content of Galadriel's song.
Do you mean this one:
?
(By the way this channel has also some gorgeous renditions of Tolkien's poems.)
A certain similarity is there. Must be because both are suspposed to be a lament, and this is probably the sung lament that Tolkien was most familiar with.

But this supports my theory that elves are not much into rythms but more into melodies, as also the movies suggested - maybe actually based also on this data.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
A little parable and a modest proposal ...

Imagine that someone prints a collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh, but due to publishing constraints, they are only able to print the paintings in black and white. Later, a group meets to discuss those paintings, based on this publication. They talk about all sorts of technical things like brush strokes, compare different parts of the images, etc. But of course, color is never mentioned.

That is what we are doing we study our non-musical representation of the songs from the Lord of the Rings and we look at them strictly as poetry, not as songs. It is van Gogh without color.

When I come to the songs in Tolkien, I always sing them. They may never be the same from one singing to the next, but for me, they are always songs, not simple poems.

Corey has a background in music. I suggest that he consider ways to discuss Tolkien's songs as songs, not simply as poetry.
Unfortunately, as Bruce N H pointed out, we only know how JRRT conceived these poems to be sung for three of the poems. It is hard to discuss JRRT's poems as songs if we don't know the tunes. In a close reading, with very limited evidence of tunes, it is hard to discuss these poems as songs. Of course, it would be possible to speculate, and many have, by setting some of the poems to music and singing them. However, that would seem to fall more into the category of 'fan-melody' than into close reading and evidence-based interpretation?

By the way, despite that many of these poems are described as having been sung, it seems obvious that JRRT intended to present them to readers as poems, not as songs (or he would have included musical notation).

I suggest that the three tunes we have are in two quite different musical 'styles'. 'The Troll Song' and 'Chip the Glasses', i would call 'Simple English Nursery Rhyme', or 'English Folk Song', style. "Namarie', I might call 'Gregorian Chant'.

I'm sure that more musical people might be able to define these styles better. What music genres do you think these three songs resemble?
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Galdriel's song definitely sounds like liturgical chanting - besides the plainsong in that recording (thanks Odola) it sounds a lot like Hebrew trope for reading Torah. It gives an interesting contrast with the Hobbits' folksy singing and goes far to explain the response of the hobbits to the Elves singing - that kind of hypnotic state. When I listen to Gregorian chants I feel myself taken somewhere else. It fits with the timelessness they find in Lorien and Rivendell. And I can imagine much better Pippin's chagrin at being asked by Denethor if he can sing.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
It fits with the timelessness they find in Lorien and Rivendell.
This is one of the reasons why I do think elves are not interested in rythms. Their experience of time seems more linear - waving but continuous, but not like a "ticking clock" (or "bomb") - short interrupted interwals counted by a limited number of heartbeats.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
JRRT intended to present them to readers as poems, not as songs (or he would have included musical notation).
Heh: this puts me in mind of the publisher's admonition to Stephen Hawking as he was writing A Brief History of Time -- "for each equation you include in the book, you'll reduce your readership by half". In the end, he included only one equation, and still it may be the most purchased but unread book in history!

I rather think that musical notation would have the same effect. Maybe it could have gone into some additional appendices?
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Tolkien reads several poems here, including a number that are called songs. It also is the source of his singing the Troll Song. He also reads chapter 5 of The Hobbit. It includes a wonderful story of how the recording came to be made.

 

Bruce N H

Active Member
Do you mean this one:
Hi Odola,

I don't know, I was just quoting a commenter on YouTube named Audrey Heinan. Here's what she said:

"Tolkien sings this using almost exactly the same melody as his fellow Catholics use to chant the Lamentations of Jeremiah at the Tenebrae Office during the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday evening to Easter Sunday)."

I'm very low-church Protestant, so I can play you "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" on guitar (it's just GCD y'all*) but couldn't tell you anything about specific musical settings for a formal liturgy tied to the church year.

Oh, on the idea of including the poems as straight poems without the musical notation makes me think of the Psalms. Aside from a few obscure words that might be musical notations (e.g. "selah") and a few headings (e.g. "To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.") we don't know anything about the actual musical settings.

Bruce

*Here's the secret - they're all just GCD, with an occasional E minor.
 
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Odola

Well-Known Member
This is a playlist I have of songs and poems set to music. After lots of searching, these are my favourite versions of them:


The Song of Beren and Luthien and Song of Earendil are my favourites.
Clamavi de Profundis has a long rendition of Earendil also, quite impressive.


This not a poem by Tolkien but a remarkable piece of Luthien's song in Mandos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F3X5CrPn8I
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I like a lot of Clamavi but for whatever, that rendition I didn’t find as close to what I have in my mind. But their talent is great regardless
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Heh: this puts me in mind of the publisher's admonition to Stephen Hawking as he was writing A Brief History of Time -- "for each equation you include in the book, you'll reduce your readership by half". In the end, he included only one equation, and still it may be the most purchased but unread book in history!

I rather think that musical notation would have the same effect. Maybe it could have gone into some additional appendices?
Hi Jim,

JRRT's publishers might have said much the same to him. "Poems! Calendars! Alphabets! Languages! Maps! Why not just stick to the story?" But their advice was not heeded. I suspect that if JRRT had wanted musical notation to accompany his poems, he would have got musical notation.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Hi Jim,

JRRT's publishers might have said much the same to him. "Poems! Calendars! Alphabets! Languages! Maps! Why not just stick to the story?" But their advice was not heeded. I suspect that if JRRT had wanted musical notation to accompany his poems, he would have got musical notation.
That's true, but not everybody can write down musical notes, though - even if s/he can form a melody in his/her head.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
That's true, but not everybody can write down musical notes, though - even if s/he can form a melody in his/her head.
Given JRRT's proclivity for learning languages, and inventing languages, I suspect that learning musical notation would have been a piece of cake.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Some lovely music - but, though I never thought of it before, I think the Gregorian chant comes closest to what I imagine elves songs were like. That makes them substantially different from the Hobbits' music that they seem other-worldly.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Some lovely music - but, though I never thought of it before, I think the Gregorian chant comes closest to what I imagine elves songs were like. That makes them substantially different from the Hobbits' music that they seem other-worldly.
And ancient. Plainsong has very old roots.
 
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