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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room: Hark to those herald angels singing: Edit Log


Jan 1 2013, 2:35pm

Views: 2658
Hark to those herald angels singing

...itís a big departure that Creation came from a Great Music. Googling various creation myths, I didnít come up with any that were based on music, so Tolkien wins the innovation prize. Or prove me wrong: does anyone know of a creation story based on music?
Itís not simple music: ďSing! A world!Ē Instead itís a dramatic story of competing themes, where original beauty and harmony clash with vanity and discord in a near-war. Not only does the Great Music create, it spells out the fate of the world and its peoples. On first read, I was confused by the complexity of all this, but now I enjoy it. Whatís your first reaction?

You got me thinking about the Ainulindale's complex choral music as a metaphor for the Creation, and the question of why Tolkien apparently was the first to write a creation story based on music.

Obviously, the primary issue is the basis on which we should be comparing this early 20th century work of fiction with "various creation myths", as you put it. As always with his "legendarium", Tolkien is emulating a mythology, not creating one anew. No one believes in the Silmarillion in the sense that hundreds of generations of people have believed in the various creation stories of the world's pre-industrial cultures - which were told and retold orally long before they were ever written down by later recorders. In short, every real creation myth dates back at least several thousand years before the present.

Now, how old is the tradition of polyphonic choral music (choruses with more than one vocal line) - the apparent model for the Silmarillion's song of creation? As far as I can tell from a quick scan of the internet, this form came into being in the late medieval era and during the Renaissance - thanks to the institution of the Catholic church. Tolkien, I don't doubt, was entranced by this then-traditional music every week when he attended Mass throughout his life. Nor was he the first to transpose cause and effect: surely it was from the inspiration of hearing an earthly choir in full voices that he, like so many Christian mythologists, imagined the angels of heaven as a series of choirs singing to the Lord in His own presence.

In short, no real Creation myth uses a Great Music because such Music didn't exist and had never been imagined before about 1400 A.D. in Christian Europe.

It was Tolkien's idea to make this the vehicle for a Creation itself, which he does quite wonderfully with his harmonies, themes, chords and discords. (His squabbles between a conductor/composer and a prima donna soloist often remind me of A Chorus Line or Drum Line or other oldie-but-goodies of generic musical fiction that I'm sure had their equivalents in Tolkien's time.) But this relatively modern invention that he uses is, in many ways, as anachronistic to the style of story he is writing as the famous set of steam locomotives is that whoosh through his later Middle-earth fiction.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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(This post was edited by squire on Jan 1 2013, 2:37pm)

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Post edited by squire (Half-elven) on Jan 1 2013, 2:37pm

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