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Old 09-23-2007, 07:38 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Question Musical instruments in Middle-earth

I am currently researching the topic of instrumental music in Tolkien's works. I find very little satisfactory material; the most various instruments are actually mentioned in The Hobbit, played by the Dwarves, and even there Tolkien writes not much that is specific.

The Elves do play instruments, but aside from a few references to harps and flutes (were there Elvish trumpets too?), I haven't located more. The Hobbits play the toy instruments at the Long-Expected Party; aside from that, I can't recall any other references. Of Men I remember only references to trumpets in Gondor and horns in both Rohan and Gondor (Boromir's horn, more a signal than a musical instrument).

Do any of you remember more references, or have you found something obscure, well-hidden in HoME, that I haven't yet discovered? I'd appreciate any help you can give!
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Old 09-23-2007, 08:30 AM   #2
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Eye Music Man

Hi Esty,

From The Man in the Moon stayed up too late-

Quote:
The ostler has a tipsy cat that plays a five-stringed fiddle
From The Sea Bell-

Quote:
I heard a sea bell swing in the swell
Quote:
pipes, voices, horns on the hill
From The Last Ship-

Quote:
Flutes there were and harps were wrung,
and there was sound of singing,
like wind-voices keen and young
and far bells ringing
Quote:
with harp in hand they sang their song
Quote:
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking
So the first two were allegedly written by Bilbo and Frodo respectively, showing that the hobbits were aware of bells, fiddles, pipes and horns. The Last Ship was likely Gondorian, mentioning flutes, harps and bells in association with the elves.

I guess we have seen most of these except the bells with the Dwarves at Bag End.

I am however intrigued by the elvish pipes, most likely they were pan-pipes or flutes of some sort, but could they just possibly be bagpipes??!!

I'm sorely tempted by -

"I'll take the straight road and you take the curved road and I'll get to Valinor before you."

Many apologies,

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Old 09-23-2007, 08:37 AM   #3
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There is an interesting reference in HoMe I to the instruments played by the 'Teleri' (i.e. Vanyar), 'Noldoli' (Noldor), and 'Solosimpi' (Teleri), respectively:

Vanyar - 'congregated harps'
Noldoli - 'viols and instruments'
Teleri - pipes

I cannot recall the exact quote, nor do I have the book at hand, but if you want to take a look, it occurs during the procession of the Elves to the festival in Valimar.

For what it's worth, I wrote something on music in Tolkien's Legendarium some time ago, which can be found here.

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Old 09-23-2007, 08:46 AM   #4
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I knew I'd seen a thread on this in the dim and distant past-

music thread

though I'm not entirely convinced by Saucie's claim of Gandalf's Hammond Organ proficiency!

Cheers,

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Old 09-23-2007, 02:45 PM   #5
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Thumbs up

Interesting thread! I have maybe one or two more tokens to show.

Quote:
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;
In other words: How could you forget that? Note the organs, mainly. Not that it proves that organs actually existed in Middle-Earth, but on the other hand... what would then be written in the original of Ainulindalë?
Just to make it complete, it was already spoken about trumpets; but to remind us, the trumpets are mentioned at the same place also in negative context:
Quote:
The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes.

And now for a change, from the goblin song in the Hobbit:

Quote:
Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!
I'm not sure if we can take "gongs" as given, but if not here, then surely at the very end of the Two Towers:

Quote:
Sam heard a burst of hoarse singing, blaring of horns and banging of gongs, a hideous clamour.
From both of these, it seems like gong is an Orc-instrument. Orcs are generally shown as liking percussions. And that's of course not speaking of the famous "drums in the deep".
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Old 09-23-2007, 06:00 PM   #6
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I seem to recall some people were entertained by the musical fruit in the movies, but somehow I doubt if Esty would include the movies in her definition of "Tolkien's works".
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Old 09-23-2007, 07:09 PM   #7
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Eye

Rusty here: the three greatest musicians were ... um... Maglor was it (? the one who went mad & sang by the seashore ever afterwards), and Daeron who played the flute, and likewise Tinfang Gelion (Flautist.) Seems plain that TOlkien favored flutes and vocals.

Have you checked out Aiwendil's essay on music in MIddle Earth? It is the best treatment I've seen yet.

Aiwendil's essay
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Old 09-24-2007, 02:37 AM   #8
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Thank you very much for the help so far! Aiwendil's essay is indeed very helpful, an excellent summary, and the two to which he links are very good as well. I'm encouraged to carry on now; I had been thinking about the topic for some time, but couldn't find enough material to use for the research. (I hope to present the topic as a lecture at next year's Tolkien Seminar here in Germany.)

Thanks, Rumil, Legate, and mark for the references; it does help a lot when I can narrow down the source material reading - combing through all of Tolkien's books, including HoME, is a daunting task and more than I can handle, what with "many duties that I did not neglect, and many other interests... that often absorbed me."

Bb, there's only one answer to your contribution: Well, maybe two more:

Actually, I do plan to mention the movie usage of instruments as a brief sideline - how about the percussive use of a whip in the animated RotK's song "Where there's a whip, there's a way"?! (Sorry, no smiley allowance left to use here...)
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Old 09-25-2007, 10:24 AM   #9
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In the notes for the continuation of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin there is mention of a fanfare of silver trumpets from the city walls.
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Old 09-27-2007, 07:17 AM   #10
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Leaf voices in middle-earth !

Not exactly musical instruments, but doesn`t JRR often write about his characters singing? The only ones who don`t sing are orcs and ring wraiths (ok and barrow -wights!).I remember that at the Grey Havens , Elrond had a silver harp in his hand ! although he didn`t play it,( and it must have been difficult for him to ride his horse !
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Old 09-27-2007, 07:47 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by poison ivy View Post
The only ones who don`t sing are orcs and ring wraiths (ok and barrow -wights!).
That's not true. The Orcs sing many times. The goblins at Goblin-gate sing, and I believe the Orcs sing in Cirith Ungol (though surely nothing nice to hear). And the barrow-wights sing most definitely, what about this:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fog on the Barrow-Downs
Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone:
never mare to wake on stony bed,
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.
In the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land.
And even Sauron himself sings (in Silmarillion when he battles with Finrod), so I'm pretty sure even the Ringwraith would sing at certain times (also something like incantations). They'd make great sopranos
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Old 09-27-2007, 03:53 PM   #12
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Estelyn - I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic; the music of Middle-earth is a particular interest of mine. I do hope we at the 'Downs will get some kind of a precis (at least) of your Tolkien Seminar lecture!
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Old 09-28-2007, 10:06 PM   #13
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Speaking of music, I like the music in the movies, in the Shire, but I don't suppose hobbits would play those kinds of musical instruments...

my hopes are dashes.
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Old 10-04-2007, 06:42 AM   #14
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White Tree Oh no they don`t !, Oh yes they do !

Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
That's not true. The Orcs sing many times. The goblins at Goblin-gate sing, and I believe the Orcs sing in Cirith Ungol (though surely nothing nice to hear). And the barrow-wights sing most definitely, what about this:

And even Sauron himself sings (in Silmarillion when he battles with Finrod), so I'm pretty sure even the Ringwraith would sing at certain times (also something like incantations). They'd make great sopranos
Well done Legate ! yes I do remember the BW`S singing something a bit` wightish`,but I shall have to look up the Orc bit I don`t remember that. I don`t think the Orcs sang in the musical , did they ?, perhaps Equity would have to pay them more and Sauron wouldn`t approve, he might put their rent up !
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Old 12-16-2007, 02:15 PM   #15
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I'm continuing to ponder this topic, though the actual work on my paper will take place when I know if it's accepted. One thought that has been on my mind:

Do instruments have the same (or similar) magical ability that singing does in Tolkien's books? We know that vocal music can work miracles - Tom Bombadil and the creation of Arda are the first ones that come to my mind. There are of course folk tales with magical flutes - the Pied Piper of Hamlin, for example. But do we ever read of an instrument that really does something in Arda?
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Old 12-17-2007, 07:48 AM   #16
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Well, the horn of Boromir calls others for aid, but it isn't really a magical horn.

btw, I've never really thought of the flute in the Piped Piper as magical itself--the magic and mystery was in the Piper himself and the music he wrought and how he understood it to affect his audience. Are there versions of the story where the flute is played by other people and still has the same affect? Or is the story related to Mozart's Magic Flute?
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Old 12-17-2007, 07:18 PM   #17
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magic pied piper flute's

The only one that comes to mind is at the very end of Terry Pratchett's (the pipe the kid wins off the establised piper) The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents and even then the "magic is mechanical" (its just a special slide to make the pipe tuned to rat ears)
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Old 12-17-2007, 09:30 PM   #18
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Helm's horn appears to defy the laws of acoustics- and scares the bejeepers out of Orcs.
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Old 12-18-2007, 02:47 PM   #19
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Yet one horn...

Merry's horn. The description points quite clearly at the magic being in the horn, not the blower.
Quote:
...and wrights had engraven upon it swift horsemen riding in a line that wound about it from the tip to the mouth; and there were set runes of great virtue. --- "He that blows it at need shall set fear in the hearts of his enemies and joy in the hearts of his friends, and they shall hear him and come to him."
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Old 12-18-2007, 03:07 PM   #20
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True, but horns of this sort probably don't count as musical instruments.
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Old 12-19-2007, 03:14 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by William Cloud Hickli View Post
Helm's horn appears to defy the laws of acoustics- and scares the bejeepers out of Orcs.
I'm not sure if it defies the laws of acoustics - I thought it had something to do with the echo in the valley.

Anyway, who told you what the laws of acoustics are in there?
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Old 12-19-2007, 05:07 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aiwendil View Post
True, but horns of this sort probably don't count as musical instruments.
I agree, but I certainly will mention them in my paper - I'll take any references I can get, as there are so few!

As to the laws of acoustics, if the instruments are so similar to ours, the acoustics must be similar too.
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Old 12-19-2007, 08:28 AM   #23
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Horns do seem to have an especially military connection, going back at least to the Battle of Jericho (OT, Joshua) where the ritualistic blowing of rams' horns by priests led to the fall of the walls of Jericho, leading to the slaughter of almost the entire populace in the city.

Now there's an echo with power.
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Old 12-19-2007, 11:20 AM   #24
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Laws of acoustics: since the echoes keep getting louder and louder, something other than Newtonian physics is at work.

Nor would ol' Isaac have an explanation for why Orcs would find the sound painful and terrifying.
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Old 01-21-2008, 04:24 AM   #25
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I am now working on this topic, preliminary research so far, and trying to structure the information and my thoughts. The lecture has been accepted and, barring obstacles beyond my control, will be held at the Tolkien Seminar in April. Any additional thoughts and references you'd like to contribute are very much welcome!
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Old 01-26-2008, 05:13 AM   #26
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I guess I'm the main contributor to my own thread here! My research is turning up interesting tidbits of information that I'll share with you as I find them. As always, your comments and additions are very welcome.

The first fact comes from The History of The Hobbit; in Tolkien's early version of that passage, the Dwarves' instruments were originally somewhat magical in nature. The fiddles and flutes were brought out normally, but
Quote:
...Bombur produced a drum from nowhere; Bifur and Bofur went into the hall and came back with [their] walking-sticks and turned them into clarinets...
Rateliff also mentions that later in life, when thinking about revising The Hobbit to harmonize with LotR, JRRT noted to himself,
Quote:
What happened to the musical instruments used by the Dwarves at Bag-end?
Why did they bring them to B-End?
and goes on to say, "Even thirty years later, he was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer."

Actually, I have come up with the answer to the "what happened" - when the ponies were taken by the goblins, it is said:
Quote:
And that was the last time that they used the ponies, packages, baggages, tools and paraphernalia that they had brought with them.
If nothing else, the instruments would surely be classified under "paraphernalia". Since I have not been able to find any references to the use of musical instruments by goblins/orcs (aside from percussive whip effects - see the animated movie's "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way"! - and similar use of weapons) I assume that the instruments were destroyed, perhaps taken apart for any materials of value that they might have contained.

More to come in the next days - I'm now working my way through pertinent references in Sil, UT, and HoME as well as LotR.
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Old 01-26-2008, 11:14 AM   #27
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Esty,

I am enjoying your comments and insights immensely. I can't add anything helpful, but please keep posting as you progress!
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Old 01-28-2008, 10:12 PM   #28
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An interesting topic, as I am also a musician and composer.

There are the Ulumuri, the Horns of Ulmo, and the trumpets of Manwe are also mentioned, as well as the bells of Valmar/Valimar. When one considers that, in the authorial presentation, the Silmarillion was presumably written by one or more Elves, then one could presume that in describing things they did not see -- such as the Ainulindale -- they would have attempted to describe it in ways they understood. Since the organ was one of the first instruments I learned to play, I was rather surprised by that particular reference when I first saw it, since it seems rather a modern instrument, compared to harps and flutes and drums and such. But after thinking about it, if Elves could learn to craft things like the silmarilli, an organ would seem rather easy by comparison.
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Old 01-29-2008, 04:15 AM   #29
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In the early version of the Ainulindale (given in the Book of Lost Tales, HoME I), Tolkien actually has the Valar playing instruments, including the organ. However, he later changed that into singing that sounded like instruments playing. Though as an instrumentalist I love instrumental music, I can see the logic of his thinking there - after all, if they were singing in the Void, there would be no instruments, as those would have had to be previously created.

Yes, Ibrîniğilpathânezel (definitely a copy-and-paste nick if I ever saw one! Welcome to the Downs!), the organ is anachronistic - it appears that the music, like the whole setting of the story, is intended to be rather medieval in style. I'm not yet sure what to think of that reference. The Dwarves' clarinets are out of historical context too, though one of the essays I read on the internet (linked to by Aiwendil) names their predecessors as the most likely choice of actual instrument.
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Old 01-29-2008, 09:08 AM   #30
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Call me Ibrin or Ibri, it's a lot easier.

I think I'm going to have to do a bit of research on the historic origins of the organ. It may help shed a bit of light on the reference. My feel about the writing style of the Ainulindale has always been that it was intentionally Biblical in nature. An Elf, having been told or even given a vision of the Great Music, would no doubt have been rather overwhelmed and befuddled -- in existence without Time or physicality, how does one sing? -- and would not have had the proper frame of reference to really comprehend it, so he would have retold the tale using concepts he and others would understand, I think. From what I do recall about the earliest organs, they were little more than reeds sounded by a bellows, and we do know that reed instruments exist in Middle-earth, since two of the thirteen Dwarves played a clarinet. In fact, in that mention alone, we have two different kinds of bowed strings (fiddles and viols, the latter being described as the size of modern cellos), woodwinds (flutes), single reeds (clarinets) and plucked strings (harp). We also know that percussion and brass are attested to elsewhere, though I have to wonder if all the brass is in the simpler, non-valved form (Feanor was a clever fellow, but would he have bothered himself with the invention of valved brass instruments?)
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Old 01-31-2008, 02:28 AM   #31
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The organ is in fact very old- the name comes from the Romans (organum), who got the instrument from the Hellenistic Greeks (the traditional inventor was Ctesibius of Alexandria, 3rd century BC). There are organs still in existence that date from the early 1400's- that's earlier by a century than fiddles and viols, and 300 years older than the clarinet.

Still, the Music says that it was the *voices* of the Ainur, *like unto* various instruments, not that such instruments were actually present. This doesn't necessarily mean that the Ainur opened their mouths and viol-sounds came out: it's a simile, rather like saying "Bob Dylan's voice is like unto a toad being sandpapered to death."
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Old 01-31-2008, 02:39 AM   #32
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viols, the latter being described as the size of modern cellos
In other words, the bass viola da gamba.
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Old 01-31-2008, 02:50 AM   #33
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skip spence is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.skip spence is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Don't think anyone mentioned Tuor and his harp.

In UT he plays his harp and sings up on a mountain, where he's hiding from his enemies. Heedless of the danger, he loses himself in the music and a stream bubbles up beneath his feet, rushing down the hill. He (correctly) takes this as a sign and it leads him to the gate of noldor, and eventually to Vinyamar and Ulmo.
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Old 01-31-2008, 02:54 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hickli View Post
"Bob Dylan's voice is like unto a toad being sandpapered to death."
Hey, what did you say about Bob Dylan!?

He's def up there with Maglor and Daeron when it comes to singing ablility.
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Old 01-31-2008, 08:34 AM   #35
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Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Estelyn Telcontar is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
skip, thanks for reminding me of that! I haven't read the Tuor story in awhile, though I have been skimming many passages of Sil, UT, HoME etc. I'll remedy that omission to include the reference!

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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hickli View Post
Still, the Music says that it was the *voices* of the Ainur, *like unto* various instruments, not that such instruments were actually present. This doesn't necessarily mean that the Ainur opened their mouths and viol-sounds came out: it's a simile, rather like saying "Bob Dylan's voice is like unto a toad being sandpapered to death."
That's exactly what I meant! And thanks for the amusing use of simile!
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Old 01-31-2008, 09:32 AM   #36
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I'm not sure at the moment because I don't have my copy of TH with me, but didn't a couple of the dwarves have violins or something to that sort? I know that Thorin played a harp.
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Old 01-31-2008, 09:34 AM   #37
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Quite true, although in order for the writer -- presumably an Elf -- to make the comparison, there had to be extant instruments in his own time, or nobody reading what he wrote would understand what he was talking about.
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Old 01-31-2008, 03:59 PM   #38
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TGEW, the Dwarves in The Hobbit played: harp, drum, flutes, fiddles, clarinets, and viols. I think those are the most different instruments mentioned in any one passage of Tolkien's works.
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Old 01-31-2008, 08:30 PM   #39
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May one offer examples of situations in which instrumental music is not named, although possibly it might be expected? Not much has yet been said about LotR.

When women and children return to Gondor in preparation for the coronation of the King:

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Steward and The King
. . . and from Dol Amroth came the harpers that harped most skilfully in all the land; and there were players upon viols and and upon flutes and upon horns of silver, and clear-voiced singers from the vales of Lebennin.
Trumpets herald the arrival of the Steward with the white rod of his office which he offers up to Aragorn. And trumpets of course announce the Coronation:

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Steward and The King
'Behold the King!'
And in that moment all the trumpets were blown, and the King Elessar went forth and came to the barrier, and Hurin of theKeys thrust it back; and amid the music of harp and of viol and of flute and the singing of clear voices the King passed through the flower-laden streets.
Yet amidst all this pomp and circumstance there is one more ceremony, one long-awaited, and one which banishes all fear of the night. The Nightengale arrives and is wedded to the King, yet not one mention is made of music of any sort, nary a trumpet or horn, let alone viols and harps and flutes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Steward and The King
Then the King welcomed his guests, and they alighted; and Elrond surrended the sceptre, and laid the hand of his daughter in the hand of the King, and together they went up into the High City, and all the stars flowered in the sky. And Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undomiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.
Granted of course that this wedding is highly symbolic, yet it is bereft of music, unless one counts the flowering of the stars as the music of the spheres.
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Old 01-31-2008, 08:32 PM   #40
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Thanks for the clarity! Of course I personally think that horns are musical instruments in cases, not in Boromir's case though to name an example.
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