Reflections on Phase One

In my project proposal I roughly divided my research into three phases: first, song selection and preliminary linguistic research; second, cultural and musical research; and finally, composition and editing. I apportioned two days to the completion of phase one; by the end of today, I had discovered all that I needed to know in only three hours. Perhaps I should take my foot of the gas for the next two phases.

 

The song I decided to compose is a short phrase written in the Elvish dialect of Quenya. It is recited by Aragorn as he accepts the crown of Gondor, and it translates: “Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world.” The song is called Ambar-metta, which is Quenya for “world’s-end,” and it was also recited by Aragorn’s ancestor Elendil after he had fled from the shores of Númenor and arrived in Middle-earth. In an effort to familiarize myself with the context of this initial quotation, I reread the tale of Akallabêth from The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s companion novel to The Lord of the Rings. The story is a depressing one, relating how a race of Men blessed by the Valar (the gods of Middle-earth) slowly fall under the shadow of Morgoth, the Lord of Darkness, and his servant Sauron. The story ends with a particularly corrupt king leading an armada to the domain of the Valar to wage war on them; the Valar respond by wiping out his fleets and opening a chasm in the seafloor to swallow the island of Númenor forever. There were a small number of Men, however, who remained loyal to the Valar and refused to sail out against them; led by Elendil, these Men had readied some boats of their own to sail to Middle-earth, but had not yet departed the island when the onslaught of the Valar struck. The Valar took pity on them, however, and sent a powerful gust of wind to carry their ships swiftly to the shores of Middle-earth as their former home collapsed behind them. Having this kind of context will prove very useful come the final phase of my project – it completely changes the meaning of the Ambar-metta. By itself it sounds very hopeful and optimistic, but in reality it was stated amidst feelings of overwhelming grief, in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy. I will do my best to emulate this in my composition.

 

After this, I did some research on the origins and inspiration of the Quenya language, for which I did not have to dig nearly as deeply as I expected to. Tolkien mostly based Quenya on the terrestrial languages of Finnish and Latin; the phonology and grammar takes its chief inspiration from Finnish, while its textual aesthetic appearance is more similar to Latin. Tolkien also intended Quenya to be an “archaic, ancient, and august” language, mimicking the historical and cultural role of church Latin. These findings lead directly into phase two of my project, which will involve extensive research on the musical styles of these two cultures, especially from the Middle Ages. The goal here will be to give myself some auditory picture of what Quenya music might have sounded like, so that I can model my final composition off of that sound. I will spend the rest of this week working toward this end.

 

Sources:

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Ambar-metta

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Quenya

http://tolklang.quettar.org/pronlo/pronguide.html

http://quenya.tripod.com/pron.htm

Comments

  1. jawilling says:

    Hey Michael, your research seems like it’s off to a good start! I can see that our topics have a lot in common as we’re both looking at Tolkien’s constructed languages; you should check out the blog post that I just made detailing some specific similarities between Quenya and Finnish and Quenya and Latin. It’s definitely true that, out of the natural languages that inspired him, Tolkien borrowed the most from Finnish. Quenya’s grammatical case system and verbal conjugation system, while not quite as complex as Finnish’s, definitely bears a lot of similarities with it. However, since my research is mostly focused on making purely linguistic comparisons, and I’m not as familiar with the lore of Middle Earth because I haven’t read Tolkien’s books, I hadn’t considered the idea that Quenya mimics “the historical and cultural role” of Latin, as you say it does. This is a really interesting insight!

    If you’re interested in learning more about Quenya and Tolkien’s other constructed languages you should check out this site, which is where I’ve been getting most of my info from: http://folk.uib.no/hnohf/
    It also has a Quenya course that you might be interested in.

    Good luck with the rest of your project, I look forward to reading more of your blogs!