In Summary: Choral Interpretation of Tolkien’s Elvish Verse

Well, the summer is over and so is my project. Finally.


In my proposal I set out to compose a piece of choral music two to three minutes in length, using the text of one of the songs that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote into his epic novel The Lord of the Rings. All being said and done, the finished piece is just a hair over three minutes long, and the text I decided to use is known as the Ambar-metta, which translates into English as “world’s-end” or “end of the world.” It was originally quoted by Elendil, an outcast on the isle of Númenor, when he fled the island shortly before it was Sodom-and-Gommorah’d by the Valar (the gods of Middle-earth) for being full of corruption fraught by Sauron. However, Elendil and a small band of his followers were still faithful to the Valar, who took pity on them and deposited them safely on the shores of Middle-earth. The Ambar-metta was recited a second time by Aragorn, descended from Elendil after forty generations and the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, during his coronation ceremony following the destruction of the One Ring. In both of these instances, the Ambar-metta is sung amidst a context of overwhelming grief and loss of life, and yet the words carry hope for a future brighter than the tragedies that have just occurred. I attempted to bring across this mood in my composition.

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Phase Two and Beyond…

I was supposed to spend a week on this phase of my research project. I certainly didn’t expect to find exactly what I needed within the first hour.

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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.

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Choral Interpretation of Tolkien’s Elvish Verse

The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the most well-known – and indeed one of the very first – literary fantasy series ever written. What many people fail to realize, however, is that J. R. R. Tolkien is not just a masterful storyteller – he is also a linguistic and poetic genius. He poured his whole livelihood into the development of Middle-earth and the Elvish language, and his finished epic also includes a great many songs – some written in English, others in Elvish – that augment his world and further develop its backstory and mythology. This summer, I will do further research on the external and internal influences that inspired Tolkien to develop Middle-earth in the way he did, and use my findings to compose an original piece of choral music based on the text of one of his songs from The Lord of the Rings. If I find that one language or culture of the world was an especially large influence on his development of the Elvish language, I will do additional research on that particular music-culture and attempt to emulate its musical style as closely as possible in my final composition. This piece of music would serve to increase appreciation for Tolkien’s literary genius in anybody who studies, performs, or hears it; furthermore, as there is already a growing tradition of music related to Tolkien’s work, my piece would contribute to that international musical movement.