Music of Middle-earth

The music of Middle-earth consists of the music mentioned by J. R. R. Tolkien in his Middle-earth books, the music written by other artists to accompany performances of his work, whether individual songs or adaptations of his books for theatre, film, radio, and games, and music more generally inspired by his books.

The Danish Tolkien Ensemble has set all the songs in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to music.

Music is at the heart of the Ainulindalë, Quenya for "The Music of the Ainur", the creation myth that begins The Silmarillion. Music and singing are mentioned also in the many songs embedded in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, especially in the accounts of places such as Rivendell. Scholars have noted that while readers often skip Tolkien's poetry and songs at a first reading, these in fact are highly relevant and give insight into the meaning of his books.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy is accompanied by Howard Shore's long, varied, and prizewinning score.

The Tolkien Ensemble has set all the songs in The Lord of the Rings to music.

Both popular and classical musicians have been inspired to compose music by Tolkien's writings.


Music and song are mentioned throughout Tolkien's legendarium, in the scholar Bradford Lee Eden's view "most obviously" in the Ainulindale, but also importantly in the culture of the Elves, the Hobbits, and the Riders of Rohan.[1][2]

Ainulindale: The Music of the AinurEdit

The Ainulindalë (Quenya: "Music of the Ainur") is the creation account in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, the first part of The Silmarillion as published posthumously in 1977. He drafted it in 1919 and rewrote it in 1930. It tells of the creation of Arda by the deity Eru Ilúvatar. It describes the immortal Ainur as "children of Ilúvatar's thought". They are taught the art of music, which becomes the subject of their lives. The Ainur sing alone or in small groups about themes Ilúvatar gives them; he proposes a unified plan for them all: a collaborative symphony where they would sing together in harmony. However, the most powerful of the Ainur, Melkor, disrupts the harmony repeatedly with his "loud, and vain" music.[T 1][3] Scholars such as Marjorie Burns have noted the work's basis in the Prose Edda of Norse mythology, and in Tolkien's Catholicism; with parallels between Eru Ilúvatar and God, and between Melkor and the rebellious Satan, in the Genesis account.[4][5] The Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger notes Tolkien's faith, describing his vision of Arda as "a great instrument in God's hands".[6]


The Lord of the Rings contains over 60 poems and songs, an unusual feature for 20th century novels.[7] The verses include songs of many genres: for wandering, marching to war, drinking, and having a bath; narrating ancient myths; of praise and lament (elegy), sometimes reflecting Old English poetry.[7] Brian Rosebury writes that the distinctive thing about Tolkien's verse is its "individuation of poetic styles to suit the expressive needs of a given character or narrative moment",[8] giving as examples of its diversity Gollum's "comic-funereal rhythm" in The cold hard lands / They bites our hands; the Marching Song of the Ents; the celebratory psalm of the Eagles; the hymns of the Elves; the chants of the Dwarves; the "song-speech" of Tom Bombadil; and the Hobbits' diverse songs, "variously comic and ruminative and joyful".[8]

Lynn Forest-Hill writes that Tom Bombadil controls his world with song, in a manner recalling the hero Väinämöinen in the Finnish epic, the Kalevala;[9] indeed, he only speaks in metre.[10][9]

Corey Olson writes that Tolkien's poems and songs help to connect the reader to his work's deepest themes. Thus, Aragorn explains that the Riders of Rohan "are wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs". As Olson states, the emphasis of the poem that Aragorn chants, the ubi sunt lament "Where Now the Horse and the Rider?", may "do nothing to move the plot along", but shows how Elves may view mortal men, and supplies "a poignant context both for the memory of Eorl the Young and for the heroic deeds which are to follow".[2]

In adaptations of Tolkien's booksEdit

Peter Jackson's filmsEdit

Music appears in two forms in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy: Howard Shore's long, varied, and prizewinning score,[11] largely not heard by the characters, and the diegetic songs and instrumental music of Middle-earth which the characters are meant to have heard in the narrative. A few of the diegetic songs are Tolkien's, such as the hobbits' drinking song "To the Bottle I go", performed by the hobbit cast; others, like "The Funeral of Théodred", sung by Miranda Otto playing Éowyn, are wholly invented.[12]

Settings of Tolkien's songsEdit

The Danish group The Tolkien Ensemble set all the poetry in The Lord of the Rings to music, publishing it on four CDs – An Evening in Rivendell (1997), A Night in Rivendell (2000), At Dawn in Rivendell (2002), and (with Christopher Lee) Leaving Rivendell (2005). The project was approved by the Tolkien family and the publishers, HarperCollins. Drawings by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark were used to illustrate the CDs.[13] The settings were well received by critics.[14][15]

Donald Swann's song cycle The Road Goes Ever On contains six of Tolkien's songs. Five are set to music devised by Swann; the sixth, the Quenya song "Namárië", is set to a melody resembling a Gregorian chant, which Tolkien hummed to Swann.[T 2][16]

Based on Tolkien's worksEdit

The Dutch composer and trombonist Johan de Meij's first symphony, in 5 movements, is entitled The Lord of the Rings.

A substantial body of music has been created on the basis of Tolkien's works, in a wide range of genres from classical to many kinds of popular music including jazz, blues, country and western, new age, heavy metal, and psychedelic.[1]

Classical musicEdit

In 1988, the Dutch composer and trombonist Johan de Meij completed his Symphony No. 1 "The Lord of the Rings". It had 5 movements, titled "Gandalf", "Lothlórien", "Gollum", "Journey in the Dark", and "Hobbits".[17]

Popular musicEdit

The popularity of The Lord of the Rings with a young audience from the 1960s saw its themes and characters reflected in the music of several rock bands.[1]

In 1970, the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental concept album entitled Sagan om ringen;[18] it was released internationally as Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings in 1972.[18]

Led Zeppelin's songs "Ramble On", "Misty Mountain Hop", and especially "The Battle of Evermore" duet sung by Robert Plant and Sandy Denny on their untitled 1971 album, make references to several characters and events from The Lord of the Rings,[19][20] including Sauron, the Ringwraiths,[21] Gollum, and Mordor.[22] The Oxford Handbook of Music and Medievalism treats the song as "fantasy medievalism", writing that Plant makes use of the feeling of nostalgia combined with the "haunting, pastoral soundscape" that together set up "the destructive world of war in opposition to an idealized and Arcadian peaceful home".[20]

From the 1980s onwards, many heavy metal acts have been influenced by Tolkien.[23]

The 1991 album Shepherd Moons by the Irish musician Enya contains an instrumental titled "Lothlórien", in reference to the forest home of Galadriel's elves.[24]


Eden describes Flieger's 2002 Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World[25] as "the most important and influential book on both language and music in Tolkien's works", discussing how the two are interwoven as "central themes" throughout The Silmarillion.[1] Stratford Caldecott's 2003 Sacred Fire: The Spiritual Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien analyses Tolkien's mythology from a Catholic point of view, stating that Tolkien's writings "are very much like a musical composition".[1] Eden notes that Tolkien discounted his own musical abilities, but writes that Tolkien's "recorded readings and his recitations of Elvish would indicate otherwise".[1] His wife Edith Bratt was an accomplished pianist; when Tolkien was recovering from trench fever, she played for him in the evenings, and he sketched her or recited his poetry.[1]



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë
  2. ^ Swann, Donald (music); Tolkien, J. R. R. (poems) (2002). "Foreword to the Second Edition". The Road Goes Ever On. HarperCollins. p. 5. Book with CD


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Eden 2013, pp. 501–513.
  2. ^ a b Olson 2013, pp. 173–188.
  3. ^ Eden, Bradford Lee (2003). "The Music of the Spheres: Relationship between Tolkien's Silmarillion and Medieval Religious and Cosmological Theory". In Chance, Jane (ed.). Tolkien the Medievalist. Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion. ISBN 978-0-415-28944-3.
  4. ^ Carter, Lin (2011). Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord Of The Rings. London: Hachette UK. p. pt 16. ISBN 978-0-575-11666-5.
  5. ^ Burns, Marjorie (1998). "All in One, One in All". In Agøy, Nils Ivar (ed.). Between Faith and Fiction: Tolkien and the Powers of His World. Oslo. ISBN 978-91-973500-0-6.
  6. ^ Flieger 2005, Chapter 1: The Motives.
  7. ^ a b Kullmann, Thomas (2013). "Poetic Insertions in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings". Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate. 23 (2): 283–309.
  8. ^ a b Rosebury, Brian (2003). Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-230-59998-7.
  9. ^ a b Dettmann, David L. (2014). John William Houghton; Janet Brennan Croft; Nancy Martsch (eds.). Väinämöinen in Middle-earth: The Pervasive Presence of the Kalevala in the Bombadil Chapters of 'The Lord of the Rings'. Tolkien in the New Century: Essays in Honor of Tom Shippey. McFarland. pp. 207–209. ISBN 978-1476614861.
  10. ^ Forest-Hill, Lynn (2015). ""Hey dol, merry dol": Tom Bombadil's Nonsense, or Tolkien's Creative Uncertainty? A Response to Thomas Kullmann". Connotations. 25 (1): 91–107.
  11. ^ "The 2004 Academy Award Winners". The New York Times. 1 March 2004. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  12. ^ Adams, Doug. "Plan 9 Interview". The Music of The Lord of the Rings. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  13. ^ Drout, Michael D. C. (2006). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 539. ISBN 1-135-88034-4.
  14. ^ Weichmann, Christian. "The Lord of the Rings: Complete Songs and Poems (4-CD-Box)". The Tolkien Ensemble. Archived from the original on 27 October 2016. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  15. ^ Snider, John C. (March 2003). "CD Review: At Dawn in Rivendell: Selected Songs & Poems from The Lord of the Rings by The Tolkien Ensemble & Christopher Lee". SciFiDimensions. Archived from the original on 19 October 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  16. ^ Sulka, Emily (2017). "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Music of Middle Earth". Channels. Centennial Library. 2 (1): 111–118. doi:10.15385/jch.2017.2.1.6. ISSN 2474-2651.
  17. ^ "The Lord of the Rings Der Herr der Ringe Symphony No. 1 Sinfonie Nr. 1". Rundel. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  18. ^ a b Snider, Charles (2008). The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock. Strawberry Bricks. pp. 120–121. ISBN 978-0-615-17566-9.
  19. ^ Greene, Andy (13 December 2012). "Ramble On: Rockers Who Love 'The Lord of the Rings'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  20. ^ a b Carlos, Caitlin Vaughn (2020). "'Ramble On': Medievalism as a Nostalgic Practice in Led Zeppelin's Use of J. R. R. Tolkien". In Meyer, Stephen C.; Yri, Kirsten (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Music and Medievalism. Oxford University Press. pp. 530–546. ISBN 978-0-19-065844-1.
  21. ^ Inman, Davis. "Behind the Song: Led Zeppelin, 'The Battle of Evermore'". American Songwriter. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  22. ^ Burdge, Anthony; Burke, Jessica (2007). "Popular Music". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge. pp. 538–540. ISBN 978-0-415-96942-0.
  23. ^ Greene, Andy (16 August 2017). "Ramble On: Rockers Who Love 'The Lord of the Rings'". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 16 August 2017.
  24. ^ Ryan, Roma (2002). Only Time — The Collection (Booklet notes, pages 15, 16, 19, 21). Enya. Warner Music. 0927 49211-2.
  25. ^ Flieger 2002.


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