On Music

Ainulindalë

"Creation" from the St. John's Bible (Source)

“Creation” from the St. John’s Bible (Source)

Harmony and discord. Cooperation and mastery. Vision and being. These are the sounds that rings forth from Ainulindalë, “The Music of the Ainur,” one of the most beautiful myths of creation ever composed. In these short passages, we experience a side of Tolkien’s writings of which only allusions and fleeting moments occur in The Lord of the Rings: theology and metaphysics, poetic verse and cosmic movement. Above all, we muse upon the great theme and purpose of all things, woven together into one Song in honor of God.

Creation is an intentional and harmonious act: even what Melkor disrupts in his pride does Ilúvatar weave into the vision of the world that is to come. Sound becomes sight, and music becomes matter: and while through the theme of the music the angelic Valar have seen the theme of the vision, yet the reality of the world exists in time and requires their action. They know much of the secrets of the unfolding of the world, but not all has been shown to them: “in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling.” The world has a beginning and an ending, a Creator and caretakers, a purpose and surprises.

The greatest of these surprises: Elves and Men, the Firstborn and the Followers, the Children of Ilúvatar. There is so much depth and richness to Tolkien’s thought here: they were uniquely Ilúvatar’s creation; they were a conception of the third and final theme, a response to Melkor’s discord; they the musical vision was made into a musical reality for their sake; they join in the final and greatest song made before Ilúvatar at the end of days. The Children of Ilúvatar are the great variable of the story, the great surprise of the Song, through which the theme of the One will be fulfilled and complete. Each of our voices, through word and deed, augments the original melody: all of creation has its origin and finality in the glad glory and splendor of God, but only Children of Ilúvatar get to partake in the final chorus.

Metaphysical music and cosmic chant have a lasting resonance: the beauty of such imagery and the longing for such sound lingers with us. When I was a young man in school, I learned of a musical vision of the afterlife that even to this day has remained with me. I have never been able to track down the exact source or author of the short myth, though I believe it to be Jewish. It does declare that, upon our death, we enter into a great symphony hall and take a seat in the audience with all who have ever lived, both great and small, both food and evil. The stage holds the Creator himself, who begins a great song and music that flows out and permeates all the members of the crowd equally. The notes are the same to every person, but to some they caused pain and torment because they have, through ill, un-harmonized their ears to the music of the Lord. To others, who have attuned their ears to God’s will through prayer and works of charity, the music is the beautiful of all sounds ever heard, causing joy and peace and tranquility for all eternity.

Perhaps Tolkien’s Ainulindalë is not so different from our own beliefs. Perhaps the voice of God is always a sweet melody and joyous song. Perhaps there is a great ordering and purpose to all things. Perhaps my own service, however small, can amplify the great theme as it plays over the ages. And perhaps we can still hear echoes of that cosmic music in the things to which we harken without knowing what we seek: the whisper of the wind, the laughter of a child, the voices of the Sea.

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