“Tinúviel” is a poetic term in Sindarin (one of Tolkienʼs invented languages) that translates to “nightingale,” and is the name Beren gave to Lúthien when he first saw and fell in love with her. Of the tales relayed in The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien cherished that of Beren and Lúthien the most. It is a tale of love and adventure, culminating in the first union of elf (Lúthien) and human (Beren), but it is also a fantastical refashioning of Edith and Ronald Tolkienʼs own troubled love story, which included forced separations by both his guardian and the First World War. Tinúviel is the third of four tone poems that collectively make up my Four Legends from The Silmarillion.
Lúthien sings five times in The Silmarillionʼs telling of Beren and Lúthien, each time to magical effect. In my Tinúviel, I pair each of these five songs with a journey, such that the piece can be heard as an alternation of (five) journeys and (five) songs. Each of Lúthienʼs songs is accompanied by a “magical” instrument that otherwise does not participate in the music.
The first journey takes Beren through the wilderness of Dungortheb, “where horror and madness walked,” to the edge of Doriath, Lúthienʼs forest home. Beren stumbles into Doriath “grey and bowed as with many years of woe,” and encounters Lúthien dancing and singing (accompanied by the crotales, the first of my “magical” instruments). Beren falls in love with her and her “keen, heart-piercing” song. Lúthien returns Berenʼs affections but her father is not willing to allow his immortal, elvish daughter to marry a mere mortal man. He proposes that Beren steal a silmaril—a magical, cursed jewel—from the crown of Morgoth (formerly known as Melkor) to prove his worth.
The second journey takes Beren past the Falls of Ivrin; he is captured and, together with some adventuring companions, thrown into a pit where they are slain one after the other. Lúthien, having heard nothing from Beren and fearing him in danger, enlists the aid of the “swift and tireless” hound Huan; riding on his back (and accompanied by the timpani), she arrives in time to sing “a song that no walls could hinder.” Beren is saved.
Beren and Lúthien journey together, “renewing for a time their joy.” But since Beren has not yet achieved a silmaril, he leaves Lúthien once again. Removed, he sings a song of farewell (accompanied by the harp). Lúthien, who has secretly followed him, sings his song back to him. They will no longer be separated.
The fourth journey is the most perilous. Through “Lúthienʼs arts,” Beren takes the form of a werewolf and she the form of a bat. Thus arrayed, they travel to the lair of Morgoth. There, Lúthien is “stripped of her disguise” and offers to sing for Morgoth “after the manner of a minstrel” (accompanied by the castanets, along with, again, the timpani and harp). Morgoth is enchanted and falls “as a hill sliding in avalanche.” Beren cuts a silmaril from his crown and the two attempt escape; they are intercepted by Morgothʼs hound and Berenʼs hand (clutching the silmaril) is bitten off.
The final journey is Berenʼs funeral procession. Lúthien sings once more (accompanied, as at first, by the crotales): she petitions Mandos (the Ainu who decides matters of fate) to return Beren to life. Her wish is granted, but only because the hirtherto immortal Lúthien agrees, in exchange, to assume the fate of all humans, their “gift of Ilúvatar”: eventual death.
In order to musically capture the divergent natures of Beren and Lúthien, I derive the musical material in Tinúviel from two highly contrasting sources: an aria by Jean-Philippe Rameau from Hippolyte et Aricie, “Rossignols amoureux” (“Amorous nightingales”), and the middle section (“Echo Song”) of Milton Babbittʼs Philomel. Throughout Tinúviel, these musics sound concurrently yet distinctly, each always assigned to either the winds and brasses or the strings. These assignments swap per journey and song. Thus, the first journey sounds Rameau in the strings and Babbitt in the winds and brasses; the second journey sounds Babbitt in the strings and Rameau in the winds and brasses, etc. Rameauʼs clear diatonicism contrasts with Babbittʼs serialism, but so does eachʼs affect: while each meditates on the nightingale, Rameauʼs aria is a simple love song decorated by these amorous birds, while Babbittʼs song is a setting of Ovidʼs terrible metamorphosis of the maimed Philomel into a devastated warbler.
Tinúviel was begun in Edinburgh, Scotland and completed in Tel Aviv, Israel.