37 – Dwarven Songs in The Hobbit

Dwarven songs in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien feature 4/4 time signatures, rich instrumentation, and deep male voices singing in harmony. Although Tolkien never wrote any music for his song lyrics, it’s possible to imagine possible melodies based on his descriptions of the music.

Unlike the happy, lilting jigs and waltzes of the Elves, Dwarven songs are richly ornamented, develop slowly, and describe real world events in intricate detail. Their songs can be silly, hopeful, or sad, revealing that Dwarves feel deeply and are more sensitive than one might at first think. The songs sung by the Dwarves tell of their love of lavishly beautiful things, their long memories, and their quest to reclaim the homeland and treasure that was stolen from them.

I have written some music to go with the lyrics of “Under the Mountain Dark and Tall,” trying to create something that matched what Tolkien described. These were the musical requirements based on what I read in Chapter 15 of The Hobbit:

      • Maximum of 12 musicians
      • 4/4 time signature as this matches the rhythm of Tolkien’s chosen poetic meter
      • I can only be sure that the musicians know how to play fiddles, harps, drums, clarinets, flutes, and viols and so should choose from among these instruments
      • The song is “warlike”
      • All singers are male with deep voices
      • Tolkien says the song is much like “Far Over the Misty Mountains” in Chapter 1, which is slow in pace, adds instruments and voices gradually, and evokes the imagination
      • The music should take advantage of the acoustics of a large, cavernous space

I was limited to using mainly software-generated instruments and my soprano voice, so the result isn’t ideal but I think it at least gives listeners one possible interpretation of Tolkien’s words. If any male singers wished to perform this song I would be happy to hear that as it would make for a better musical experiment.

Here is the audio for “Under the Mountain Dark and Tall” as well as a link to a video on YouTube:

Sheet Music for “Under the Mountain Dark and Tall”
words by J.R.R. Tolkien and music by T.Q. Townsend

Arranged for a small mens’ choir

Arranged for solo singer with chords for guitar or ukulele

Activity: Write Music for a Dwarven Song

Choose one of the four dwarven songs written out in The Hobbit. The traits of each song as described in the book are written below. Songwriters may choose to follow these traits closely or follow their inspiration in a different direction. This activity would work well as a songwriting exercise in a music class but should only be offered for extra credit in a literature class. New songwriters may find it useful to recite the lyrics out loud with the desired rhythm, then begin singing out notes that seem to fit.

Chapter 1: “Chip the glasses and crack the plates”
Group singing: Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur
Poetic meter: trochaic tetrameter
Musical time signature: 4/4
Instrumentation: Medium sized male choir, possibly dishes or hand and foot movements used as percussion

Chapter 1: “Far Over the Misty Mountains Old”
Group singing: Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur
Poetic meter: iambic tetrameter
Musical time signature: 4/4
Instrumentation: Small male choir with fiddles, flutes, drum, clarinets, viols, and harp

Chapter 1: “Far Over the Misty Mountains Old” (Reprise)
Group singing: Thorin Oakenshield
Poetic meter: iambic tetrameter
Musical time signature: 4/4
Instrumentation: Male solo a capella

Chapter 7: “The Wind Was on the Withered Heath”
Group singing: Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur
Poetic meter: iambic tetrameter
Musical time signature: 4/4
Instrumentation: Small male choir singing a capella

Chapter 15: “Under the Mountain Dark and Tall”
Group singing: Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur
Poetic meter: iambic tetrameter
Musical time signature: 4/4
Instrumentation: Small male choir with harps and other instruments

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