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Music of the Ainur

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Revision as of 14:52, 12 September 2012

"Who told you, and who sent you?" — Gandalf
This article or section needs more/new/more-detailed sources to conform to a higher standard and to provide proof for claims made.
Jef Murray - Music of the Ainur.jpg
The Music of the Ainur
Other namesAinulindalë
LocationThe Timeless Halls
Datebefore Time began
ResultThe conception of
Part ofEru's creation
ParticipantsEru, the Ainur
DescriptionA great song described by Eru and played by the Ainur

The Music of the Ainur was the great song of the Ainur that took place before Time began, from which , the material Universe, was created.



Eru conceived the Ainur from his thought and taught each of them how to make music. At first the Ainur would only sing alone or in small groups while the others listened. The observance of their brethren singing taught each Ainu more about the others and the mind of Ilúvatar. Their "unity and harmony" thus increased, and eventually, Eru brought all the Ainur together and declared that they would play a song greater and more complex than they had ever sung before. He told them that they would be allowed to weave their own thoughts and ideas into this Music, since they had been kindled with the Flame Imperishable and thus had the power of creativity. The Ainur were so overwhelmed by Eru's description of this Music that they bowed before him in silence.

The First Theme

Melkor Weaves Opposing Music by Ted Nasmith
After Ilúvatar told them about the Music, the Ainur began to fashion it. Their voices, like the sound of harps and trumpets and choirs, passed "beyond hearing" into the depths and heights of sound. The great Music filled the Timeless Halls and passed beyond them even into the Void, so that it "was not void". The Ainur's flawless Music satisfied even Ilúvatar during this early stage.

But soon, faults entered into the great Theme as a result of the discords of Melkor, an Ainu whose thoughts had become strange and unlike those of his brethren due to his wanderings in the Void. Ilúvatar had given the Ainur permission to weave their own ideas into the Music, but Melkor's thoughts actually clashed against Eru's Themes, because Melkor wanted to "increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself". Melkor's desire to bring into being creatures of his own with the Flame Imperishable and fill the emptiness of the Void put him at odds with Ilúvatar's vision. These discords of Melkor that became evident in his music dismayed those around him, and many faltered in their singing or else attuned their song to his.

The original harmony of the Music was thus consumed by a "sea of turbulent sound" until it became like a "raging storm". At that point, Eru responded by rising from his seat and raising his left hand. It seemed to the Ainur that he then smiled. After his reaction to the Music, a new Theme began amid the chaos.

The Second Theme

Melkor's Theme by Felix Sotomayer
The Second Theme was "like and yet unlike" the First; it gathered new power and beauty. Soon, however, Melkor's discord rose up against it, and there was a "war of sound more violent than before". This time, Melkor's Theme triumphed over that of the others; many of the Ainur stopped singing entirely out of dismay. Ilúvatar then rose from his seat again, his expression stern this time. He raised his right hand, and yet another Theme unfolded.

The Third Theme

The next Theme had a sound unlike the others before it. It began quietly amid the confusion of the Second Theme, and sounded like the rippling of soft and sweet notes. It gained power and depth over time, until two completely different songs were being made. One was filled with "immeasurable sorrow", which gave it tremendous beauty, while the other was a loud, pompous theme playing in violent opposition to it. Nevertheless, this repetitive theme could not overcome the sorrowful one, and the latter merely took the former's greatest notes and "[wove them] into its own solemn pattern". The strife between the two themes caused the dwelling of Ilúvatar and even the Void beyond it to shake. At this point, Eru stood once more and raised both his arms, "and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the firmament... the Music ceased".


Ilúvatar then spoke to the Ainur about the Music and the consequences that would arise from any attempts to bring discord into it, as Melkor had done. To show them the result of their actions, he led them into the Void and spoke, "Behold your Music!" The Ainur saw a vision of what their song had created—"a World that was globed amid the Void... but was not of it". They saw the history of this World as it unfolded, and witnessed the part each had played in its making. Even the discords of Melkor contributed to the glory of this creation.

The Ainur were amazed when the Children of Ilúvatar came into this vision, for they were a part of Eru's plan that had not been revealed to them before the Music was played. The Children were sung into being by Ilúvatar during the Third Theme, and none of the Ainur had dared contribute to their making.

Ilúvatar suddenly took away the vision, and the Ainur did not get to see how it would end. Some say that they only saw the history of the Universe until the Dominion of Men. The abrupt ending of the vision caused restlessness among the Ainur, and Ilúvatar perceived that they wanted the vision to be given true being, so that—even despite the terrible flaws that had been introduced into it—the Universe would be as real as they themselves were.

Therefore Eru said, "Eä! Let these things Be!" He sent the Flame Imperishable into the Universe, and far off in the Void a light appeared—the beginning of the achievement of the Music of the Ainur.


The Universe still operates according to the design declared in the Music, and the flaws within it come from the discords of Melkor, which have been part of it since its beginning. Nevertheless, Ilúvatar insisted that these faults would but bring forth new and greater things in the Music's achievement.

Eru allowed those of the Ainur who wished it to enter Eä and continue their work in fashioning it. Those who eventually came to Arda were (save for Melkor) later known as the Valar.

Perhaps the culmination of the good results of Melkor's discord will be the Second Music of the Ainur, a song that will be even more profound than the first. In it, each singer will fully understand his part in the Music, and all the Themes of Ilúvatar will be played correctly. The Second Music will be given being as it is being sung, instead of only being made at the insistence of naive creatures.

The Ainur declared that Men would all take part in the Second Music, but the role the Elves will have in it, if any, is unknown.

The Ainulindalë

When the Eldar lived in Aman, the Valar told them the story of the Music. It was one of the first tales the Valar gave to the Elves after their arrival in Aman; the Elves' traditional belief is that Manwë himself told most of it to them. The Vala had to take upon himself the considerable task of translating the tale from his own language to Quenya and, in addition, rendering it in a form the Children of Ilúvatar could understand—the image of the Ainur playing a great song, therefore, might be entirely metaphorical.

The sage Rúmil committed the tale to writing, calling it the Ainulindalë. The Noldor took the story, or at least the memory of it, with them when they went to Middle-earth, and passed it on to the Edain. It was preserved in Rivendell and probably Arnor and Gondor, and presumably became a part of Bilbo Baggins' work Translations from the Elvish at the end of the Third Age.


The Quenya word for this event, Ainulindalë, comes from Ainu (the singular form of Ainur, used for phonotactic reasons) and lindalë, meaning 'music' (from the verb linda-, 'to sing', and the nominalizing suffix -lë).

Other versions of the Legendarium

The Music of the Ainur appears even in the very earliest stories of the Legendarium, the The Book of Lost Tales Part One. Despite the tremendous change that many of the tales of Arda underwent during Tolkien's lifetime, the depiction of the Music remained much the same—even its Quenya name was not altered.

In earlier versions, however, the story of the vision of the Music does not appear, and Ilúvatar is a much less mysterious figure. In the Book of Lost Tales story, his motives are made clearer and he speaks more to the Ainur, especially about the ways in which Melkor's discords will be used for good. This version thus contains more theodicy than the final one printed in The Silmarillion, in which Eru offers only vague warnings to Melkor about his deeds and does little more than hint about how the good things arising from his discords will come to pass.

See also