Poems and Songs of Middle Earth

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Return to: Tolkien Introduction | Index to individual poems and songs. | Descriptive notes.

Notes on various recordings of Tolkien's Poems and Songs

There are three recordings of Tolkien reading excerpts from his works. The most well known is "The Poems and Songs of Middle Earth," also often referred to as "The Road Goes Ever On," in reference to the title of the volume of published music written for the poems by composer Donald Swann.

Originally these were published on Vinyl LP by Caedmon Records in 1967 ["The Poems and Songs of Middle Earth"], and 1975; ["J. R. R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring" and "J. R. R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Lord Of The Rings, The two Towers / The Return of the King"]. (These latter two were in fact recorded in August of 1952 by George Sayer.)

front cover of the album front cover of the album front cover of the album

Harper Collins Publishers (a segment of Rupert Murdoch's media empire) purchased Caedmon Records making it an imprint of HarperAudio. HarperAudio has produced multiple versions of the Tolkien materials from multiple sources (various dramatizations) including several releases on casette tape but I will only mention some of them.

In "The Road Goes Ever On," composer Donald Swann collects six of J.R.R. Tolkien's poems from "The Lord of the Rings" and sets them to music as a song cycle, arranged so that they may be played and sung individually or back to back. The seventh song, "Errantry," is from "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil."

The final section of the music volume includes complete versions of the poems "Namárië"(song number 5) and "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" (in song number 6) written in Tengwar, the Elvish calligraphy by Tolkien himself! Tolkien also provided notes and translations on these Elvish texts, including a full grammatrical breakdown of the words, and an additional guide to the structure and pronunciation of Elvish. These notes and translations do not appear in any other publication.

The recording of this music performed by Donald Swann on piano and sung by William Elvin was released by Caedmon Records on Vinyl LP in 1967 from the recording made on June 12th 1967. This recording was called "Poems and Songs of Middle Earth" and contained not only the "Road Goes Ever On" songs but also some recordings of Tolkien reading parts from his "Adventures of Tom Bombadil" poems collection.

There have been multiple editions of "The Road Goes Ever On," with new musical material added in both the 2nd and 3rd editions.

In 2001 HarperAudio re-released the 1975 Caedmon recordings along with new material recorded by Christopher Tolkien as "The J.R.R Tolkien Audio Collection," a four disc CD set.

In 2002 Harper Collins published the 3rd Edition of "The Road Goes Ever On," including the re-release, on CD, of the original songs found on the Caedmon LP, but not including the readings by Tolkien of excerpts from "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," plus the new song from the second edition, and a third new song.

The cycle opens with the title song, "The Road Goes Ever On," a variation on the theme of Bilbo's earlier song which appears at the end of "The Hobbit," "Roads go ever ever on"; the tune of this is echoed in the sixth "I Sit Beside the Fire," and seventh songs, "Errantry."

In the first chapter of "The Lord of the Rings," Bilbo sings "The Road Goes Ever On" to himself, as Gandalf listens; he is leaving Bag End, the Ring and the Shire to live with the Elves in Rivendel; these are his last words uttered in the presence of his old friend Gandalf, before his departure.

These poems were all "walking songs" from "The Lord of the Rings" and one from "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil." As Donald Swann describes them in the Forward to the First Edition (1967),

"... every creature in them was on the road -- Bilbo, who sets the pace, Frodo and Sam journeying to the Mountains of Doom, Treebeard herding his trees -- everyone was moving."

Frodo repeats this song again in the third chapter, spontaneously, but seemingly dreged up from long-ago memories, as he, Sam and Pippin gaze across the Woody End towards the Brandwine River and prepare for the first full day on their journey.

In the Forward to the first edition, the composer, Donald Swann recounts,

"After he had heard the six songs Professor Tolkien approved five, but bridled at my music for "Namárië." He heard it differently in his mind, he said, and hummed a Gregorian chant. ... There was no doubt that this melodic line from a remote musical tradition expressed the words ideally, in particular the sadness of the title word "Namáarië and the interjection "Ai!" For my song cycle it would make a pleasant variation fro the piano to stop, and then return for the next song. So I added only the introduction, interlude and coda. Number 5 is thus words and them by Professor Tolkien."

In the second edition of "The Road Goes ever on" (1978), published after the death of Tolkien in 1973, another poem and music were added - "Bilbo's Last song".

The poem, "Bilbo's Last Song," does not itself actually appear in "The Return of the King," the last volume of the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but takes place at it's very end, when many of the principal heroes of the War of the Ring prepare to set sail into the West, to leave Middle Earth forever: among them the wizard Gandalf the White; Frodo Baggins, the Ring bearer; and his elder, Bilbo, who found the Ring so long before.

This poem (written 4 days before Tolkien died and presented to his secretary, Joy Hill) is one of the most moving poems about Middle-Earth.

In addition to its inclusion in the second edition of "The Road Goes Ever On," set to music by Donald Swann, it was also published alone in 1990 as "Bilbo's last song : (at the Grey Havens)," illustrated by Pauline Baynes.

Bilbo's last song : (at the Grey Havens)
J.R.R. Tolkien ; illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (T); 1st American edition
(November 1, 1990)
ISBN: 0395538106
front cover of the album
LC Control Number: 92141491
Publisher: New York : Dragonfly Books : Distributed by Random House, 1992.
 
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; Rev edition, September 24, 2002
ISBN: 0375823735

The third edition (2002) of "The Road Goes Ever On," published by by HarperCollins adds: "Lúthien Tinúviel" from "The Silmarillion."

An audio CD is included with this third edition containing re-mastered versions of the cycle songs from the 1967 LP plus the two new songs, recorded later, from the second edition - "Bilbo's Last song" and "Tinuviel" from "The Silmarillion". The complete song listing is as follows:

  1. The Road Goes Ever On - Bilbo Baggins
  2. Upon theHearth the Fire Is Red - Bilbo Baggins
  3. In the Willow-meads of Tasarinan - Treebeard
  4. In Western Lands - Sam Gamgee
  5. Namárië - Galadriel
  6. I Sit beside the Fire - Bilbo Baggins
  7. A Elbereth Gilthoniel - Bilbo Baggins
  8. Errantry - Tom Bombadil - The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  9. Bilbo's Last Song (2nd edition onwards)
  10. Lúthien Tinúviel (3rd edition) - Silmarillion

Pauline Baynes' original Mordor drawing from the cover of the first album, "Poems and Songs of Middle Earth" LP (1967):

Tracks on the original "Poems and Songs of Middle Earth" LP (1967):

Side 1:
J. R. R. Tolkien reads from The Adventures of Tom Bonbadil

  1. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  2. The Mewlips
  3. The Hoard
  4. Perry-the-Winkle
  5. The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon
  6. The Sea-Bell
Side 2:
  1. A Elbreth Gilthoniel
The Road Goes Ever on, Sung by William Elvin, Donald Swann, Piano
  1. The Road Goes Ever On - Bilbo Baggins
  2. Upon theHearth the Fire Is Red - Bilbo Baggins
  3. In the Willow-meads of Tasarinan - Treebeard
  4. In Western Lands - Sam Gamgee
  5. Namárië - Galadriel
  6. I Sit beside the Fire - Bilbo Baggins
  7. A Elbereth Gilthoniel - Bilbo Baggins
  8. Errantry - Tom Bombadil - The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Of historic note, all these recordings of Tolkien reading from "The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings" and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are based on the famous tape recordings that Tolkien made when he was staying with George Sayer in August, 1952.

See the Liner notes for LP 2 and LP 3 below for complete details.

Note also: all of the recordings by Tolkien, including the readings from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are now available in a 4 CD set The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection released in 2001 by Camedon - HarperAudio - Harper Collins Publishing.

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Liner notes for LP 1: The Poems and Songs of Middle Earth

Liner notes for LP 2: J. R. R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring

Liner notes for LP 3: J. R. R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Lord Of The Rings, The two Towers / The Return of the King

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Many reviews of Tolkien materials are available from the Tolkien Society.

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Catalog information:

Poems and Songs of J.R.R. Tolkien.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Elvish;
Richard Elvin, vocals; Donald Swann, piano
Caedmon TC 1231

Personal Name:Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892-1973.
Personal Name: Swann, Donald, 1923-

LC Control Number: 67003894
Main Title: Poems and Songs of Middle Earth [Sound recording]
Published/Created: [n.p.] Caedmon TC 1231 (TC 91231). [1967]
Related Titles: The Road Goes Ever On. [Printed Music]
Description: 12 in. 33 1/3 rpm. stereo.
Notes: The poems are read by the author; the songs, settings from The Road Goes Ever On, are sung by William Elvin, with the composer, Donald Swann, at the piano.
Critical notes by W. H. Auden on slipcase.

LC Control Number: 2003464919
Type of Material: Printed Music
Main Title: The road goes ever on : a song cycle / poems by J.R.R. Tolkien ; music by Donald Swann ; with decorations by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Edition Information: [3rd ed.]
Published/Created: London : HarperCollins, 2002.
Related Names: Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892-1973.
Description: 1 score (xi, 84 p.) ; 28 cm. + 1 sound disc (digital ; 4 3/4 in.)
ISBN: 0007136552

LC Control Number: 75750493
Main Title: J. R. R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. [Sound recording]
Published/Created: Caedmon TC 1477. p1975.
Description: 12 in. 33 1/3 rpm. stereo.
Notes: Excerpts from chapter 5 of The Hobbit and V. 1 of The lord of the rings.
Based on a tape recording made in August, 1952 by George Sayer.
Duration: ca. 51 min.
Descriptive notes by G. Sayer on container.

LC Control Number: 75750494
Main Title: J. R. R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Lord Of The Rings. [Sound recording]
Published/Created: [n.p.] Caedmon TC 1478. p1975.
Contents: V. 2 The two towers. V. 3 The return of the king.
Notes: Excerpts from V. 2 and 3 of The Lord Of The Rings.
Based on a tape recording made in 1952.
Duration: ca. 43 min.
Descriptive notes by G. Sayer on container.

Main Title: J.R.R. Tolkien Audio CD Collection
Published/Created: HarperAudio, Caedmon; Audio CD-Rom 10/02/2001
Notes: Read by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien
Contents: 4 CD roms
ISBN: 0694525707


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        Revision:  13 May 2005
Last modified:  13 May 2005