Paul CORFIELD GODFREY (b.1950)
The Children of Húrin: Epic Scenes from the Silmarillion after the Mythology of J R R Tolkein -
Part Three (1982)
Morgoth the Enemy - Laurence Cole
Húrin, Lord of the House of Hador; Gwindor, a Lord of Nargothrond - Julian
Túrin, his son - Simon Crosby Buttle (tenor)
Morwen, Wife of Húrin - Helen Greenaway (mezzo)
Niënor, Daughter of Húrin - Angharad Morgan (soprano)
Saeros, Councillor of Doriath; Dorlas, a woodsman - Michael
Mablung, Captain of Doriath - Stephen Wells
Beleg Cuthalion, Captain of Doriath; Brandir, Lord of the Men of Brethil -
Finduilas, Princess of Nargothrond - Emma Mary Llewellyn (soprano)
Glaurung the dragon - George Newton-Fitzgerald
Louise Ratcliffe (mezzo)
Jasey Hall (bass)
Volante Opera Chorus
Volante ‘Symphonic Orchestra’
Virtual orchestra created using EastWest Software/Quantum Leap
Detailed synopsis included. No texts – available
with detailed musical analysis.
PRIMA FACIE PFCD126/7
[78:11 + 56:21]
First an acknowledgment: Paul Corfield Godfrey (hereafter PCG) is a fellow
MusicWeb reviewer, though we have never met. His latest review, of Wagner’s
Die Walküre, is
here. A further acknowledgment: I am
something of a Tolkien ‘nut’, having had the privilege of being lectured by
the Great Man when he was brought out of retirement during my second year
at Oxford, and by his son Christopher on Old English language and poetry in
my first year. This new recording is dedicated, among others, to
Christopher, who did so much to edit his father's works.
Some time ago I reviewed two earlier Tolkien-inspired pieces: Akallabêth and other works –
– and The Fall of Gondolin: Recommended –
Two other colleagues also reviewed Akallabêth –
My review of The Fall of Gondolin was meant to represent my
interim thoughts but, in the event, I never got down to writing about it in
more detail – nor did I ever finish Christopher Tolkien’s edition of the
book of that name: it’s still on my ‘to do’ pile, along with all the other
things I never completed, such as learning Sanskrit or completing an MPhil.
The Recommended status stands for my appreciation of the music and the
performance, as it does
also for this instalment. Those wishing to avoid a rambling journey
through Old English and Old Norse poetry should take that Recommended award
at face value and jump to the end of the review.
This is one of two recordings which I have recently been
invited to review on
the basis of an earlier interest in a particular repertoire. A few days before receiving The Children of Húrin, I
was sent a very different album, Tudor
composer Nicholas Ludford’s Missa Sabato, performed by La Quintina
on Paraty (220191). I’m very pleased that I said ‘yes’ in both cases; my
very positive review of the Ludford, another Recommended recording, should be online about the time that you
Like The Fall of Gondolin, the new recording uses real singers,
drawn from Welsh National Opera, and a virtual orchestra. As before, the
virtual orchestra is completely convincing. If we can have recordings of
virtual Hauptwerk organs, as on all but the latest of Divine Art’s
series of recordings of the music of Carson Cooman, why not of a full
orchestra? I’m not sure how it works in either case, but I don’t need to
know. (Presumably the organist sits at a ‘real’ set of keyboards and pedals
and selects the registration digitally.)
If anyone was born to set the works of Tolkien to music, it would have been
Wagner, for whom the world of Germanic mythology was as inspiring as it was
to Tolkien father and son. So deeply was Norse mythology engrained in
Tolkien that he took the names of the dwarves in The Hobbit
directly from the Vøluspá. The difference being that, whereas
read the Norse sagas and the Poetic Edda in the original, Wagner
had to rely on a translation of the Vølsungasaga, which he
skilfully interwove with the Middle High German Nibelungenlied.
Unfortunately, Wagner is not around any longer, so the task falls to PCG,
whose translation of The Children of Húrin into a two-hour music
is also a work of considerable skill. As well as being based on the
material which Christopher Tolkien used for the book of the same name, the
work ends with the return of Húrin from his pinnacle of suffering, an
from The Wanderings of Húrin. It’s taken half a millennium to
appreciate the music of Ludford on that other recording; I hope and trust
that PCG doesn’t have to wait that long. One day, maybe, his work will be
produced on stage with a real orchestra, which is certainly not meant to
play down the value of this recording; until then, these CDs will serve very well.
Inevitably, there are shades of the Ring cycle in the mix, as in
the power of Glaurung the dragon to exercise a paralysing terror similar to
that of Fafnir until he encounters the man who knows no fear, Siegfried. The notes refer to Tolkien’s
interest in the Finnish Kalevala for the unwitting incest between
brother and sister, and the music briefly quotes Sibelius’ Kullervo,
but Wagner also provides an analogue in the liaison of Siegmund and
Sieglinde in Die Walküre.
Without suggesting overt influence from Sibelius, other than the
acknowledged quotation, or Wagner, The Children of Húrin at its
best deserves comparison with both composers in terms of the power of the
music. In fact, in an interview on his website,
PCG plays down any parallels with Wagner, as Tolkien himself did in saying
that the only comparison between the two Rings was that both were round.
I could add that both were objects of beauty which, through human greed and
lust for power, brought untold misery. Such considerations aside, PCG manages to achieve a genuinely epic style without detaining us for anything
like the span of a Wagner opera.
Nor does he believe that the more ethereal moments in his
music – of which
there are plenty – owe anything to the influence of Hildegard of Bingen,
whose music has become so familiar following The Gothic Voices’ rediscovery
of it on Hyperion. Again, though there may be no influence, it’s not amiss to compare the two
in terms of emotional content; as in The Fall of Gondolin, the
music here is often hauntingly beautiful. And PCG does admit to the influence of
Vaughan Williams, which I hear in all his music, though sifted through his
own style. I also hear the influence of Holst.
It may be less popular than it was to look for archetypes but, as
an inveterate Jungian, I can’t help seeing them in much of this work. We
begin with the evil Morgoth who wields power unjustly. There are many
parallels: both Wotan/Odin and Zeus/Jupiter, though powerful beings, are
both capricious and subject to Fate. If one phrase sums up the Germanic view of things, it
occurs in the poem The Wanderer: Wyrd bið ful aræd - fate
is wholly inexorable. If it is your fate to be cursed by an evil
power, as Húrin is by Morgoth at the outset, there’s little that you can do
abut it. And if a dragon makes you forget who you are and you commit
incest with your brother, as Niënor does, that’s wyrd at work, too.
Having been felled by Morgoth’s curse, Húrin ends the Prologue transfixed
on a high place, like Prometheus bound to his rock or the valkyrie
Sigrdrifa/Brunhilde surrounded by fire on her peak. I’ve already mentioned
the brother/sister incest theme and the best myths often involve dragons;
Glaurung was the father of the fire-drakes of Angband. It’s remarkable that
a creature that doesn’t exist should feature in unconnected cultures.
Germanic mythology was, of course replete with dragons; even heroes like
Beowulf were not immune to them, but the simple hobbit Bilbo was able to
find the flaw in the armour of Smaug. Even after the restoration which
follows the Downfall of the gods, the dragon Nidhogg flies over the plain,
carrying corpses: Þar kemr inn dimmi dreki fljúgandi,
naðr fránn neðan frá Niðafjöllum;
berr sér í fjöðrum — flýgr völl yfir —
/Niðhöggr nái. [Vøluspá 66] Like Beowulf, deserted before
the dragon's lair by all but one of his retainers, so Dorlas deserts Túrin
before he and Glaurung destroy each other.
The dragon Glaurung is despatched by being stabbed from below.
where the dragon is depicted symbolically by a mask, is less specific about this
than the book but, like Smaug his vulnerable spot is underneath, and Túrin
despatches him like Sigurð in Fafnismál, in the Edda.
Unlike Sigurð, however, the hero doesn’t lurk ignominiously in a ditch until the
dragon passes over him, but does the deed valorously, like Wagner’s
Tolkien’s work in general and The Children of Húrin in
particular is permeated
with the sense of loss which underlies Old English and Norse poetry.
illustrates ‘the sadness of Mortal Man’:
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning? [The Two Towers, Chapter 6]
The lines, an adaptation of part of the Old English poem The Wanderer [Hwær cwom mearg hwær cwom mago?] apply well to the events of The Children of Húrin, where even well-meaning action occasions death
and loss. Equally apt are later lines from the same poem:
Eall is earfoðlic eorþan rice;
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weoruld under heofonum.
Her bið feoh læne. Her bið freond læne.
Her bið mon læne. Her bið mæg læne.
Eal þis eorþan gesteal idel weorþeð . [All is suffering in the earthly realm; /
the action of fate governs the world under
the heavens. / Here fortune is fleeting. Here friends are fleeting. / Here
man is fleeting. Here maiden is fleeting / All this earthly abode becomes
Where this mood permeates the action, PCG’s music reflects it perfectly.
But even the deepest Germanic gloom leads to new hope. After the downfall
of the gods (Ragna røk, Götterdämmerung), in the Edda,
the prophetess foresees ‘coming up a second time / Earth from the ocean,
eternally green.’ [Sér hon upp koma öðru sinni / jörð ór œgi iðjagrœna; Vøluspá, 59]. So, at the end of The Children of Húrin,
PCG interpolates a moving reunion scene in which Húrin returns from his
captivity in Angband to the tomb of Túrin, where Morwen is dying. So CD2
opens, with the Prelude to Scene 7, music worthy of mention in the same
sentence as that of Sibelius, and closes with music of loss shot
through with hope and tenderness. The detailed notes aptly refer to gentle
benediction and an unravelling of the web of myth through which the tragic
history has been viewed. Húrin’s final words are significant ‘She was not
conquered’. It’s a very different ending from that of Götterdämmerung, but it’s worthy of mention in the same sentence –
and there’s not much that is, in my book. You can access the music of this
Christopher Tolkien was an excellent lecturer. His Friday lectures on
poetry, always delivered wearing a bow tie, were so interesting that some
friends and I spent more than usual on lunch that day, discussing the topic
of the lecture. One Friday, going home for the weekend, I was so inspired
by his account of Njal’s Saga that I risked missing the train to
drop off via Blackwells to buy the Penguin translation. I caught the train
by a whisker, but, head full of Norse literature, forgot that I was still
wearing my gown until people started giving me odd looks as I changed
trains in Birmingham.
His editions of his father’s work, unfortunately, don’t for me quite match
the charisma of those lectures. They read a little too much like scholarly
editions of medieval texts, often with a confusing wealth of variants, as
if he were comparing the slightly varied accounts of
Sigurð’s/Siegfried’s slaying of the dragon and his encounter with Sigrdrifa/Brunhilde
in different versions. It’s very much to the credit of PCG’s
they hang together musically and make narrative sense.
The notes point out that the music was composed well before Christopher
Tolkien’s final edition of the story in 2007, and is independent of it.
The advantage of a virtual orchestra is that it plays exactly what it’s
programmed to play, with no fluffs. The singers, however, provide an
element of potential human fallibility – potential but not actual in the
case of this recording. Indeed, almost all of the singers are carried over
from the fine team who recorded The Fall of Gondolin. All give good
account of themselves, despite the music being seriously demanding at times.
The recording is good, sound effects included, and the notes helpful, though I strongly recommend
also following the link to the website, where you will find more detail, a
libretto and musical examples.
I once had a colleague who thought that her students deserved
better grades for trying hard. I'm sure that composing so much music on Tolkienian and
other themes is thoroughly deserving, but my award of Recommended status, as for The Fall of Gondolin, is certainly not for that reason alone, or
because this is music by a colleague. I apologise for taking a ramble though
Old English and Norse poetry, but I do urge readers to make the project
worthwhile by buying the CD or the download. The discs are available at
mid-price, around £14; the download is less expensive, around £10 in
lossless format and comes with the pdf booklet. There is even a 24-bit
download. If anything, I was even
more impressed byt this than by Godfrey’s other Tolkien-based works.