From the Sleevenotes: Fëanor

Sleevenotes from PFCD178/179, Paul Corfield Godfrey’s Fëanor

Synopsis

Disc One

First Triptych

Prologue: Ainulindalë
[1] The world is created by Ilúvatar, the One, from primaeval chaos. Firstly the Elder King and then the Valar, the Powers who will govern Arda in his name, are introduced. Themes associated with the Elder King’s spouse Elbereth and the other Valar are then succeeded by a descending chordal motif representing the realm of Middle-Earth.
Scene One:
[2] The Elder King declares the hour has come when the Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves, will rise from sleep. [3] Elbereth creates new stars to herald their coming, since these are the days before the creation of the sun or moon. [4] The Elves come into being by the Waters of Awakening, in the far east of Middle-Earth, and look upon the light of the stars. [5] Hearing the sound of falling waters, they create language and give names to all that they perceive.
Scene Two:
[6] Melkor, the Enemy, descends to the Elves and seeks to corrupt them through the fear of darkness. [7] In response to this threat, the Valar decide to summon the Elves to safety in Valinor, the Blessed Realm where the Two Trees give light to the land. These Trees are now described and [8] as the Elves begin the crossing of Middle-Earth to reach the ships that will take them to Valinor, the count of Time begins in the noontide of the Blessed Realm.
Scene Three:
[9] In Tirion, the chief city of the Elves in the Blessed Realm, Finwë the King of the Elves and his wife Miriel have a son, Fëanor; but Miriel’s spirit is consumed in the delivery, and she passes to the kingdom of Mandos the Lord of Death. [10] Finwë remarries and has two further children, Fingolfin and Finarfin, who are therefore Fëanor’s half-brothers. [11] After various trials Fëanor shapes three great jewels, the Silmarils, containing the blended light of the Two Trees, and they are hallowed by the Valar; Mandos foretells that the fate of the world is bound within them.

Disc Two

Second Triptych

Scene Four:
[1] Melkor covets the Silmarils, and begins to sow dissension between Fëanor and his half- brothers, with the former encouraging the Elves to leave the Blessed Realm for new kingdoms in Middle-Earth. [3] When Fingolfin objects to this, Fëanor draws his sword on his half-brother during a debate before his father Finwë, [4] and in punishment is banished from Tirion for twelve years. Melkor warns Fëanor that the Silmarils are not safe in the land of the Valar but Fëanor realising Melkor’s hidden intention, drives him from his door.
Scene Five:
[5] Melkor seeks out Ungoliant, the Great Spider dwelling in darkness in the mountains, [6] and offers her all that she may desire if she will aid him. She constructs a web of Unlight by means of which he may ascend the peaks overlooking the Trees in the Blessed Realm. [7] In Valinor Fëanor and Fingolfin are reconciled and Fingolfin promises to follow Fëanor wherever he may lead. [8] But as the light of the Two Trees is mingled, Melkor and Ungoliant come hastening into the Blessed Realm and destroy the Two Trees; and Middle-Earth is plunged into gloom and darkness. [9] Elbereth declares that by the use of the Silmarils she could restore light to the Realm and revive the Trees, [10] but Fëanor reflecting on Melkor’s words refuses to surrender the works which he regards as his most prized achievement. [11] Fëanor’s eldest son Maedhros enters in haste to tell the Valar that Melkor has gone to Fëanor’s stronghold and, after killing Finwë the King, has stolen the Silmarils. Fëanor curses Melkor, naming him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World, whilst the Enemy himself takes possession of his prize and crosses the Narrow Ice to Middle-Earth.
Scene Six:
[12] Fëanor summons the Elves to follow him in pursuit of Morgoth, seeking to recover the Silmarils by force. He conjures up a vision of new realms under the stars, where a free people might walk; he speaks of the coming of Men, the Second-born Children of Ilúvatar, declaring that the Elves alone will determine the future course of events in Middle-Earth. [13] He and his sons swear an oath of vengeance, to recover the Jewels from the Enemy and to destroy anyone who seeks to keep the Silmarils from them. [14] The Elder King warns Fëanor that his pursuit of Morgoth will be in vain, but Fëanor is unmoved and the Elves in a great tumult follow him.

Third Triptych

Scene Seven:
[15] The prelude portrays the Haven of the Swans, where the people of the Sea-Elves in the Blessed Realm live and build their ships. [16] Fëanor and Fingolfin seek to persuade Olwë, the King of these Telerin Elves, to lend them vessels to sail back to Middle-Earth in pursuit of Morgoth. [17] Olwë refuses to do so against the wishes of the Valar, and Fëanor in defiance seizes the ships by force, killing many of the Elves who resist him. [18] Fëanor, his sons and the first group of his followers board the ships to begin the crossing to Middle-Earth; but their trip across the sea is perilous, as a vengeful Ulmo raises a storm and many of the ships are lost.
Scene Eight:
[19] The Elves move steadily forward into the northern wasteland, with increasing cold and ice threatening them. [20] Mandos appears to them, laying a doom upon Fëanor and all who follow him. For slaying their kinsfolk unrighteously, they are forever banished from Valinor and the Valar will block any that try to return. Though they may not perish by natural causes, they shall all be doomed to die and their works will all fade to nothing. [21] Fëanor replies that, even if they all perish, their deeds will live after them. The Elder King reflects that this glory will be dearly purchased, but that it could be bought in no other way; Mandos observes that the evil will nevertheless remain, and that Fëanor will soon come to him.
Scene Nine:
[22] On the shores of Middle-Earth Morgoth and Ungoliant quarrel about the division of the spoils, and Morgoth refuses to surrender the Silmarils to her; with the aid of his Balrogs, spirits of flame, he drives her away and takes his prize back to his fortress of Angband. [23] Fëanor and his sons land in Middle-Earth, but when Maedhros is eager to send the ships back to convey the rest of the Elves across the Ocean he demurs; in a fey mood he has the ships burned. Fingolfin and the remainder of his followers see the flames and know that they are betrayed, but nonetheless follow Fëanor to Middle-Earth as the moon rises for the first time.
Epilogue:
[24] Fëanor in his turn manages to fight his way to Angband to confront Morgoth, but is defeated by him in solitary combat and consumed with flame. His sons, who have witnessed his fall from afar, turn away with an air of menace.

A full libretto of the work, including translations of the Elvish, can be found online at https://www.volanteopera.wales/feanor

The full libretto, along with annotations and analysis, can be found online at
https://sites.google.com/site/paulcorfieldgodfrey/feanor

The Origins of a Mythology

Among the four works which constitute the set of epic scenes from The Silmarillion, Fëanor stands somewhat apart from the other three segments. In the first place, it was never conceived by Tolkien as a separate or independent-standing work, unlike the later segments of Beren and Lúthien, The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin, where the author’s intentions for the structure of his work were at any rate generally clear even when the manuscripts at the time of his death were frequently left in some state of confusion. But it seemed to me that the provision of a piece like Fëanor was absolutely essential if those coming to the work who had not previously encountered (or been able to plough their way through) the various editions of The Silmarillion were going to be able to follow the context of the epic scenes as a whole. The whole of the mythology of Tolkien – and Fëanor is a much more mythologically based work than any of its successors – needs to be elucidated for the benefit of those whose knowledge of Tolkien may not extend outside the realm of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The work therefore in some ways forms a sort of bridge between my earlier pieces – such as my third symphony Ainlindalë – and the other “great tales” of The Silmarillion. Tolkien himself when he came to undertake his final work on the opening of the legendarium in the early 1950s – following the completion of i – expanded his dialogue fairly considerably to include more extended sections of dramatic confrontation, although at the same time much of the basic material was left in the form of epic narration. This has been consigned (as in other parts of the epic scenes) to a chorus, whose narrative function in the First Triptych of Fëanor takes over and dominates the musical and dramatic evolution in its entirety. This therefore gives Fëanor a somewhat unbalanced structure, where the real drama does not seem to get under way until well into the Second Triptych; but it was the only way, it seemed to me, whereby the context which is essential to the full appreciation of Tolkien’s Silmarillion could be supplied.

And when the dramatic action does get under way, it is dramatic indeed. The evolution of the personality of Fëanor himself, at once one of Tolkien’s great heroic figures and also one of his archetypical villains, is a fascinating study in character deterioration which in its own much more grandiose fashion almost parallels that of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings – that of the owner progressively falling under the spell of his own possessiveness. It seems to me clear that Tolkien, in writing his words for Fëanor, had in mind the demagogic outbursts of contemporary dictators during the period of the 1920s and 1930s when the plotline itself was conceived; and although there is no element of overt allegory in his writing – Fëanor is most assuredly not Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin or indeed any demagogue of that more prosaic type – the elements of power, its corruption and the desire for new fields of conquest, are a close parallel to the situation brought about by the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings with the Silmarils taking over the element of possession which is one of the great evils in Tolkien’s moral compass.

Although the dramatic shape of Fëanor was a matter of considerable difficulty, the actual construction of the text was comparatively straightforward, since most if not all of the material already existed in a finally edited version in the body of The Silmarillion as published originally by Christopher Tolkien in 1977. There were only a couple of passages where later insertions were taken from revisions made in the 1950s which Tolkien himself never properly adumbrated into his final version of the text, but which I found helpful and dramatically effective, such as Maedhros’s description of the murder of his grandfather. These indeed were only published after the full score of Fëanor was completed, and the relevant passages were recomposed and inserted into the score after its final manuscript version but before its initial publication. More recently, during the preparation for these recordings, I have also restored some of the characters in Tolkien’s original story to their original functions, so that Olwë for example appears in Scene Seven in place of the somewhat incongruously inserted Finrod in the original musical setting (written that way to accommodate the idea that the same singer would take the role in both Fëanor and Beren and Lúthien). The text otherwise remains almost entirely as set out in Christopher Tolkien’s Silmarillion edition, with some minor reallocation of spoken dialogue and obviously considerable abridgement, although the choral passages almost entirely derive from Tolkien’s own narrative descriptions.

Musically, as I have explained, the work was conceived as a bridge between the Ainulandalë symphony, where many of the musical motives were initially displayed, and the later sets of epic scenes – in particular The Children of Húrin, which at the time was the only segment of the cycle completed – although it should be emphasised that by this stage it was already in my mind that there would be a complete tetralogy and that the musical material would bind this together. Indeed the opening prelude to Fëanor is identical to the opening of the third symphony, and other sections from that symphony make their appearance at intervals during the First Triptych particularly where they provide an expansion of the dramatic situation. The musical themes for Fëanor himself, and for the emerging lords of the Elves, are almost entirely new, although the music for Morgoth obviously reflects that which had already been provided for him in The Children of Húrin.

As such Fëanor has more independent ‘set pieces’ within the score than any of the other groups of epic scenes, and this is indeed intentional. The most striking of these is probably the setting of the Oath of Fëanor and his seven sons, distinguished by a violently shifting rhythmic pulse and the voices’ declamation in increasingly hysterical clamour over an orchestra reduced to a pair of roaring sets of timpani – which will recur in more conventional form (when the form of words is perceived as having become institutionalised) in Beren and Lúthien. Here I returned the text to a close adaptation of the very first original version of the words as given in Tolkien’s Book of Lost Tales, emphasising the primitive nature of the declaration itself. At the other extreme is the rhythmically limping dodecaphonic fugato which depicts the spider-like nature of Ungoliant, material which similarly recurs in Beren and Lúthien; or even the groups of clustered chords at the very opening which depict the primal chaos from which the ordering and creation of the realm of Middle-Earth will arise.

This release brings the recording of the complete set of epic scenes to a conclusion, with all four of the original parts now available on disc. But there still remains the consideration of the treatment of Tolkien’s sketches for his legendary history of the end of the Third Age. For a long time I remained of the opinion that there was no basis even in the author’s sketches for a satisfactory conclusion to the epic cycle of The Silmarillion, even taking into account the poem of the Lay of Eärendil in the revised version which Tolkien wrote apparently after the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring. But since we began the enterprise of recording the whole cycle, Simon Crosby Buttle has taken it upon himself to convince me that there is sufficient material for a fifth set of ‘epic scenes’ taking in material that was omitted from the earlier evenings, bringing the saga of the Oath of Fëanor to its bitter conclusion, subsuming the legend of Eärendil and proceeding into the Second Age concluding with the forging of the One Ring – which leads in turn into the events of The Lord of the Rings itself. So in a few years’ time we may well hope to see a more extensive cycle materialising both on paper and on disc.

Although the text for Fëanor gives full stage directions as if for a fully staged performance, it is perhaps hard to see how some passages – especially the chorally based First Triptych – could ever be satisfactorily presented in the theatre. As such the work, like the other ‘epic scenes’, can perhaps be viewed as a sort of secular cantata which could be given in a semi-staged performance but in other places allowing the music to take centre stage, as in the formal choral descriptions of place and action, or through the use of filmed projections for the acts of cosmic creation. It may indeed best be encountered through the medium of sound recording, where listeners can mentally supply their own visual images to counterpoint the aural effect. Such a recording as the one here, which allows the detailed interweaving of choirs and soloists to be fully appreciated, would inevitably be very difficult to realise in the context of live performance. Paul Corfield Godfrey

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Paul Corfield Godfrey was born in London and after a period of residence in Ireland now lives in Wales, studying composition and conducting at various times with Alan Bush and David Wynne. His compositions include four symphonies: various orchestral, chamber and instrumental works: songs and choral works: operas, including The Dialogues of Óisin and Saint Patric and Arcturus, both performed in Cardiff and elsewhere: and a cycle of epic scenes based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s posthumous novel The Silmarillion, the largest work written in Wales in the twentieth century, of which this recording is but one part. Other works have been performed in London and elsewhere throughout the UK, Hungary, America, Australia and New Zealand. His manuscript scores are lodged at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. He has appeared as a performer both on radio and television, and he reviews live performances, audio and video recordings for MusicWeb International.

A note from Volante Opera Productions

We freely admit to you that this recording is not live recording. We did not have the means to employ a full orchestra and chorus to rehearse and record this work. What we do have is the small recording setup we use at Volante Opera Productions to make learning tracks for choirs and solo singers. On meeting Paul Corfield Godfrey and discovering his works, we were given the chance to utilise these skills to bring to people a version of one of his works, that has never been performed or recorded in over two decades since its composition.

The orchestra for this recording was created using sampled instrument sets, in this case the EASTWEST SOFTWARE/QUANTUM LEAP “Symphonic Orchestra”. These instrument sets use samples of real instrument sounds which are then sequenced in the recording software ready to be played. We used the digital version of Paul’s score to transfer the notes and tempi into the recording software. From this point each instrument is then individually played and then checked for volume and velocity. Then, once all individual instruments are checked, the balance between them is adjusted. It is a long, slow process but with patience the results are as close to real, without having an actual orchestra in a studio, as can be.

We are extremely honoured to have a large collection of friends and colleagues who are all professional opera singers. With their help we have managed to fill out the cast of this piece. Due to the limitations of space in our recording setup, we could only record them one at a time. Over the course of the recording process each of them came individually to record their roles often months apart from the other characters in the scene.

The chorus in this piece, a character in its own right, presented a problem to us. There are a few options available these days for synthesising voices or for multiplying vocal tracks to increase the perceived number of singers. Neither of these options was satisfactory. The synthesised voices sounded too different from the real ones and the multipliers work very strangely on operatic voices. With our limitations of space this meant that however many singers we had for the chorus would have to record individually. We therefore decided that a chorus of eight, whilst very under the required numbers, would serve best for this recording as a demonstration of the music. This means that every vocal line in the chorus is covered by a different singer to accommodate splits in parts. There are problems with this method; eight individuals recording at different times will never exactly sound like a chamber choir standing together with a conductor. Again, with patience in post processing they can be brought very close though and we hope that any imperfections in this will be forgiven in the interest of getting this piece heard. Editing and mastering was done in close collaboration with Paul to attempt to get this recording as near to his vision as we could within our limitations.

The purpose of this Demo Recording is simply to get the piece heard. The ideal would of course be to hear it performed by a full orchestra and chorus but until this happens we hope that this recording will serve.

For more information please visit our website (www.volanteopera.wales) and follow the links there for more information about our other projects.