I also found myself on a panel discussing Orwell's 1984. Not a usual subject for a Mythcon, but there are connections with Lewis (they reviewed each other's books: Orwell disliked the magic in That Hideous Strength and Lewis disliked the sex in 1984) and resemblances to Tolkien (they both had deep senses of political morality and a preference for Little Englander socio-economics). Among my contributions were a citation of the ingrained sense of viewpoint balance in Orwell's essays and his creation of the best opening sentence ever written for an essay (written during WW2, the essay starts, "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."), and noting the sensible description of Orwell's political positions in Thomas E. Ricks' Churchill and Orwell: despite his attacks on the Soviets, he was not a neoconservative or anything of the kind: he was a man of the Left who hated totalitarianism from any quarter, instead of excusing it when it came from the end of his side of the spectrum.
But another panel which most seemed to interest people was on The Silmarillion. This consisted of 5 mini-papers on a variety of topics. Mine was on music and the Ainulindalë, based on a longer music and Tolkien presentation I'd given in earlier years and later published. Creation stories based on music are not that rare, but Tolkien's is particularly detailed. It describes, with considerable sophistication, a massive structure of counterpoint, in which themes create harmony by being played simultaneously in different voices, and themes evolve one into another.
The voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing ... [It] was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came.What could it possibly have sounded like? Something of unutterable beauty, to be sure, but as for what earthly music might have inspired Tolkien, I have a clue, which comes of all things from Donald Swann's song cycle The Road Goes Ever On. Tolkien told Swann that he heard Galadriel's lament Namárië as a Gregorian chant, and sang one, which Swann transcribed and used.
To Tolkien, a conservative Catholic, Gregorian chant would have been the music of holiness and closeness to God. That sense of connection to the divine is part of what Tolkien is trying to show with the Elves and their connection to Valinor, and Catholic symbolism in the Elves has often been noted by critics, so why should not their music be divine Catholic music?
But since Gregorian chant is monophonic, the sectional polyphonic music of the Ainur would therefore have to be sacred choral music. Probably the elegant and transparent music of the High Renaissance, something like ... and I played this recording:As you can see in the score, that's ten-part harmony, folks. It's the English Baroque Soloists in Nisi Dominus from the Vespers of 1610 by Claudio Monteverdi.
Or this motet by Giovanni Gabrieli, his 16-part(!) Omnes Gentes, played by the Gabrieli Consort:I then sampled some later, 18th-century pieces that also illustrate Tolkien's methods. The concluding "Amen" from Handel's Messiah, for instance, a work Tolkien must have known even though Handel was a Protestant: a massive fugue with a text of but a single word. (Think Tolkien's Eä!) This is the Handel and Haydn Society:Or the "Confutatis" from Mozart's Requiem, which sets turbulent and peaceful music against each other as Tolkien does Ilúvatar's and Melkor's:That's the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields recording used in the movie Amadeus, whose fictions about Mozart and Salieri I had to spend my final moments refuting.