The Ainur’s Music: From “Good” to “Very Good”

Metaphysics of the Music, part 26

When Ilúvatar first begins teaching the Ainur their Music, it is the case that, as the Platonic reading of the Ainulindalë might predict, they are unable to grasp completely the theme in its unity or wholeness: “[b]ut for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly” (Silmarillion 15). As we have seen previously, however, the Ainur mature in their comprehension and skill over time, so that “as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony,” and yet despite the Ainur’s challenges in learning the initial theme, Ilúvatar follows it with second, “mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendor of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent” (emphasis added). Where Ilúvatar’s own music-making is concerned, therefore, it turns out to resemble less a Neoplatonic pattern of iterative decay than it does the gradual, eschatological progression described, for example, in the Book of Genesis, where creation’s initial status as merely “good” gradually gives way to its later consummation as “very good.” More remarkable still is that, despite the surpassing beauty of Ilúvatar’s second theme, this time the Ainur are not told to repeat (however unsuccessfully) its pattern, but as was just noted, are instead exhorted to “adorn” it: instead of imitating Ilúvatar’s theme, in other words, they are to interpret, improvise, and even improve upon it, much as the biblical Adam and Eve are told to complete the work that the Lord God, for all its initial goodness, had already begun. And while the resulting Music is said to have been so beautiful that not even the Ainur themselves have since “made any music like to this music,” in the same breath the narration anticipates a day when “a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days.” Even the discord, finally, introduced into the Music by Melkor ultimately serves not to lessen its overall beauty, but becomes yet another instrument and occasion whereby Ilúvatar is able to enter again into the Music and make it more beautiful still. Here we have yet another parallel to what David Bentley Hart observes in the Bible to be the Holy Spirit’s “power to redeem discordant lines” and “the promise of Christian faith that, eschatologically, the music of all creation will be restored…” (Beauty of the Infinite 281).

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