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The Story of the Tolkien Ensemble
by Caspar Reiff

Part 1 (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6)

The story of the Tolkien Ensemble goes back to the beginning of April 1990 when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. To me it was the most fantastic experience of reading I had ever had and after finishing reading the book I immediately started all over again...

J.R.R. Tolkien
British author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892 - 1973)

At this point I did not know that the reading of Tolkien's masterpiece would in the future be the all consuming core of my artistic work.

In the following years I reread the book many times and in 1992 I decided to read it in the original language (until then I had only read the Danish translation). It was to me like reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time and not least the poems and songs impressed and inspired me. I was at this time studying classical guitar at The Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen.

Caspar Reiff
Caspar Reiff in concert performing Vivaldi's Guitar Concert,
Viborg Cathedral in Denmark, February 1992

I decided to try to set some of the poems to music. The first poems I chose were Galadriel's Song of Eldamar, The Old Walking Song and There is an inn...

In 1993 - 95 I had a guitar duo with the English guitarist and singer Peter Hall, and at a number of concerts we performed these songs as part of our concert programme.

It is impossible in short notes to describe Peter Hall's influence on me as a musician and artist. He introduced me not only to the classical guitar repertoire but also to the British folk-music tradition, and to the varied range of folk-instruments. Our cooperation was in the future to become the very heart of the Tolkien project I had in mind.

1995 was to be the year that gave birth to the Tolkien Ensemble.

The Danish Baron Peter Henrik Tesdorph had in a local newspaper read that I was composing music to the poems of The Lord of the Rings. He contacted me and asked me to perform the songs at a concert at his castle, a wonderful 'Lord of the Ring-ish' castle dating back to 1396 situated in Denmark.

Gjorslev Castle
The wonderful Gjorslev Castle in Denmark where the Tolkien Ensemble
performed its first concert 21st of January 1996

I agreed of course eagerly to make a concert at the castle. However, I needed two things in order to do it:

An ensemble...
...and to write some more songs.

In the summer and autumn of 1995 I wrote intensively on new songs, among these were The Eagles Song, Elven Hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel, Song of Beren & Lúthien (witch was actually performed for the first time at my wedding on the 19th of august 1995), The Song of Nimrodel and many more, at least enough to make a nice concert programme. At this point my new vision was to find a way to make the world's first complete musical interpretation of the poems from The Lord of the Rings...

The first Tolkien Ensemble consisted of fellow students from The Royal Danish Academy of Music: On violin Mette Tjærby, on piano my sister Anja Reiff, the two baritones Mads Thiemann and Ole Norup, the mezzo-soprano Signe Asmussen and myself on guitar as well as my duo-partner Peter Hall on folk-vocal and various instruments like pennywhistle, mandolin and guitar.

The concert was a great success and encouraged me to go on in the developing of the project.

Mads Thiemann, Signe Asmussen, Mette Tjærby, Caspar Reiff & Ole Norup
First photo of the Tolkien Ensemble taken at The Royal Danish
Academy of Music in January 1996. From the left: Mads Thiemann,
Signe Asmussen, Mette Tjærby (sitting), Caspar Reiff & Ole Norup
Mads Thiemann, Caspar Reiff, Mette Tjærby, Ole Norup & Signe Asmussen
Mads Thiemann, Caspar Reiff, Mette Tjærby, Ole Norup & Signe Asmussen                                                                                                           

In 1996 we performed several concerts in Denmark and every time we experienced a massive interest from the audience. After a concert in Copenhagen, I told Peter Hall that I really was not satisfied with my version of Sam's Rhyme of the Troll. Peter was staying at my house after the concert and he said: 'Just one moment...' and went into my dining room. 15 minutes later he returned and played his new version of the song, which was much better, and the version of the song we have used ever since.

Koldinghus Castle in Denmark
In August 1996 the Tolkien Ensemble performed on Koldinghus Castle in Denmark

So we decided roughly to divide the songs from The Lord of the Rings between us so that I composed the classical songs and Peter Hall the folk songs. Some of the songs we composed in cooperation.

This decision improved the music range of the project and made the project much stronger and it also marked the beginning of a fruitful cooperation not only as musicians but also as composers.

Peter Hall & Caspar Reiff (1997)
Peter Hall & Caspar Reiff (1997)

Our audiences soon asked for recordings of the songs... So in the autumn of 1996 I contacted the Tolkien Estate in Oxford and applied for permission to use the poems from The Lord of the Rings for a CD recording.

The waiting for several months with bated breath for the Estate's answer was naturally very intense. But in January 1997 the project was approved by the Estate and the music adviser of the Tolkien Estate granted permission with these words:

I find this the most interesting and exiting work. It reveals a close sympathy with the original work and a remarkable ability to vary the music not only in relation to the different styles and moods of the poems but also in relation to the different characters from whom the poems come.

We recorded our first album during the summer of 1997 and published the CD An Evening in Rivendell in the autumn of the same year.

Caspar Reiff, Saqib & Peter Hall
Caspar Reiff, Saqib & Peter Hall
Morten Ernst Lassen, Berit Johansen, Caspar Reiff & Morten Ryelund
Morten Ernst Lassen, Berit Johansen, Caspar Reiff & Morten Ryelund

Tom McEwan
Tom McEwan                                                                                      
Berit Johansen, Morten Ryelund, Signe Asmussen & Mads Thiemann
Berit Johansen, Morten Ryelund, Signe Asmussen
& Mads Thiemann
Peter Hall
Peter Hall                                                                                         

For this recording I had extended the Tolkien Ensemble to include both string quartet, male choir and several new musicians and soloists including Tom McEwan and Morten Ernst Lassen. In total about 30 musicians took part in the recording of An Evening in Rivendell.

Sound engineer Hans Nielsen and producer and violinist Morten Ryelund
Hans Nielsen, sound engineer of Focus Recording Studios and our producer and violinist Morten Ryelund

I asked my friend and colleague Morten Ryelund, a young Danish conductor and violinist whom I had worked with on other projects in the past to be our producer. To include Morten Ryelund in the project was one of the most important decisions in the history of the Tolkien Ensemble.

Little did we know then that our cooperation on this Lord of the Rings project was to last for several years of hard work in the studio and in the preparation of the recordings...

I chose Focus Recording Studios in Copenhagen as the place where we should record the songs. The chief engineer and owner of the studios, Hans Nielsen, Morten Ryelund and I were about to spent a lot of time together in the coming years...

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