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“Sequentia has always had the knack of connecting the very distant past to the vibrant present.” – Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight, August 12, 2013
From the time of Christianity’s introduction into Europe until the end of the first millennium, apocalyptic images of the End of Days and the Last Judgement were widespread. Pagan and Christian sources share many characteristics: the terrifying words of female oracles, the massing of armies from below and above, the breakdown of material reality, and the final destruction of the world by fire.
In this programme, Sequentia explores the musical world of these surprising, powerful texts, some of which survive only as fragments: German verses describing the terrible final day, the Old English ‘Lay of the Last Survivor’, which depicts the bleak and lonely end of an unnamed tribe, and a harrowing portrayal of the pagan Ragnarök, when ‘Muspell’s People’ and the armies of Surt and Loki launch their final, deadly assault on the northern European gods.
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Fortis atque amara, Frankish sequence (9th century)
…sin tac piqueme, daz er touuan scal, the ‘Muspilli Fragment’, probably Fulda (early 9th century)
Unsar trohtin hat farsalt, instrumental version of the Freisinger Petruslied, Bavaria (late 9th c.)
Thes habet er ubar woroltring, ‘de die Iudicii’ from the Evangelienbuch of Otfrid von Weißenburg (Alsace, †875)
Gaude coelestis sponsa, instrumental piece based on Frankish sequence melodies (9th c.)
Thaer waes swylcra fela, the ‘Lay of the Last Survivor’ from the Beowulf epic (Anglo-Saxon, ca. 8th c.)
Occidentana, Instrumental piece based on a 9th century Frankish sequence melody
Iudicii signum, the ‘Prophecy of the Erythraean Sibyl’ (Aquitaine, 11th c.)
Scalam ad caelos, Instrumental piece based on a 9th century Frankish sequence melody
Summi regis archangele Michahel, ‘Sequentia, quam Alcuinus composuit Karolo Imperatori’ (Einsiedeln, 10th c.)
A fellr austan um eitrdala, the ‘Prophecy of the Völva’, from the Old Icelandic Edda (Iceland, 10th c.)
From the time of Christianity’s introduction into Europe until the end of the first millennium, apocalyptic images of the End of Days and the Last Judgement were widespread, both in texts and in the visual arts. These images, based largely on the Biblical Revelation of John, at times bear a remarkable similarity to the pagan Germanic descriptions of the world’s destruction during the final terrible battle (Ragnarök) between the gods (Odin, Thor, etc.) and their mortal enemies, the giants. These disparate sources share certain characteristics: the terrifying words of female oracles; the sounding of the horn; the massing of armies from below and above; the breakdown of material reality and the final destruction of the world by fire.
The image of the Apocalypse which most readily comes to mind is associated with the almost incomprehensible mystery of the ‚end of time’, filled with terror and destruction. We envision the chilling image of the four horsemen mercilessly riding down upon our doomed world. But the Greek word apokalypsis actually means unveiling, or revelation, an image strongly linked to our mortal desire for access to the mysteries of existence, to our almost physical longing for union with creation and with the deity. John’s Book of Revelation is not only a faithful report of what he saw and heard in visions on the island of Patmos, but it is also filled with the feeling of his impatience and desire. In all these senses of the word, medieval artists created an especially powerful body of sung poetry, often in obscure images and language, visionary and prophetic, to prepare the singer and listener alike for a particular inner voyage of comprehension, and to awaken the soul to the experience of ‚seeing’ that which is one day to be revealed.
In this program, we explore the musical world of these surprising, powerful texts, some of which survive only as fragments: the Old High German Muspilli, which describes the waking of the dead, the workings of Satan, the fight of Elias with Anti-Christ, the call to judgement, and warns of the uselessness of wealth and bribery in that final courtroom; the prophecy of the Erythrean Sibyl (an acrostic text in Augustine’s translation in The City of God) as sung in Aquitanian cloisters; the Alsatian monk Otfrid’s rhyming German verses which describe the terrible final day; the Old English ‘Lay of the Last Survivor’ (found embedded in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf epic) describes the bleak and lonely end to an unnamed tribe, as their useless treasure is heaped in a cave by the lone survivor, to await a dragon’s arrival; masterful Latin sequences from Frankish tradition, describing the Last Day and praising the archangels; instrumental interludes based on sequelae – untexted sequence melodies with enigmatic titles which point to possible pre-Christian usages; and finally, from the Old Icelandic Edda collection, the harrowing description of the pagan Ragnarök, when ‚Muspell’s People’ and the armies of Surt and Loki launch their final, deadly assault on the indigenous northern European gods. The instruments used in this concert include reconstructions of Germanic harps (based on 7th century instruments from Oberflacht, near Stuttgart), an early medieval triangular harp, and copies of medieval transverse flutes (including a flute made from a swan’s bone, based on an 11th century instrument unearthed near Speyer).
Fragments for the End of Time
Fortis atque amara
Frankish sequence (9th century)
Source: Paris, B.N. lat. 1084 / transcription Alejandro Planchart.
The Frankish sequences – newly-created pieces whose role in the liturgy is not always clear to us — were often creations of great beauty and imagination. Some of their melodies may have roots in earlier traditions, and the texts also display a succinct virtuosity, cleverly incorporating imagery from earlier Christian writers in new and surprising ways. This apocalyptic sequence, with its unusual melody, introduces most of the themes in our program.
Full of might and bitter that day shall be, on which all things shall perish: what is seen in bodily form, the earth, and all the creatures that swim.
The gentle judge will draw near, to measure out punishment strictly, and he will judge the ages, he whom created all. The high column of heaven will begin to tremble at his nod. Oh memorable day, on which all things shall be laid open!
And what shall become of the scribe’s mark, what of the tablet, if the column of the sky shall begin to be so afraid? And what shall human beings feel, or earth’s creatures, if the hosts of the heavens shall begin to tremble so?
Oh you who as King lavish all things upon us – the eternal, the present – do not let us go into hell’s loathsome places, the dwellings of the devils – no, lead us to the angels’ realms! Amen.
Translation: Peter Dronke
…sin tac piqueme, daz er touuan scal
the, Muspilli-Fragment’, probably Fulda (early 9th century)
Source: München, Bayr. Staatsb. Clm 14098 / Reconstruction: B. Bagby
Among the most enigmatic texts in Old High German, this anonymous meditation on the Last Judgement has survived only in fragmentary form. It was named by a 19th-century scholar who was intrigued by the word ‚Muspilli’ (the mysterious Germanic word ‚Muspell’ is generally believed to refer to the end of the world by fire), a pagan image surviving in a Christian context. The sermon-like narrative streams freely through a series of images: armies of angels and demons fighting over the recently-dead soul; the security and sweetness of paradise; the fight of Elijah with the Anti-Christ; the burning of the earth and heavens (Muspilli) as a sign of the approaching judgement; the blowing of the horn which raises the dead to face their judge; the impossibility of bribery or of hiding past crimes…
…then comes the day, when the man must die. When the soul leaves the husk of the body and starts on its path, a heavenly host arrives from the stars, and another host from the fires of hell: they will fight over the soul. In terror the soul must wait, until the decision is reached, by which side he will be taken. Because if Satan’s servants get their hands on him, he will be led immediately to a place where suffering awaits him, in fire and in darkness: that is truly a horrible judgement!
However, if those who came from above take the soul and hand him over to the angels, then these will accompany him to the realms of heaven: there he will find life without death, light without darkness, a place to live without cares; there is no longer any sickness.
But woe to him who must pay for his sins in darkness and burn in eternal flames: that is truly a horrible fate! Then the soul cries out to God but receives no help or answer. The unhappy soul hopes for mercy, but he is no longer in the loving thoughts of the heavenly God, because in his lifetime he showed by his deeds that he was unworthy.
This is what I heard the wise men in the law of this world relate: that Antichrist shall fight with Elijah. The evil one is armed, and then a battle will take place between them. The warriors are so powerful, the stakes are so high. Elijah fights for eternal life, and wishes to ensure the kingdom for those who seek righteousness, for this reason he will be helped by the One who rules over heaven. Antichrist stands side by side with the Old Enemy, stands at the side of Satan (who will destroy him). For he will fall down wounded on the battleground, and will be the loser in that place.
But many men of God believe that Elijah will also be wounded in that battle, so that his blood will drip down to earth; then the mountains will catch fire, no tree at all will be left standing on earth, the waters will dry up, the marshland will swallow itself up, the sky will be aflame with fire, the moon will fall, and the earth will burn, no stone will be left standing; then the day of judgement will drive through the land, traveling with fire as a visitation on the people. Then can no relative help another in the face of the ‚Muspilli’. For the widespread rain of fire will burn up everything, both fire and air will purge it all: what then of the petty disputes one fought constantly with one’s kin? The countryside will be burned up and the soul will stand there full of sadness, not knowing how to turn towards the good: and so he goes to hell.
The insecure man never knows who is shadowing him when he tries to get around the law by means of bribery; the devil is always there watching, in disguise, and he silently remembers everything wicked the man has done, before and after, so that he can bring it all as evidence when he appears at the final judgement. For this reason, no one should allow himself to be bribed!
When the heavenly horn sounds, then the Judge arises, He who will sit over the dead and the living, surrounded by the largest army ever seen, so powerful that no one will be able to resist Him. Then He moves to the place of Judgement, as has been made known to us. Angels move over the land, waking the dead, summoning all to the court. Then each one will stand up from the dust, shake off the burden of the grave; his body will be returned to him so that he can more easily answer the charges against him and so that he can be punished or rewarded according to his deeds.
There, no man can hide his thoughts. And if he has committed murder, his hands will speak for him, his nodding head will admit to everything, each limb will answer the truth, down to his little finger. In this court it is useless to try even the most sophisticated tricks, to deny a crime, to cover up any past deeds; they will be known to the King. Unless of course the sinner can repent during his lifetime, by giving alms and fasting, He will be consoled, who repents. Then the noble Cross will be brought forth, on which Holy Christ was nailed. The soul will see the wounds which Christ received while living as a man, the wounds he received for his love of mankind…
Translation: B. Bagby (based on Hans J. Koch)
Unsar trohtin hat farsalt
instrumental version of the Freisinger Petruslied, Bavaria (late 9th century)
Source: München, Bayr. Staatsb. Clm 6260, fol. 158v. / Transcription: N. Rodenkirchen
This processional with refrain is one of the oldest surviving melodies found in a German source.
The manuscript is neumed throughout, making a transcription possible.
Thes habet er ubar woroltring‚
De die Iudicii’ from the ‚Gospel Book’ of Otfrid von Weissenburg (Alsace, †875)
Source: Heidelberg, Cod.Pal.lat. 52 / Reconstruction: B. Bagby
This heartfelt description of the final judgement is taken from the Evangelienbuch of the Alsatian monk Otfrid von Weissenburg (the first German poet whose name we know), who wrote commentaries and paraphrases on the Gospels in the local German dialect (which he calls Frankish) of his fellow brothers and the nearby noblemen. In a prologue, he states that a pious matron named Judith urged him on in this work. These verses were not intended for silent reading, but were probably ‚performed’ before a partially pre-literate audience in the style of the Germanic oral poetry long appreciated by learned men and women. Several manuscript sources of this text contain musical notation. Here, in an excerpt from the chapter entitled in die iudicii (‚on the Judgement Day’), we experience Otfrid’s very personal involvement with the terrifying story he has to tell.
For the entire world a judgement day has been set, before a powerful court, and we must fear it. I say this loudly: there will be no one who can avoid appearing before this court!
[Refrain]: On that day of judgement it will go well for those who need not worry about their past deeds, and against whom in that hour no accusation can be brought; for them, protection and a path to safety will still be possible!
Even those wretches who have lived on earth just as they pleased, they too will have to appear. It’s difficult for me to say this: all who were born of woman must be present (my heart is terrified at the thought!), to account for their deeds, one after the other, without exception. A woeful judgement day! [Refrain]
There will be no help, believe me, for anyone; nor will anyone be able to escape. Everyone who is convicted there will suffer the eternal pain of hell’s punishment. [Refrain]
Do you know what the prophet of the Lord says about this time? He says there will be great agony. You can read his words: it is a day of anger, of struggle, of suffering and countless terrors. On that day the angels will loudly blow their horns, which will resound over the earth to awaken the dead. [Refrain]
It is the day of storms and darkness – woe! All sinners will be swept away. What more can I possibly say? It is a day of immense suffering. [Refrain]
Have you read the prophesies, which tell how the Lord will appear threateningly from above, and shake the heavens,? What man on earth could then resist, when the Lord causes even the heavens to quake? Keep this image in your mind: He will fold up the heavens with His powerful hand, like a book snapped shut. [Refrain]
Truly, this day can be compared with no other, and there can be no thought of escaping it. There will be no way to quickly make a secret plan of evasion; even the smallest thought will become known, this is certain! [Refrain].
Translation: B. Bagby (based on Gisela Vollmann-Profe)
Gaude celestis sponsa
instrumental piece based on Frankish sequence melodies (9th century)
Source:München, clm.10075 xiii in / Reconstruction: N. Rodenkirchen (with additonal materials from other Frankish sequences)
The sequence melodies dating from the time of Notker, monk of St. Gall (9th century), were sometimes written in the early manuscripts as textless sequelae. The exact pitches of these melodies can only be determined by consulting later sources, which are consistent over the centuries and give us a rather clear image of the tunes. It is highly likely that these sequelae were also performed instrumentally, as the melodies pre-date the texts of the sequences and they are not taken from Gregorian chant; they are perhaps survivors of a pre-Christian, indigenous melodic tradition. In the ex tempore interludes performed on the flute in this program, Norbert Rodenkirchen is principally interested in exploring the evident relationships amongst various early medieval sequences. These relationships, which often can be reduced to a handful of archtypical phrases, point to an orally-transmitted repertoire of archaic ‚ur-sequences’ which are reflected upon here in improvised instrumental practice. The central material is provided by the sequence Gaude coelestis sponsa, also known as Adducentur.
Thaer waes swylcra fela
The Lay of the Last Survivor’ from the Beowulf-Epic (Anglo-Saxon, ca. 8th century)
Source: London, BL, Cotton Vitellius A. XV. / Reconstruction: B. Bagby
The end of a people, the bitter confrontation with the loss of all friends, family, possessions and memories, can be seen as a microcosm of the end of the world. In this fragment (extracted from the Beowulf epic, where it forms a sad prelude to the episode of the golden cup stolen from a dragon’s hoard), we learn that an entire unnamed northern tribe has been decimated by war, with only one man left alive. He carries the people’s treasure (gold, weapons, and even a harp) into a nearby cave as a final gesture of remembrance, uttering these elegiac words to the earth itself before he, too, is carried off by a lonely death. (The hidden treasure is later discovered and appropriated by a dragon, a supernatural beast which is often associated with the Apocalypse in Christian tradition).
…there were many treasures stored inside the earth-house, since long ago some nameless man had carefully hidden there the whole rich legacy of his noble people. Death had taken them all in earlier times and the only one who survived, the last of their race, the mourning guardian, expected the same fate for himself: he knew that his joy in the huge treasure would be brief.
A barrow stood waiting, on a wide headland by the sea-waves, its entrance well hidden. Into it the keeper of the treasure had carried all the gold and riches. His words were few:
“Now, earth, hold what earls once owned and can no more. Listen! it was taken from you at first, by good men. War has taken every one of my people; they all went down to death, their joys in the hall at an end.
I have none left to carry a sword or polish the golden cups. The company of men has gone. The hard helmet must be stripped of its gold plate; and the polisher sleeps who should make the metal war-mask gleam; the coat of mail that withstood all sword-bites when the shield collapsed, decays like its warrior. Nor may linked chain-mail travel far and wide on the chieftain’s back beside his warriors. No delight in the harp, the resounding wood; no excellent hawk flying through the hall; no swift horse stamping in the courtyard. Death has emptied the earth of many races.“
And so he mourned as he joylessly wandered through day and night, all alone, until death’s flood covered his heart.
Translation: B. Bagby (based on E.T. Donaldson)
instrumental piece based on a Frankish sequence melody (10th c.)
Source: St. Gall / Reconstruction: N. Rodenkirchen.
No instrumental music survives in written form from the period before 1200, and yet we know that instrumental music was performed with great sophistication. We can use various resources to make reconstructions of lost traditions: in the earliest sequelae sources, we find pieces with exotic titles, attesting to their popularity, or to an association with a certain story, an instrument, or a mythological character. When religious sequence texts were added later (and the melodies were finally written down), the titles fell into disuse. The exact nature of these titles will always remain a mystery which stimulates the imagination of musicians today. The tune Occidentana is found in several sources, sometimes under the name Cithara (= harp). To honor this ancient piece, Norbert Rodenkirchen performs it here on a tiny flute made from a delicate swan’s bone. The remains of just such an instrument, dating from the 11th century, were found in a castle near the ancient city of Speyer, Germany.
The Prophecy of the Erythraean Sybil’ (Aquitaine, 11th century)
Source: Paris, BN lat. 1154 / Transcription: Sam Barrett
This is the prophecy of the Erythraen Sybil, a pagan female oracle said to have lived at the time of Troy, whose words are transmitted by St. Augustine (The City of God, XVIII, 23) in an acrostic poem. This medieval version, which includes a refrain, was sung in Aquitanian cloisters during the liturgy for the massacre of the Holy Innocents (28 December), a feast closely associated with apocalyptic themes.
[Refrain]: Judgement shall come, and the sweat of the earth will be its signal.
Even the monarch eternal shall come from the heavens, suddenly come, in His flesh, to the dreaded tribunal. Faithful and faithless alike shall be seeing their maker uplifted with heavenly friends at the end of the ages. Souls with their bodies conjoined shall he summon to judgement. Riches will be rejected and long-cherished idols. Enormous the blaze that shall burn the broad seas and the heavens; its terrible blasts shall break open the portals of Hades. Saints in their flesh shall shine free in the light of this wildfire, the same that shall roast without ending the flesh of the wicked. Each man shall openly speak of his most secret wrongdoing, and God shall open their hearts. Gnashing of teeth shall resound and most horrible weeping. Even the sun shall not shine and the stars will be silent; the moonlight finished; the sky wrapped in darkness. The valleys will be leveled, the hilltops cast down, and all human affairs ended. The mountains will sink down into the fields and the seas. Over and done with the earth and the whole of its holdings. Springs, sources and rivers will all be boiling with fire. The horn shall sound from the highest heaven over the criminal damned as they wander sadly. The kings of the world will be judged before God. The quake-shaken earth will open to reveal the pit of hell, while rivers of hot sulphur and fire fall from the heavens.
Translation: B. Bagby (based on E.M. Sanford & W.M. Green)
Scalam ad caelos
Instrumental piece based on a 9th century Frankish sequence melody
Source: Notker’s Scalam ad caelos (Transcription: R. Crocker) / Reconstruction: Bagby & Rodenkirchen
Here, we reconstruct what could have been an instrumental tradition of Frankish minstrels, using a melody which survived when it was adapted for a sequence by the poet-monk Notker of St. Gall. Although we will never learn the story behind the original melody, we do know of the the power that such tunes had over the centuries, both within the church and ouside it.
Summi regis archangele Michahel
Sequenz ‚quam Alcuinus composuit Karolo Imperatori’ [Sequence‚ which Alcuin composed for the emperor Charlemagne], (Einsiedeln, 10th c., but possibly created earlier: late 8th century)
Source: Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek Codex 121 (10th c.) / Transcription: N. Rodenkirchen
This is one of the most widely-known sequences of the Middle Ages. In the dedication to Charlemagne, attributed to the monk Alcuin, we learn that the emperor is compared to the archangel Michael, who defeated the dragon for the redemption of mankind. We might see the medieval fascination with Christian dragon-killers (also with snakes and dragon-like beasts, especially in connection with the End of Time) as a lingering, subconscious element of pagan culture and mythology. In the case of Summi regis we may have before us an original sequence by Alcuin (who was active among the literati at the court of Charlemagne from 782-789), making it also the earliest-known sequence by a known author to have survived.
Archangel of the Highest King, Michael, listen to our voices, we beseech.
We indeed proclaim you are the prince of the citizens on high.
For our sake implore God that he send his help to the wretched.
A princely power has been given to you by the Lord, to save sinning souls. You also have, in perpetuity, pride of place in paradise:all the citizens on high honour you.
In the temple of God you were seen to holda golden censer in your hands. From this the smoke, arising with great fragrance, made its way up to the gaze of God.
When you finished your battle against the great dragon, out of his jaws you plucked many souls. Then a vast silence was brought about in heaven; thousands upon thousands said ‘Glory to the King our Lord!’
Hear us, Michael, highest of angels: come down a little from heaven’s throne, bringing us the strength of the Lord and the relief of his tenderness. Gabriel, lay low our enemies, Raphael, bring a remedy to the sick, purge our diseases, lighten our injuries, and let us take part in the joys of the blessed!
Emperor, your sage plays you these melodies.
Translation: Peter Dronke
A fellr austan um eitrdala
The ‚prophecy of the Völva [Seeress]’ from the Old Icelandic Edda (Iceland, late 10th c.)
Source: Reykjavik, Stofnun A. Magnussonar‚ Gl.kgl.sml.2365 4to (‚Codex Regius’) / Reconstruction: B. Bagby & N. Rodenkirchen
Völuspá, one of the most famous Old Icelandic poems, is the oracular speech of an ancient seeress conjured by the god Odin to reveal the horrible future of the gods. She first tells of the beginning of time, the creation of the world, and then (in the final section performed here) of the climactic battle [Ragnarök] between the gods and their sworn enemies. The fate of the gods is fortold in apocalyptic language: a breakdown of social order, raging battles, ravening wolves, the clarion horn, the dragon, and the coming of ‚Muspell’s people’ on a boat piloted by that vicious trickster, Loki. Elements of this text may seem familiar to us today: nine centuries after its creation, Völuspá was the main inspiration for Richard Wagner’s ‚Götterdämmerung’.
A river falls from the east through venom-cold dales, with knives and swords: Savage is its name. There stood to the north on Dark-of-the-Moon Plains the hall made of gold of Sindri’s race. Yet another stood on Never-Cold, the beer hall of a giant, and he is named Brimir. A hall she saw standing remote from the sun on Dead Body Shore. Its door looks north. There fell drops of venom in through the roof vent. That hall is woven of serpents’ spines. She saw there wading onerous streams men perjured and wolfish murderers and the one who seduces another’s close-trusted wife. There Malice Striker sucked corpses of the dead, the wolf tore men. Do you still seek to know? And what?
In the east she sat, the old one, in Iron Wood, and bred there the broods of Fenrir [the wolf]. There will come from them all one of that number to be a moon-snatcher in troll’s skin. It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men, paints the powers’ homes with crimson gore. Black become the sun’s beams in the summers that follow, weathers all treacherous. Do you still seek to know? And what?
There sat on the grave-mound and struck his harp the ogress’s herdsman, happy Eggther. Above him crew Comb of Gold – he wakes the warriors at War Sire’s dwelling – while another crows beneath the earth, a rust-red cock at the halls of Hel.
[Refrain] Now Garmr bays loud before Looming Cave – the fetter will break and the ravener run free. Much she knows of old knowledge – ahead I see further, over the fate of the powers, virulent fate of victory’s gods.
Brothers will fight and kill each other, sisters’ children will defile kinship. It is harsh in the world, whoredom rife – an axe age, a sword age – shields are riven – a wind age, a wolf age – before the world goes headlong. No man will have mercy on another.
Mimr’s sons sport, but fate’s measure is lit at the sound of the clear-ringing Clarion Horn. Loud blows Heimdallr – the horn points to the sky – Odinn talks with Mimr’s head. Yggdrasill shivers, the ash, as it stands. The old tree groans, and the giant slips free.
[Refrain] Now Garmr bays loud…
Hrymr drives from the east, hoists his shield before him. Mighty Wraith coils in giant wrath. The snake flails the waves, and the eagle exults – pale-beaked rips corpses. Nail Boat slips free. A ship moves from the east: there shall come Muspell’s people by water, and Loki is the pilot. The giant’s sons are journeying all with the ravener – Byleiptr’s brother keeps them company.
What troubles the Aesir? What troubles the Elves? Giant Realm is all aroar. The Aesir are in council. Dwarfs groan at the granite doors, well knowing their immuring rock. Do you still seek to know? And what?
Surtr moves from the south with the scathe of branches; there shines from his sword the sun of Gods of the Slain. Stone peaks clash, and troll wives take to the road. Warriors tread the path from Hel, and heaven breaks apart… The sun starts to blacken, land sinks into sea, the radiant stars recoil from the sky. Fumes rage against fire, fosterer of life, the heat soars high against heaven itself.
[Refrain] Now Garmr bays loud…
She sees come up a second time earth out of ocean once again green. The waterfalls flow, an eagle flies over, in the hills hunting fish. Aesir meet on Eddying Plain and discourse on the mighty enmesher of earth, and call to mind there the momentous judgements and the Gigantine God’s ancient runes.
There will once more the miraculous golden chequers be found, in the grass, those that in the old days they had owned. Without sowing cornfields will grow – all harm will be healed, Baldr will come. They inhabit, Hödr and Baldr, Hroptr’s walls of triumph, gods of the sanctuary. Do you still seek to know? And what?
Then Hoenir picks out the twig of augury, the sons of the two brothers set up their home in the wide wind realm. Do you still seek to know? And what?
A hall she sees standing, brighter than the sun, roofed with gold, on Refuge from the Flames. There shall the worthy warrior bands dwell and all their days of life enjoy delight.
There comes the shadowy dragon flying, glittering serpent, up from Dark-of-the-Moon Hills. He carries in his pinions – he flies over the fields – Malice Striker, corpses.
Now she will sink.
Translation: Ursula Dronke
Sequentia is among the world’s most respected and innovative ensembles for medieval music. Under the direction of Benjamin Bagby, Sequentia can look back on more than 40 years of international concert tours, a comprehensive discography of more than 30 recordings spanning the entire Middle Ages (including the complete works of Hildegard von Bingen), film and television productions of medieval music drama, and a new generation of young performers trained in professional courses given by members of the ensemble.
Sequentia, co-founded by Bagby and the late Barbara Thornton, has performed throughout Western and Eastern Europe, the Americas, India, the Middle East, East Asia, Africa and Australia, and has received numerous prizes (including a Disque d’Or, several Diapasons d’Or, two Edison Prizes, the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis and a Grammy nomination) for many of its thirty recordings on the BMG/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (SONY), Raumklang, Glossa and Marc Aurel Edition labels. The most recent CD releases include reconstructions of music from lost oral traditions of the Middle Ages (The Lost Songs Project), including 9th and 10th century Germanic songs for the Apocalypse (Fragments for the End of Time), the ensemble’s acclaimed program of music from the Icelandic Edda: The Rheingold Curse, as well as the earliest-known European songs (Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper), medieval liturgical chant (Chant Wars, a co-production with the Paris-based ensemble Dialogos), and most recently, Boethius: Songs of Consolation. Sequentia has created over 80 innovative concert programs which encompass the entire spectrum of medieval music, giving performances all over the world, in addition to their creation of music-theater projects such as Hildegard von Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum and the medieval Icelandic Edda. In 2017, Sequentia’s 30-year project to record the complete works of Hildegard von Bingen was released by SONY as a 9-CD box set. The work of the ensemble is divided between a small touring ensemble of vocal and instrumental soloists, and a larger ensemble of voices for special performance projects. Upcoming projects include a version of the 14th –century Roman de Fauvel, staged by Peter Sellars, and presented in co-production with the Metropolitan Museum/Cloisters (New York) and the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris). After many years based in Cologne, Germany, Sequentia’s home was re-established in Paris in 2001.
Benjamin Bagby, voice & harp
Benjamin Bagby is descended from a Germanic clan which emigrated from Jutland to northern England in ca. 630, where they remained until his branch of the family emigrated to the colony of Virginia almost a millennium later. Following 321 years of subsequent family wanderings, he was born on the shores of Lake Michigan, and twelve years later was captivated by Beowulf. Several years after returning to Europe in 1974 he founded -- together with the late Barbara Thornton -- the Sequentia ensemble for medieval music, which was based in Cologne, Germany, for 25 years; both Mr. Bagby and Sequentia are now based in Paris. www.sequentia.org.
Mr. Bagby’s acclaimed bardic performance of Beowulf, with 10-20 performances yearly worldwide was created in 1990 and released as a DVD in 2007 (for details and press see www.BagbyBeowulf.com).
Beowulf has been presented at the Lincoln Center Festival ( 1997 & 2006 ), in Vancouver Island and the Faroe Islands; synagogues in Poland and the Lower East Side of New York; a warehouse in Los Angeles and a medieval art museum in Cologne; Perth, Pittsburgh and Perugia; the Cloisters and the Sydney Opera House; a high school in rural Texas and the Cité de la Musique in Paris, among many others.
In addition to his work with Beowulf, Mr. Bagby and Sequentia have produced several CDs of musical reconstructions from the early Middle Ages, all part of the ‘Lost Songs Project’: 2 CDs based on the medieval Icelandic Edda, ‘The Rheingold Curse’ (2002), which retells the story of Sigurd, Brynhild, the dragon Fafnir, and the cursed Rheingold; ‘Lost Songs of a Rheinland Harper’ (2004), which explores Latin and German song in the period around the year 1000, using as its source the famed ‘Cambridge Songs’ manuscript; ‘Fragments for the End of Time – 9-11th centuries’ (2008), featuring some of the earliest apocalyptic texts in Old German, Latin, and Old Saxon. Sequentia’s newest program in the series is ‘Frankish Phantoms', presenting songs from the Carolingians and Ottonians. A DVD production of Mr. Bagby’s Beowulf performance, filmed by Stellan Olsson in Sweden, was released in 2007 and includes interviews with noted Anglo-Saxonists and with the performer. In addition to his activities as researcher, singer, harper and director of Sequentia, Benjamin Bagby writes about performance practice and teaches widely in Europe and North America. Since 2005 he has been on the faculty of the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he teaches in the master’s program for medieval music performance practice.