Sequentia, Ensemble für Musik des Mittelalters
Barbara Thornton (voice), Lena Susanne Norin (voice), Elizabeth Gaver (fiddles), Benjamin Bagby (voice, lyre)
Benjamin Bagby & Barbara Thornton, dirs.
Playing time: 77'
Skálholt, Iceland [11/1996];
, ,  RCA "Red Seals" 82876 60986 2 [CDx4] Trésors - Moyen-Âge
The Edda are the sagas of medieval Iceland, as they are usually called, a series of texts describing various aspects of the society from their laws to their religious beliefs. Some texts are in prose, while some are poetic. The latter are the subject here, and are performed primarily as preserved in the Codex Regius (early thirteenth century).
The sagas of medieval Iceland are some of the West's most fascinating literature, arising from one of the West's most fascinating civilizatons. Iceland was settled by the Norse in the late 9th century, and has been inhabited since then. It's cultural distinctions include not only that early exploration and settlement but a democratic parliament as well. Many of the sagas apparently date to this period, and possibly even prior to settlement, but were written down only from around the 13th century.
This poetry and its recitation are inherently oral traditions. There is no musical notation which accompanies it, and so Sequentia's reconstructions are particularly hypothetical. They are based both on their own study of medieval poetry as it is linked to music elsewhere, the various modal gestures entailed, as well as some of the earliest written descriptions (18th century) of Icelandic recitation by European musicians. The amount of effort put into this production is very impressive, based as it was over the course of years of study.
Regarding the resulting music itself, some sections are particularly compelling, and regardless of provenance (whether medieval Iceland per se or the minds of Sequentia), make for a fine program. There is an alternation of more lyrical passages with some more dramatic recitations, as one might generally say this material was typically performed in the bardic tradition. Medieval pronunciation is attempted as well.
This is one of the most ground-breaking productions in the history of "Early Music" per se, as it uses ideas & techniques learned from the study of contemporary Western traditions which do include surviving notation in order to understand a non-notated repertory. Sequentia's intention is to continue in this direction with other Northern European music, principally the Beowulf saga.
The next volume:
And a video on Beowulf:
Another recording devoted to medieval Icelandic music:
A couple of recordings devoted to some of the earliest reconstructed repertories from other traditions in this area:
To purchasing information for this disc.
To FAQ references to this recording.
To FAQ CD index page.Todd M. McComb