26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This a truly remarkable disc. The Sequentia group has long been one of my favourite groups; I count myself fortunate to have many of their discs featuring the vocal talents of Barbara Thornton, who unfortunately passed away during the final phase of this production; her gift to the world in song lives on in recordings such as this, a stunning presentation of music from history that is often forgotten in the modern world.
Iceland is a country that was settled by the Norse explorers hundreds of years before the Norman Conquest of Britain, and half a millennium before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic. The Norse explorations of the North Atlantic took them to Britain, Greenland, and even to the North American continent centuries before the arrival of Columbus. Iceland was settled in the late 800s, with a parliament being established in 930 which helped guide their culture and religion. However, Icelandic culture was never centralised in political or religious terms, and the pagan religion of Norse/Germanic gods and goddesses was a free-form body of stories that could be reinterpreted by communities and clans quite easily.
The epic work Edda, which exists from the thirteenth century in writing in both prose and poetry, is the basis of this disc. These works pre-date the manuscript by many centuries, perhaps even the settlement of Iceland itself. Like many epic works in the ancient world, they were passed down by oral tradition long before being committed to writing. The Eddic poems include heroic poems (think Beowulf) as well as poems about gods and goddesses - it is ironic that the deities in these works are often more 'down-to-earth' and human than are the heroes.
The way in which ancient poems would have been performed is always a matter of debate. There are different ways of thinking about how they should be performed, but in the end, it is guesswork (albeit educated guesswork). Add to this that there is probably no fixed way in which performances were done in the past in any event, and one must rely on instinct for the words, the lyrical quality, and what knowledge we do have of the way in which music and poetry was performed.
The liner notes for this disc have an essay by Benjamin Bagby discussing the recreation of the Eddic performance. This looks a vocal and contextual issues, as well as instrumentation; Elizabeth Glaver adds information on this point.
Sequentia was formed in 1977, and has been dedicated to recreating works of ancient and medieval music, including the work of Hildegard of Bingen, Spanish medieval music, and other major works. They have had an extensive recording, performance and broadcast career.
This particular work is full of mystery and strong tones. The music itself is very simple in structure in many ways, but also gives a rich and full experience. As one reviewer notes, there is a similarity of performance here to plainchant on the continent of Europe from the same time period. The language is a wonder to behold, despite the ambiguity in understanding how Old Icelandic was actually pronounced.
This is a great story, and a great musical treat.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2004
A lot of research has gone into this recording, and it shows! Close your eyes, and your back in Iceland before the coming of Christianity. Even though this is based on the later settings of some of the eddas, it's the closest to the real viking language we're getting to hear!