Copenhagen Renaissance Music Festival 2016 - DUO!
Benjamin Bagby - voice, harps, symphonia
Norbert Rodenkirchen - flutes, harp
Fragments for the End of Time
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 programme, 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).
Sequentia is among world’s most respected and innovative ensembles for medieval music. Under the direction of Benjamin Bagby, Sequentia can look back on almost 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 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) and medieval liturgical chant (Chant Wars, a co-production with the Paris-based ensemble Dialogos). Sequentia has created over 70 innovative concert programs that 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, the Cividale Planctus Marie, the Bordesholmer Marienklage, Heinrich von Meissen’s Frauenleich, and the medieval Icelandic Edda. In 2013 Sequentia released on the SONY label the final CD of Hildegard von Bingen’s complete works: Celestial Hierarchy, which immediately received a Diapason d'Or. The complete works of Hildegard will be re-issued by SONY in 2016. 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. After many years based in Cologne, Germany, Sequentia’s home was re-established in Paris in 2003.