Blood Treasure, Woven Fates
Songs and Stories of Women in Medieval Nordic Legends
Photo by Carter Murdoch
Moirai’s first project and debut program is dedicated to the Old Norse songs, which are transmitted to us through the Icelandic manuscript of the Codex Regius, written in the 13th century. The gripping stories of Sigurð, Brynhild, Guðrún and Atli tell of the killing of the dragon Fafnir, a cursed treasure of red gold, intrigues at the Burgundian court, a vengeful valkyrie, and of three kings meeting a terrible fate in the halls of Atli.
Moirai employs rarely heard instruments such as the six-stringed early medieval harp, bone flutes and the Scandinavian overtone flute, which were well known in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.
The program is performed in the Old Norse original text with overhead projections in the language depending on the locality of the performance.
A full program version (ca. 80 min) includes the following pieces:
Grípisspá – Grípir's prophecy
Sigrdrífumál – Sigrdrífa awakes
Instrumental piece: based on a traditional Icelandic Rímur-melody
Sigurðarkviða in skamma – The deaths of Sigurð and Brynhild
Guðrúnarkviða – The song of Guðrún
Instrumental piece on a seljefløyte, a Scandinavian overtone flute
Helreið Brynhildar – Brynhild's ride to Hel
Instrumental piece: based on various Icelandic Rímur-melodies
Atlakviða – The story of Atli
Oddrúnarkviða – Oddrún
Musicians: Hanna Marti: voice, harp / Mara Winter: flute, voice / Félix Verry: fiddle
Guðrún - From the forthcoming album, Blood Treasure, Woven Fates
Oëz, seignurs, ke dit Marie!
The Lays of Marie de France
Text written by Marie de France (ca. 1135 - ca. 1200). Music re-created by Moirai
About Marie de France
The 12th century was a turbulent time, starting with the second crusade – which brought Arabic and Byzantine culture to Europe, and made more of the cultural heritage of Antiquity re-accessible. The feudal system became stronger and there was a big economic surge. This enabled big productivity in writing, now also in the vernacular languages (not only in Latin). This is the time of chansons de gestes (cantus gestualis, musical storytelling), of encyclopaediae and bestiaries, of adaptions of myths and stories from antiquity, and of the fin'amor/amour courtois (troubadours, trouvères, and Minnesänger). Among the written transmission of this immensely creative time, we find the lays of the elusive storyteller Marie de France.
Little is known about Marie, who received her name «de France» because she mentions in one of her works, a book of translated fables: «Marie ai nun, si sui de France» (My name is Marie, I am from France). Many attempts were made to link «Marie» to a historically traceable person with that first name, but none were entirely convincing. There are several theories about her origins: All agree that, given her high education and knowledge of the poets of antiquity, she probably came from a background of nobility. Marie de France composed her verses in Anglo Norman, a dialect of Old French spoken at the English court, so it is assumed that she lived and worked there. She translated some famous Latin works, such as Aesop's fables, into Anglo-Norman verse. She writes about the origin of her twelve lays, that she has heard them told or sung by Breton minstrels and has translated them into her own language (Anglo-Norman), so that they «may be remembered forever». In the last lines of several of her stories, Marie mentions that a song was made from that particular story, and that it was accompanied by certain instruments. It seems therefore appropriate to imagine that, from the beginning, music was involved with the storytelling.
About re-creating the music
In their creative work with Marie's lays Moirai used her hint in the ending lines of some stories, mentioning that a musical piece was created about the story, and what it was called. There are some anonymous lays that are transmitted with music notation, found in trouvère song manuscripts, e.g. the Chansonnier de Noailles (F-Pnm Français 12615, created ca. 1300). One of these songs is named Li lais du kievrefoel, another Li lais des amans. These lays Moirai used to create the melodic material for telling Marie's stories, particularly in the two cases where there exists a story by the same name (i.e. the above mentioned Chievrefoil and Les deus amanz). Working with these anonymous lay-melodies, Marie's gripping texts, and their own creative instincts and intuitions, the musicians of Moirai propose a sung re-creation of Marie's Anglo-Norman lays, a musical storytelling that does not claim to sound exactly like it would have in Marie's telling, but that wants to give voice to her work in a historically informed and inspired approach, and with the same ultimate aim as the author: pur remembrance a tuz dis mais (to remember them for all times).
A full program version (ca. 70 min) contains the following pieces:
I. Prologue (Marie de France) Re-creation by Moirai
II. Chievrefoil (Marie de France) Re-creation by Moirai
III. Lai du Kievrefoil (anonymous, ca 1300)
IV. Les deus amanz (Marie de France) Re-creation by Moirai
V. Chaitivel (Marie de France) Re-creation by Moirai
VI. Li lais des amans (anonymous, ca. 1300)
VII. Laustic (Marie de France) Re-creation by Moirai
Musicians: Hanna Marti: voice, harp / Mara Winter: flute / Félix Verry: fiddle
«Wa funde man sament so manic liet?»
Songs from the Codex Manesse
In the years around 1300 to about 1340, the wealthy Manesse family in Zurich collected the songs of famous minnesingers. The result, the Manesse song manuscript, also called Codex Manesse, contains about 6000 stanzas in Middle High German by the most famous poets of that time. The manuscript is also known for its colorful illustrations, in which the minnesingers are depicted in an idealized form.
Closely connected with the Manesse family was the minnesinger Johann Hadlaub, a citizen of Zurich (2nd half of 13th c. - beginning of 14th c.). Hadlaub even wrote a song about the family's talent for collecting songs, and about the process of creating the Codex Manesse: «Wa vunde man sament so manic liet?» (Where would one find so many songs together?), which provides the title for the concert, serves as Morai's starting point for a musical journey through the song manuscript. Although «only» texts, no music, are recorded in the Codex Manesse, some of the melodies have survived in other sources, such as the Jenaer Liederhandschrift, which was compiled around the same time as the Codex Manesse. Where no melodies have survived, Moirai re-creates a historically plausible version based on the surviving songs and melodic material in the Jenaer Liederhandschrift.
Similar perhaps to the contents of an iPod today, which gives an impression of the musical taste of its owner, the Codex Manesse provides an insight into the musical culture of the Manesse family around the year 1300. Following this comparison, the four musicians of Moirai «rummage», so to speak, at will in the Codex and illuminate a selection of the poets presented, whose songs will be heard in the concert. The concert is visually accompanied by projections of the beautiful illustrations in the manuscript.
Musicians: Hanna Marti: voice, harp / Mara Winter: flute / Félix Verry: fiddle / Karin Weston: voice
The King and His Saints
Carolingian Prayers and Songs of Praise
Moirai introduces the musical innovations which shaped the cultural flourishing during and after the rule of King Charlemagne (ca. 747-814), described today as the Carolingian Renaissance. Moirai’s performance of ancient Carolingian prayers and songs of praise transports the listener back as early as the 8th century to the oldest notated melodies north of the Alps. With Charlemagne’s attempt to standardise the cultural elements throughout his enormous empire, new music developed out of the unified material. Eventually pieces in the vernacular languages came to join the Latin songs and chants, as well as some of the earliest known European polyphonic improvisational practices. Using our own reconstructions and methods of musical recreation, Moirai presents a stirring portrait – in Latin, Old German and Old French – of the lives of Charlemagne and some of the most important Carolingian saints, with the use of rarely heard early Medieval instruments.
Program: 50-80 minutes
Musicians: Hanna Marti: voice, harp / Manuela Coelho-Lopes: voice / Stef Conner: voice / Mara Winter: voice, flute
Sint lumbi vestri praecincti - Diaphonic Responsory for Saint Othmar, abbot of Saint Gall