Sunday, November 14, 2021

Kolbeinn Tumason/Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson - Heyr himna smiður (Medieval Icelandic hymn)

There's a new Medieval Faire in Myakka City, which The Queen Of The World and I will probably go check out.  If you want Medieval - really Medieval - then this song is the ticket.

The roots of Western Civilization go deep.  Only a little over 100 years since the last Viking  conquest attempt of the British Isles, and only 150 years since Cnut sent the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready fleeing to France, a battle took place in Christian Iceland.  Bishop Guðmundur was trying to consolidate temporal power against the ancient Viking (now Christian) chiefs.  Kolbeinn Tumason met him on the field of battle, and was mortally wounded.

But much had changed in Viking lands in the last two centuries, as Christianity had merged with (not replaced) the old Nordic mythos.  Tumason wrote an epic poem on his deathbed, one mingling the Old with the New faiths.  It's been preserved through the ages, put to music by the modern Icelandic composer Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson.

Astonishingly for a modern composer, the music to turn this Epic into a hymn turns out to be something that might have been recognized at Kolbeinn Tumason's death bed.  This is a fabulous performance, in a German Train Station.

It's half Christian and half Viking, just like the epic poem.  The bass (not baritone)  line adds a we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto feeling to this that underlines just how shallow the Christian overlay was in the Scandinavian lands.  It was the frontier, and Americans feel in their bones what that means for orthodoxy.

But this is very, very old poetry.  The music is new, but feels equally old.  It's a virtuoso performance of a simply outstanding cultural salute.

The epic is pretty interesting, and preserves the hopes and dreams of 800 years ago on the European frontier, as if in amber:

Heyr, himna smiður,
hvers skáldið biður.
Komi mjúk til mín
miskunnin þín.
Því heit eg á þig,
þú hefur skaptan mig.
Eg er þrællinn þinn,
þú ert drottinn minn.
Guð, heit eg á þig,
að þú græðir mig.
Minnst þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín.
Ryð þú, röðla gramur,
ríklyndur og framur,
hölds hverri sorg
úr hjartaborg.
Gæt þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín,
helzt hverja stund
á hölda grund.
Send þú, meyjar mögur,
málsefnin fögur,
öll er hjálp af þér,
í hjarta mér.
Listen, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one, (or mild king. This is a pun on the word mildingur).
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
every human sorrow
from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.


Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

This is amazing Borepatch. Thank you.

Sometimes the overlay, even in modern times, is very thin indeed.

libertyman said...

Amazing harmony - there is something wonderful about human voices singing together.
Thanks as always for introducing another aspect of music that I would have otherwise never known.
I have enjoyed "Straight no Chaser" and their repertoire as well.

Borepatch said...

@Toird, that overlay is indeed thin. You can actually hear it in this video, as other people pass through on their way to thier daily lives.

Although it was a nice round of applause from that crowd at the end. I'd like to think I was one of those cheering if I ran across that in a train station. Maybe that's a metaphor on Kolbeinn Tumason's struggle, although on a non axe-in-the-head sense.

Peteforester said...

I would have stopped and listened. Indeed, I did just that right now.

...Music... a shining example of what humanity COULD be...