Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Fragments for the End of Time

...sin tac piqueme, daz er touuan scal

Tthe ‚Muspilli-Fragment’, probably Fulda (early 9th century)
Source: München, Bayr. Staatsb. Clm 14098 / Reconstruction: B. Bagby

Among the most enigmatic texts in Old High German, this anonymous meditation on the Last Judgement has survived only in fragmentary form. It was named by a 19th-century scholar who was intrigued by the word ‚Muspilli’ (the mysterious Germanic word ‚Muspell’ is generally believed to refer to the end of the world by fire), a pagan image surviving in a Christian context. The sermon-like narrative streams freely through a series of images: armies of angels and demons fighting over the recently-dead soul; the security and sweetness of paradise; the fight of Elijah with the Anti-Christ; the burning of the earth and heavens (Muspilli) as a sign of the approaching judgement; the blowing of the horn which raises the dead to face their judge; the impossibility of bribery or of hiding past crimes...


 ...then comes the day, when the man must die. When the soul leaves the husk of the body and starts on its path, a heavenly host arrives from the stars, and another host from the fires of hell: they will fight over the soul. In terror the soul must wait, until the decision is reached, by which side he will be taken. Because if Satan’s servants get their hands on him, he will be led immediately to a place where suffering awaits him, in fire and in darkness: that is truly a horrible judgement!

However, if those who came from above take the soul and hand him over to the angels, then these will accompany him to the realms of heaven: there he will find life without death, light without darkness, a place to live without cares; there is no longer any sickness.

But woe to him who must pay for his sins in darkness and burn in eternal flames: that is truly a horrible fate! Then the soul cries out to God but receives no help or answer. The unhappy soul hopes for mercy, but he is no longer in the loving thoughts of the heavenly God, because in his lifetime he showed by his deeds that he was unworthy.

This is what I heard the wise men in the law of this world relate: that Antichrist shall fight with Elijah. The evil one is armed, and then a battle will take place between them. The warriors are so powerful, the stakes are so high. Elijah fights for eternal life, and wishes to ensure the kingdom for those who seek righteousness, for this reason he will be helped by the One who rules over heaven. Antichrist stands side by side with the Old Enemy, stands at the side of Satan (who will destroy him). For he will fall down wounded on the battleground, and will be the loser in that place.

But many men of God believe that Elijah will also be wounded in that battle, so that his blood will drip down to earth; then the mountains will catch fire, no tree at all will be left standing on earth, the waters will dry up, the marshland will swallow itself up, the sky will be aflame with fire, the moon will fall, and the earth will burn, no stone will be left standing; then the day of judgement will drive through the land, traveling with fire as a visitation on the people. Then can no relative help another in the face of the ‚Muspilli’. For the widespread rain of fire will burn up everything, both fire and air will purge it all: what then of the petty disputes one fought constantly with one’s kin? The countryside will be burned up and the soul will stand there full of sadness, not knowing how to turn towards the good: and so he goes to hell.

The insecure man never knows who is shadowing him when he tries to get around the law by means of bribery; the devil is always there watching, in disguise, and he silently remembers everything wicked the man has done, before and after, so that he can bring it all as evidence when he appears at the final judgement. For this reason, no one should allow himself to be bribed!

When the heavenly horn sounds, then the Judge arises, He who will sit over the dead and the living, surrounded by the largest army ever seen, so powerful that no one will be able to resist Him. Then He moves to the place of Judgement, as has been made known to us. Angels move over the land, waking the dead, summoning all to the court. Then each one will stand up from the dust, shake off the burden of the grave; his body will be returned to him so that he can more easily answer the charges against him and so that he can be punished or rewarded according to his deeds.

There, no man can hide his thoughts. And if he has committed murder, his hands will speak for him, his nodding head will admit to everything, each limb will answer the truth, down to his little finger. In this court it is useless to try even the most sophisticated tricks, to deny a crime, to cover up any past deeds; they will be known to the King. Unless of course the sinner can repent during his lifetime, by giving alms and fasting, He will be consoled, who repents. Then the noble Cross will be brought forth, on which Holy Christ was nailed. The soul will see the wounds which Christ received while living as a man, the wounds he received for his love of mankind...

Translation: B. Bagby (based on Hans J. Koch)

Upcoming Concerts

13 and 14 March 2020
Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton NJ (USA)
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf
– Postponed due to Coronavirus concerns

April 2020
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Workshop Roman de Fauvel – part III
– Postponed due to Coronavirus concerns

04 September 2021
Utrecht Early music festival, Utrecht (NL), Pieterskerk, 3 p.m.
Words of Power – Charms, Riddles and Elegies of the Medieval Northlands

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2019

In March 2019, Benjamin will give two weekend courses on the solo songs of Philippe le Chancelier (d. 1236). The courses are being hosted by the Centre de Musique Médiévale de Paris. Dates: 9-10 and 30-31 March.
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After retiring from his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he taught between 2005 and 2018 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby continues to travel widely in 2019 to teach practical workshops for young professionals:

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany).
Benjamin has joined the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music. The dates of his courses in 2019: 5-7 April; 26-28 April; 17-19 May; 30 May–01 June.
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For the second year in a row, Benjamin will teach an intensive course in the 8th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain): Songs of the troubadours (for singers and instrumentalists).
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Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 21-28 July:
An intensive course on the solo cansos of the Occitan troubadours, with a focus on songs from the great Milan songbook Bibl. Ambr. R71 sup. (for singers and instrumentalists).
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