Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Fragments for the End of Time

A fellr austan um eitrdala

The ‚prophecy of the Völva [Seeress]’ from the Old Icelandic Edda (Iceland, late 10th c.)
Source: Reykjavik, Stofnun A. Magnussonar‚ Gl.kgl.sml.2365 4to (‚Codex Regius’). Reconstruction: B. Bagby & N. Rodenkirchen

Völuspá, one of the most famous Old Icelandic poems, is the oracular speech of an ancient seeress conjured by the god Odin to reveal the horrible future of the gods. She first tells of the beginning of time, the creation of the world, and then (in the final section performed here) of the climactic battle [Ragnarök] between the gods and their sworn enemies. The fate of the gods is fortold in apocalyptic language: a breakdown of social order, raging battles, ravening wolves, the clarion horn, the dragon, and the coming of ‚Muspell’s people’ on a boat piloted by that vicious trickster, Loki. Elements of this text may seem familiar to us today: nine centuries after its creation, Völuspá was the main inspiration for Richard Wagner’s ‚Götterdämmerung’.


A river falls from the east through venom-cold dales, with knives and swords: Savage is its name. There stood to the north on Dark-of-the-Moon Plains the hall made of gold of Sindri’s race. Yet another stood on Never-Cold, the beer hall of a giant, and he is named Brimir. A hall she saw standing remote from the sun on Dead Body Shore. Its door looks north. There fell drops of venom in through the roof vent. That hall is woven of serpents’ spines. She saw there wading onerous streams men perjured and wolfish murderers and the one who seduces another’s close-trusted wife. There Malice Striker sucked corpses of the dead, the wolf tore men. Do you still seek to know? And what?

In the east she sat, the old one, in Iron Wood, and bred there the broods of Fenrir [the wolf]. There will come from them all one of that number to be a moon-snatcher in troll’s skin. It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men, paints the powers’ homes with crimson gore. Black become the sun’s beams in the summers that follow, weathers all treacherous. Do you still seek to know? And what?

There sat on the grave-mound and struck his harp the ogress’s herdsman, happy Eggther. Above him crew Comb of Gold – he wakes the warriors at War Sire’s dwelling – while another crows beneath the earth, a rust-red cock at the halls of Hel.

[Refrain] Now Garmr bays loud before Looming Cave – the fetter will break and the ravener run free. Much she knows of old knowledge – ahead I see further, over the fate of the powers, virulent fate of victory’s gods.

Brothers will fight and kill each other, sisters’ children will defile kinship. It is harsh in the world, whoredom rife – an axe age, a sword age – shields are riven – a wind age, a wolf age – before the world goes headlong. No man will have mercy on another.

Mimr’s sons sport, but fate’s measure is lit at the sound of the clear-ringing Clarion Horn. Loud blows Heimdallr – the horn points to the sky – Odinn talks with Mimr’s head. Yggdrasill shivers, the ash, as it stands. The old tree groans, and the giant slips free.

[Refrain] Now Garmr bays loud...

Hrymr drives from the east, hoists his shield before him. Mighty Wraith coils in giant wrath. The snake flails the waves, and the eagle exults – pale-beaked rips corpses. Nail Boat slips free. A ship moves from the east: there shall come Muspell’s people by water, and Loki is the pilot. The giant’s sons are journeying all with the ravener – Byleiptr’s brother keeps them company.

What troubles the Aesir? What troubles the Elves? Giant Realm is all aroar. The Aesir are in council. Dwarfs groan at the granite doors, well knowing their immuring rock. Do you still seek to know? And what?

Surtr moves from the south with the scathe of branches; there shines from his sword the sun of Gods of the Slain. Stone peaks clash, and troll wives take to the road. Warriors tread the path from Hel, and heaven breaks apart... The sun starts to blacken, land sinks into sea, the radiant stars recoil from the sky. Fumes rage against fire, fosterer of life, the heat soars high against heaven itself. [Refrain] Now Garmr bays loud...

She sees come up a second time earth out of ocean once again green. The waterfalls flow, an eagle flies over, in the hills hunting fish. Aesir meet on Eddying Plain and discourse on the mighty enmesher of earth, and call to mind there the momentous judgements and the Gigantine God’s ancient runes.

There will once more the miraculous golden chequers be found, in the grass, those that in the old days they had owned. Without sowing cornfields will grow – all harm will be healed, Baldr will come. They inhabit, Hödr and Baldr, Hroptr’s walls of triumph, gods of the sanctuary. Do you still seek to know? And what?

Then Hoenir picks out the twig of augury, the sons of the two brothers set up their home in the wide wind realm. Do you still seek to know? And what?

A hall she sees standing, brighter than the sun, roofed with gold, on Refuge from the Flames. There shall the worthy warrior bands dwell and all their days of life enjoy delight.

There comes the shadowy dragon flying, glittering serpent, up from Dark-of-the-Moon Hills. He carries in his pinions – he flies over the fields – Malice Striker, corpses.

Now she will sink.

Translation: Ursula Dronke

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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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