Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trilogy Notes

[These are notes we put on the back of the program to "A Lay of Life and Loss".]

Many of the themes and lines of this "operetta" are taken from several, mostly old Germanic, sources.

The title on the cover is translated and written in the original Gothic script of Wulfilas, and the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet or "futhorc". In the Latin alphabet the Gothic and Old English run, respectively:

Liuþis Libainais jah Alausiais
Leoð Lifes ond Alætnesse

In the first song, the Gothic lines at the end, as well as the reference in English to the "mistress of the mountain", are adapted from the Gothic poem "Bagme Bloma", composed by J.R.R. Tolkien, and from [King Alfred]'s verse translation.

In the second song, the story of the battle is adapted from the poem fragment "The Battle of Maldon".

The first three lines of the Old English bridge in the second song are taken from the last three lines of "Beowulf" (ll. 3180-82). The fourth line consists of one half-line from earlier in "Beowulf" (l. 721a) and one original half-line. The whole bridge, translated, goes thus:

They said that he was, among all the world's kings,
The most generous of men, and the most gracious,
The most protective of his people, and the most desirous of honor,
Now, cut off from joy, I await my destiny (doom).

The third verse of the second song is loosely based on Old English poems "The Seafarer" and "The Wanderer".

In the third song, themes were borrowed liberally from the Old English poem "The Wanderer", especially ll. 93-97 (these lines also inspired part of the dialog and music for the movie The Two Towers) and ll. 40-54:

Where is the horse? Where the young warrior? Where now the gift-giver?
Where are the feast-seats? Where all the hall-joys?
Alas for the bright cup! Alas byrnied warrior!
Alas the lord's glory! How this time hastens,
grows dark under night-helm, as it were not!
. . .
When sorrow and sleep at once together
a wretched lone-dweller often bind,
it seems in his mind that he his man-lord
clasps and kisses, and on knee lays
hands and head, as when sometimes before
in yore-days he received gifts from the gift-throne.
When the friendless man awakens again,
he sees before him fallow waves,
sea-birds bathing, wings spreading,
rime and snow falling mingled with hail.
Then are the heart's wounds ever more heavy…

"The Lay" Unlocked: full text

Here is the Trilogy as Mikaela and I presented it on Nov. 19th. This is pasted pretty much straight from the program.

A Lay of Life and Loss

Song 1: The Wood & the Battlefield

Setting: It is the middle of WWI. A nurse is wearily tending to the dying soldiers being brought into the edges of the forest from the trenches. Her white apron is stained with their blood. As a soldier dies in her arms and another nurse urges her to rest, she walks further into the forest, singing.

The drums of battle echo in darkness
And sleep eludes my eyes;
The sound of horses pounding past my window
Keeps me awake at night.
Every day they bring them to me
So many men lost to war.
Dying for the sake of dying,
Not knowing what they're dying for.

Here beneath the Mistress of the Mountain
The witness of my birth;
Now the trees look on as death surrounds them,
Mourning the bleeding earth.
On the wind a voice is calling.
Sweetness lingers on the air
As I leave this present darkness
and step into a place more fair.

Whose is the voice that calls me?
Where is the heart I seek?
Where is the valiant man
To make life whole again?

Through the forest then my footsteps wander.
The din of battle fades away
in the peaceful web of snow and branches
where once I used to play.
In this time where men are different
Life is death well met
Cup bestowed by queen at table
And sacrifice without regret...

She keeps walking up the mountain, her hands brushing each beloved tree as she passes through the wood. In the distance she glimpses an old ruin, where she loved to read of the heroes of the north in tongues long dead. The old words come back to her:

Fraujinondei fairguni sa bairka
Tulgus triggwa standiþ bandwa bairhta

which, translated, may be rendered:

Mistress of the mountain, the birch stands strong and true, a bright token.

Song 2: The Sea

Setting: The same, but no longer in ruins. Instead, the building stands at the height of its glory, and before it warriors are preparing to ride to battle. One Saxon warrior, arming himself, sings.

We were strong!
Every harp told the tales of our deeds.
We were skilled!
Giving shape to both metal and word.
We were proud!
And our hall was the envy of men
Our great hall
Where our lord gave out gifts to his men.
And we loved him and swore him our lives to the end.

They were strong
Landing ship after ship on our shores.
We fought long,
But our lands they ran red with our blood
We were brave
And we rode out and chanted of death
One last ride.
Then they cut down our king to the ground
And we lost all the things we held dear when he died.

Where is the strength that fails me?
Where is the life I've lost?
How can I go home
When all I loved is gone?

Cwæðon þæt he wære wyrolde-cyninga,
Mannum se milduste ond se mon-ðwærust,
Léodum se líðoste ond se lóf-geornost.
Nú dréamum bedæled, ic bíde mín dóm.

The setting has changed. The warrior no longer steers a horse, but a ship, small among the great waves of a winter storm. But he does not move. As if oblivious to the violent weather about him, he stares into the ocean mist and sings.

They have gone
And in exile I wander alone
On the sea
Where I think on the fall of my kin
I survive
But bereft of the death that I owed
To my king
And the thought is a shroud on my soul
And I cry with the gulls of the sea dark and cold.

Song 3: The Ruin

Setting: The mead hall, in ruins once again.

[Man speaks aloud:]

The clear-sighted man will know
How terrible it will be
When great walls fall to dust,
And all the wealth of this world
Stands waste...

As she makes her way to the former doorway of this once great edifice, she looks about her and sings.

Where is the horse
And his young rider?
Where is his master,
Ruler and Guide?
Oh! Alas!
For the brave man -
His heart torn asunder;
Oh! Alas!
For the Warrior
In his bright mail!

How could the mighty
Noble, lie fallen?
Wine-hall in runes
Mead frozen and gone?
Oh! Alas!
For the Noble
Truest of Lovers;
Oh! Alas!
Memory buried
His forgotten name!

See now past her face, inside the ruin. He is standing near the king's chair, pale image of the whole man. As he sings, he grows more solid, until he is fully flesh and blood.

When sleep and sorrow bind
The lonely man's mind -
In a dream he holds
His Lord of old;
But only wakes to find -
Icy wind that stings
Ice and Waves and Wings;
And his tears flow free
Into the sea
Of forgetfulness and pain!

They both sing, walking along either side of the wall, almost at the door.

[She:] Whose the voice that calls me?
[He:] Hwa, þe clypeþ me?
[She:] Where is the heart I yearn for?
[He:] Hwær seo geornde heorte?

They have both attained the doorway. As they look upon each other, they sing together.

Is this the Truth –
The love I have looked for?
Is this the peace
I've traveled to find?
Oh! At last! Sweet surrender!
One heart broken no more.
Oh! At last! Here in your eyes
I am finally home!
I am finally home!
Here at last I'm home!

At the same time:

Hér se magu,
hér þín dryhten,
beorn ond gíefa.
Hér líf ond strengþu.
Hér ic finde mín dóm.
I am finally home.
Here at last I'm home.

of which the ancient speech may be rendered:

Here is the rider,
here is your lord,
master and giver.
Here is life and strength.
Now I have found my destiny.

© 2005 Silver Scroll Productions

[Publishing it thus without hearing the music really doesn't do it justice, but we haven't recorded it, so you'll have to hear it live, or take my word that the music does do justice to the words, and to the sources that inspired them.]

Update: Notes

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Short-Lived Latin Letters

Spotted this on Tenser said the Tensor: Emperor Claudius proposed three additions to the Latin alphabet that were used briefly on inscriptions while he was alive:

1. Antisigma: a reversed sigma (Greek s) for use in clusters 'bs' and 'ps'. As Tensor comments, what's the use? Dunno, but it looks cool.

2. Digamma inversum: The former Greek letter digamma looked like an F and was used like a W, which is in essence a consonantal U, which is what Claudius thought to use this new letter for. I've wondered why the name sounds like it's related to Greek gamma, but I have noticed that 'gw' and 'kw' is a common consonant cluster in Proto-Indo-European words, yielding descendants with g (or k) sounds in one family, and w (or v or f) sounds in another. E.g., PIE gwem > E come but Latin venire; gwei > E quick but Latin vivus; PIE kwei > E cheetah (through Sanskrit) but poem (through Greek).

3. "Half-eta": To represent the Greek upsilon (more like a French u than an English or Latin one), Claudius took the long eta (H) and cut it in half. The commonality is that both are front vowels (your tongue is up front in your mouth, not back like in 'a' and 'o'), but the upsilon sound is rounded (lips) and higher (jaw) than eta.

Apparently the Claudian letters are likely to be included in Unicode.

UPDATE: Check out Sauvage Noble's discussion of these letters here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trilogy finished

The trilogy is indeed complete. As of last night the writing had stopped. My last bit of dissatisfaction with certain lines led to some final rewrites, and Mikaela and I worked out what was lacking in the melody of the first song, so I can confidently say that music and lyrics are complete for all three songs. Now I just need to practice between now and Saturday.

Next Tuesday is the Feast of St. Cecilia, so M's party is Saturday. If Cecilia is the Christian version of the Muses, I appreciate her help with our three songs in three barbarian tongues. :-)

Friday, November 11, 2005

We gemyndian...

"The spirit must be the firmer, the heart the bolder, courage must be the greater as our strength diminishes."

In honor of Veteran's Day / Remembrance Day in North America, here are some links to the battle poems I mentioned in my last blog. Particularly appropriate is the battle of Maldon, which apparently was well known in the trenches of WWI.

Battle of Brunanburh in OE
Battle of Brunanburh in English
Battle of Brunanburh in English, translated by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Battle of Brunanburh main site

Battle of Maldon in OE
Battle of Maldon in English
Britannia's Battle of Maldon page
Battle of Maldon main site

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Lay of Life and Loss

I've gotten myself into an interesting project recently. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to a friend of mine (whose personality is at least as melancholic as mine) what I like about much of the Old English poetry I've read: the lamenting of what has gone before; the depiction of sorrow in a society that valued heroism; the times where the sounds of Old English words seem to match the meanings; even the appropriate, almost monotonous chanting of old Germanic alliterative verse. She was interested, but I had no idea just how hooked she was until, a week later, she had read the Wanderer, the Seafarer, and the poems on the battles of Maldon and Brunanburh (including prose translations and the verse settings by Ezra Pound [Seafarer] and Tennyson [Brunanburh]).

Add to this the fact that Mikaela (as I'll call her) writes music. Beautifully sad and wistful and, generally, minor key music. And she shares my affection for music like the Rohan violin theme from the LOTR movies, Loreena McKennitt, and (now) Grey Eye Glances.

Just add water. Salt water. And hail. And wind, and seagulls, and a lone seafarer, and memories of lost family, friends, and king. In the same week that she'd read those poems so voraciously, she already had lyrics and music for most of a song.

The resulting project is a trilogy of songs written in (mostly) English with some Old English appearing in various bridges or counterpoints or harmonies.

Now, to be clear: I can't write music. I can read sheet music enough to slowly identify notes, but the entirety of my musical arrangement ability can be found in a handful of old mix tapes and various mood-based winamp playlists (upbeat.m3u, lifislæne.m3u, ruhe.m3u, etc.).

So we have worked together on adapting the texts of the poems I mentioned into modern-style songs. And then she composes the music for them. Sometimes just seconds after I've written new lyrics. I can't begin to describe the excitement I felt when I first heard the poetry I love so much set to music that seemed to capture its tone so well.

Mikaela has her own very enjoyable and very accurate description of what it's been like working on this at her own blog, where I am very generously referred to as Sullivan.

The plan is to play/sing our trilogy at her annual St. Cecilia party. Last year I was surprised at the feedback I got after reciting Grendel's approach to Heorot from Beowulf in Old English, and then in translation. This year I'm going to recite my translation of Bagme Bloma, and then give it in Gothic. (It really is a beautiful sounding language!). So we'll see how it all goes. If it goes well, we may do more with it, but even if not, it has been more rewarding than I ever expected to work on our little trilogy.