Sverrir Guðjónsson. Grafskrift
Epitaph. Medieval Island



IMAGEN

medieval.org
Opus 111 OPS 30-253
(Smekkleysa, 2011)
recorded in Skálholt Church, Iceland, 1998


"These are traditional Icelandic songs and as said by the interpret:
"Epitaph" has been given space and time to develop. It is a lifelong project which has grown and matured with age. The heritage of Iceland is preserved within these songs, which have been passed on from generation to generation, through the centuries.
The counter-tenor voice is exceptionaly pure." — medieval.org







I. Prologue
SÓLARUPPRÁSS Sunrise
1. Lilja  God of all people  [3:26]

II
ÁRSTÍDIR Seasons
2. Austankaldinn á oss blés The cold wind blew around us  [1:34]
3. Sumarið Þegar setur blítt  Summer - Joy and sorrow  [1:38]
4. Skipafregn  The long Spring  [1:02]
5. Sumri hallar  Summer is passing  [1:33]
6. Goða veislu gjöra skal  Now is the time for feasting  [1:45]

III
ÁST Love
7. Blástjarnan Þótt skarti skær  The shining blue star  [1:01]
8. Stóðum tvö í túni  Together we stood in the field  [1:26]
9. Eitt sinn fór ég yfir Rín  Once I crossed the river Rhine  [3:03]
10. Stúlkurnar ganga sunnan með sjá  The maidens are walking south by the sea  [0:49]

IV
TRÚ Faith
11. Miskunnarbæn  Kyrie  [1:18]
12. Tunga mín vertu treg ei á My tongue, be not reluctant  [1:49]
13. Vera mátt góður  You may be good  [0:48]
14. Lánið drottins lítum mæta  Praise the Lord  [1:31]
15. Einsetumaður einu sinni  The hermit  [2:26]
16. Guðs lamb  Agnus Dei  [1:10]

V
NÁTTÚRA Nature
17. Veröld fláa  Wicked world  [1:05]
18. Bar svo til í byggðum  It happened in the hamlet  [1:57]
19. Ókindarkvæði  The troll song  [1:41]
20. Óll náttúran enn fer að deyja  Once again nature is dying  [0:48]
21. Kvölda tekur  An evening prayer  [2:21]

VI
ÁRDAGAR Dawn of man
22. A solis ortus cardine  [1:41]
23. þat mælti mín móðir  Thus spoke my mother  [0:37]
24. Sonarharmur  The son's lament  [2:11]
25. Svi vítt um heim sem sólin fer  The journeys of the sun  [0:47]

VII
GRAFSKRIFT Epitaph
26. Ísland  Iceland  [1:30]
27. Móðir mín í kví, kví  Ghost song  [2:42]
28. Krummi  The raven  [0:41]
29. Grafskrift  Epitaph  [2:14]

VIII. Epilogue
SÓLARLAG Sunset
30. Lilja  God of all people  [3:53]



Sverrir Guðjónsson, counter-tenor: all singing; original idea; arrangements for songs #1, 4, 12, 13, 3
Sigurður Halldórsson: additional voice in songs #4, 11,  14,16, 22, 23, 25
Eggert Pálsson, percussion
Ólöf Sesselja Ókarsdóttir, viola da gamba
Camilla Söderberg, recorder
Snorri Örn Snorrason, lute; arrangements for songs #2, 3, 6, 8, 15, 18-19, 21, 24, 26-29


IMAGEN

opus 111



GRAFSKRIFT

GRAFSKRIFT hefur átt sér langan aðdraganda. Má segja að hér sé um lífsverkefni að ræða sem hefur vaxið, þróast og skírst með „aldrinum". þjóðararfur Íslendinga fellst meðal annars i þessum söngperlum, sem varðveist hafa mann fram af manni, i gegnum aldirnar.

Mig langaði að nálgast íslensku þjóðlögin út frá öðru sjónarhorni en hingað til hefur heyrst.

Hafði ég miðaldir og endurreisnar tímann í huga, og þann hljóðfærakost sem þá var við lýði í Evrópu, þannig að tærleiki tónlistarinnar nyti sin sem best.

Smám saman tók verkið á sig þá mynd sem hér ber fyrir eyru. Kaflarnir átta (Prologue-Árstíðir-Ást-Trú- Náttúra-Árdagar-Epitaph-Epilogue) tengjast órjúfanlegum böndum, frá sólarupprás til sólarlags, og mynda einhvers konar líflínu þjóðar. Náttúran syngur með, eins og hún hefur alltaf gert.

Öllum þeim sem vitandi eða óaðvitandi hafa lagt hönd á plóginn, vil ég þakka af heilum hug. Ævistarf Séra Bjarna Þorsteinssonar „Íslensk þjóðlög» sem prentuð voru á árunum 1906-1909, hefur reynst mér nokkurs konar „Biblía„ og leiðandi ljós í þessari leit.

Einnig minnist ég heillar þá Engel Lund eða „Göggu" eins og hún var oftast kölluð, heimssöngvara og brautryðjanda í flutningi íslenskra þjóðlaga: „það er um ad gera að hinkra við og hlusta, margraula lagið og melta vísurnar, vera auðsveipur ogþolinmóður. Pegar persóna söngvarans víkur úr vegi kemur ef til vili í ljós, hvernig lagið vill láta syngja sig." Gagga lést sumarið 1996 hér í Reykjavik, 96 ára að aldri. Blessuð sé minning hennar.

Skálholtskirkja með sinn mjúkla og fagra hljómburð varð fyrir valinu sem upptökustaður. Staðarfólki þakka ég frábærar móttökur og leyfi til að hljóðrita þennan sameiginlega þjóðararf á þessum sögufræga stað, undir verndarvæng eldfjallsins Heklu, sem brá sér í sumarkjólinn um vornæturstund.

Suma þessara söngva drakk ég til min meó móðurmjólkinni.
Aðra laerði ég síðar á lífsleiðinni.
Enn aðra varð að grafa upp úr fortíðinni.

Sverrir Guðjónsson

IMAGEN



EPITAPH

EPITAPH has been given space and time to develop. It is a lifelong project which has grown and matured with age. The heritage of Iceland is preserved within these songs, which have been passed on from generation to generation, through the centuries.

I wanted to approach these traditional Icelandic songs from a fresh angle, to conjure up the ancient atmosphere of the Middle Ages, and a sense of our roots which direct us into the future.

Gradually Epitaph took the dramatic form which can be heard on this recording. The eight chapters (Prologue - Seasons - Love - Faith - Nature - Dawn of man - Epitaph - Epilogue) are closely connected from sunrise to sunset and reflect the lifespan of a nation. Our nature chants along as it has always done.

I would like to thank all of those who helped along the way. Reverend Bjarni Þorsteinsson's Traditional Icelandic Songs, printed between 1906-1909, became a Bible to me and proved to be a great source of inspiration. I would also like to mention the good advice I received from Engel Lund, an international singer and pioneer in the field of traditional Icelandic music: 'It is important to stop and contemplate, hum the melodies over and over again, digest the poems, and last but not least, to be humble and patient. When the persona of the singer steps aside, the tune may reveal how it will sing itself' Engel Lund died here in Reykjavik, at the age of 96, in the summer of 1996.

We will always cherish her memory.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to record in the church of the See of Skalholt. The beautiful and clear acoustics of this historical church, built under the watchful eye of the volcano Hekla, contributed so much to the atmosphere of this recording.

Epitaph brings a dramatic approach to the traditional music of Medieval Iceland. The combination of the voice and early instruments create the atmosphere for the haunting purity of the music and take the listener on a journey through eight chapters from sunrise to sunset.

Some of these songs I heard in my mother's womb
Some I learnt later in life
Some I had to dig up from the past

Sverrir Guðjónsson
Translation: Sverrir Guðjónsson/Brian FitzGibbon



I. PROLOGUE. SÓLARRUPPRÁSS / Sunrise

Lilja / God of all people
An ancient and unusual melody. The lyrics are taken from a famous Icelandic poem written by a monk in the 14th century in praise of the Virgin Mary. The first of the hundred verses praises God Almighty who surrounds all things.


II. ÁRSTÍDIR / SEASONS

Austankaldinn á oss blés / The cold east wind blew around us
A boy dreams of the sea and grows up to be a strong fisherman. He often has to fight for his life when he is out at sea, but at the same time he longs to die in the arms of the ocean. His wish comes true.

Sumarið Þegar setur blítt / Summer (Joy and sorrow)
Nothing remains the same. After the summer comes the winter, and sorrow follows joy.

Skipafregn / The long spring
After the long and hard winter, people longed for the ship of spring which brought them goods from Europe. Often the ships were late or did not come at all.
This song takes a humourous look at this impossible situation – when we have no alcohol in our glasses or tobacco in our pockets. So let's put on a brave face and greet our neighbours.

Sumri hallar / Summer is passing
Summer is passing and autumn steps in. The mountains put on their white dresses. The sun turns shy and the rivers seek shelter. Winter is fast approaching.

Goða veislu gjöra skal / Now is a time for feasting
The old Icelandic folk dance ‘Vikivaki’ was banned in Iceland in the late 18th century, and is still danced in the Faroes Islands today. These annual dancing feasts were considered immoral by the authorities. ‘God knows where we shall dance next Christmas’, the song complains. Today Icelanders sing this song to celebrate New Year's Eve. ‘Pipin’, the king referred to in the lyrics is ‘little Pippin’, king of the Franks and father of Emperor Charlemagne.


III. ÁST / LOVE

Blástjarnan Þótt skarti skær / The shining blue star
A rare Icelandic love song. ‘Blástjarnan’ is the star Vega, which is beautiful but cannot compete with the lovely blue eyes of the girl, ‘Svava’.

Stóðum tvö í túni / Together we stood in the field
An ancient tune. The lyrics are taken from ‘Viglundur's Saga’. Viglundur recides the poem as he is parting from his beloved, ‘Ketilríður’. He also vows, that his hair shall not be cut or washed by another woman while he is abroad.

Eitt sinn fór ég yfir Rín / Once I crossed the river Rhine
A story of a man who crosses the river Rhine on his way to his beloved, using the leaf of a lily as a boat. When he gets to the house, he finds it barred and the three sisters refuse to let him in, unless he promises to marry the youngest one. The young man is not prepared to let them have complete power over him, so they chain him down and throw him out the window. He breaks a rib and loses a lock of hair. He won't be coming back.
These verses may have been brought here by the German merchants from Hamburg who traded with Iceland in the 16th century.

Stúlkurnar ganga sunnan með sjá / The maidens are walking south by the sea
‘Thula’ is a traditional form of rhyme which resembles ordinary speech. Some of the ‘thula’ could go on for quite a long time, and many of them are adventure stories told to children, like nursery rhymes. The rhythm and rhyme are of great importance.
This particular song is a love ‘thula’. The first girl is the fairest in her golden dress: ‘I would not mind marrying her’.


IV. TRÚ / FAITH

Miskunnarbæn / Kyrie
From an ancient Icelandic manuscript. The oldest bell of Iceland sounds at the beginning of this chapter.
It reminds us of the bell the Nobel Prize author Halldór Laxness wrote about in his novel ‘The Bell of Iceland’.

Tunga mín vertu treg ei á / My tongue, do not be reluctant
This hymn is from Melodia, an Icelandic manuscript from ca. 1650.

Vera mátt góður / You may be good
This self-righteous religious song is also taken from the Melodia manuscript (ca. 1650). It is unusual in tune and rhythm: ‘You can he good if you are willing to strive for it’.

Lánið drottins lítum mæta / Praise the Lord
This is a religious ‘quint’ song which recommends moderate wine drinking, in the name of Christ.
A quint song is a special form of singing in which two voices move 5 tones apart, and occasionally criss-cross. This ancient style of singing gradually vanished in Europe, but was preserved in Iceland.

Einsetumaður einu sinni / The hermit
A hermit went out walking and wandered into a grove where he sat down and listened to the beautiful song of a bird. He lost track of time and is still sitting there listening, a thousand years later.

Guðs lamb / Agnus Dei
From an ancient Icelandic manuscript.


V. NÁTTÚRA / NATURE

Veröld fláa / Wicked world
‘This wicked world shows its thorns
Everything is working against me’.

These lines come from a well-known Icelandic quatrain.

Bar svo til í byggðum / It happened in the hamlet
This poem is about a fox, the farmer's enemy. There are many old appellations for the fox in Icelandic, such as: prettaputa (hen tricker) and skolli (devil).
But in the end the fox is outfoxed.

Ókindarkvæði / The troll song
This is a good rhyme to scare children into behaving. In the story the troll is sitting in its cave under the surface of the earth, waiting to grab the foot of any child who steps into one of the holes. And the troll will beat the child all night long! The child is saved by a man who passes by, but the troll starts looking for another child.

Óll náttúran enn fer að deyja / Once again nature is dying
Winter is approaching, the barren trees are cold and the birds have stopped singing. The pale grass droops its head towards death.

Kvölda tekur / An evening prayer
Evening approaches. Man and nature prepare to rest with the setting sun. May God help us all.


VI. ÁRDAGAR / DAWN OF MAN

A solis ortus cardine
A hymn taken from an Icelandic manuscript from ca. 1400, known as the ‘Officium of Saint Thorlák’. It is written in honour of Iceland's only saint, St. Thorlák, who was a bishop at the See of Skálholt where this CD was recorded. Thorlák's sanctity was officially recognised by the Icelandic Parliament in 1198.

þat mælti mín móðir / Thus spoke my mother
A quint song taken from a poem in the Sagas, written by the famous Viking, Egill Skallagrímsson, after he had killed a man when he was still only a child. In the poem Egill's mother advises him to buy a ship and sail abroad to make a name for himself as a Viking.

Sonarharmur / The son's lament
The prince tells the king his sad story. The sagnadans (story-dance) is a special form of storytelling in which the soloist sings a long story and the chorus joins in at the end of each verse.
This long sad story has been abbreviated in this song. In the poem the prince meets three sisters, and marries the youngest and fairest. On their way back to his kingdom, his young wife is taken ill and the prince has to bury her with his sword.

Svi vítt um heim sem sólin fer / The journeys of the sun
A lot of Catholic music was cast aside with the advent of the Reformation which came to Iceland in 1550. This is one of the few hymns to have survived. It is still sung today. It is a variation of song nr. 22: A solis ortus cardine.


VII. GRAFSKRIFT / EPITAPH

Ísland / Iceland
This song almost has the status of a national anthem and is widely sung when Icelanders are celebrating. It is a quint song, but in this case the two lines are played by the viola da gamba.

Móðir mín í kví, kví / Ghost song
A girl had an unwanted child. She wrapped it in her shawl and laid it out to die. Later she wanted to go for a dance but had no dress. In the song we hear the voice of the dead child offering its dear mother her shawl to wear.

Krummi / The raven
A widely-known song in Iceland. The raven flies, preying in the early hours of the morning when he finds a frozen ram. In Icelandic mythology, the raven is seen as a personification of wisdom. Odin, the supreme creator God, is often portrayed with a raven on each shoulder, whispering words of wisdom into his ears.

Grafskrift / Epitaph
When someone of importance died it was an old custom to write an epitaph which was printed or calligraphed, and hung up on the living room wall. This epitaph for ‘Sæmundur Klemensson’ is the only known example of an epitaph with a melody to it.
‘His soul will never die, for he fought by Christ's side. We shall always remember him.’


VIII. EPILOGUE. SÓLARLAG / Sunset

Lilja / God of all people

Translation: Sverrir Guðjónsson/Brian FitzGibbon

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