Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




Katja Zimmermann

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Seth Cooper
Seth Cooper Arts Inc.
4592 Hampton Ave.
Montréal, QC, Canada
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Fragments for the End of Time

Benjamin Bagby voice, harps, symphonia
Norbert Rodenkirchen flutes, harp

Click here to watch a video excerpt from this program, filmed live in concert in 2009

Photos from the Montalbâne Festival 2010 (Germany)

From the time of Christianity’s introduction into Europe until the end of the first millennium, apocalyptic images of the End of Days and the Last Judgement were widespread, both in texts and in the visual arts. These images, based largely on the Biblical Revelation of John, at times bear a remarkable similarity to the pagan Germanic descriptions of the world’s destruction during the final terrible battle (Ragnarök) between the gods (Odin, Thor, etc.) and their mortal enemies, the giants. These disparate sources share certain characteristics: the terrifying words of female oracles; the sounding of the horn; the massing of armies from below and above; the breakdown of material reality and the final destruction of the world by fire.

The image of the Apocalypse which most readily comes to mind is associated with the almost incomprehensible mystery of the ‚end of time’, filled with terror and destruction. We envision the chilling image of the four horsemen mercilessly riding down upon our doomed world. But the Greek word apokalypsis actually means unveiling, or revelation, an image strongly linked to our mortal desire for access to the mysteries of existence, to our almost physical longing for union with creation and with the deity. John’s Book of Revelation is not only a faithful report of what he saw and heard in visions on the island of Patmos, but it is also filled with the feeling of his impatience and desire. In all these senses of the word, medieval artists created an especially powerful body of sung poetry, often in obscure images and language, visionary and prophetic, to prepare the singer and listener alike for a particular inner voyage of comprehension, and to awaken the soul to the experience of ‚seeing’ that which is one day to be revealed.

In this program, also released as a CD in 2008, we explore the musical world of these surprising, powerful texts, some of which survive only as fragments: the Old High German Muspilli, which describes the waking of the dead, the workings of Satan, the fight of Elias with Anti-Christ, the call to judgement, and warns of the uselessness of wealth and bribery in that final courtroom; the prophecy of the Erythrean Sibyl (an acrostic text in Augustine’s translation in The City of God) as sung in Aquitanian cloisters; the Alsatian monk Otfrid’s rhyming German verses which describe the terrible final day; the Old English ‘Lay of the Last Survivor’ (found embedded in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf epic) describes the bleak and lonely end to an unnamed tribe, as their useless treasure is heaped in a cave by the lone survivor, to await a dragon’s arrival; masterful Latin sequences from Frankish tradition, describing the Last Day and praising the archangels; instrumental interludes based on sequelae – untexted sequence melodies with enigmatic titles which point to possible pre-Christian usages; and finally, from the Old Icelandic Edda collection, the harrowing description of the pagan Ragnarök, when ‚Muspell’s People’ and the armies of Surt and Loki launch their final, deadly assault on the indigenous northern European gods.

The instruments used in this concert include reconstructions of Germanic harps (based on 7th century instruments from Oberflacht, near Stuttgart), an early medieval triangular harp, and copies of medieval transverse flutes (including a flute made from a swan’s bone, based on an 11th century instrument unearthed near Speyer).

Duration: 75 minutes, without interval

The Pieces

Fortis atque amara
Frankish sequence (9th century)

...sin tac piqueme, daz er touuan scal
the ‘Muspilli Fragment’, probably Fulda (early 9th century)

Unsar trohtin hat farsalt
instrumental version of the Freisinger Petruslied, Bavaria (late 9th c.)

Thes habet er ubar woroltring
‘de die Iudicii’ from the Evangelienbuch of Otfrid von Weißenburg (Alsace, †875)

Gaude coelestis sponsa
instrumental piece based on Frankish sequence melodies (9th c.)

Thaer waes swylcra fela
the ‚Lay of the Last Survivor’ from the Beowulf epic (Anglo-Saxon, ca. 8th c.)

Instrumental piece based on a 9th century Frankish sequence melody

Iudicii signum
the ‚Prophecy of the Erythraean Sibyl’ (Aquitaine, 11th c.)

Scalam ad caelos
Instrumental piece based on a 9th century Frankish sequence melody

Summi regis archangele Michahel
‘Sequentia, quam Alcuinus composuit Karolo Imperatori’ (Einsiedeln, 10th c.)

A fellr austan um eitrdala
the ‚Prophecy of the Völva’, from the Old Icelandic Edda (Iceland, 10th c.)

Upcoming Concerts

13 August 2023
Lviv, Ukraine (Mirror Hall, Opera)
The Wanderer - Medieval songs of travel

15 August 2023
Kyiv, Ukraine (Hall at the Modern Art Research Institute of the National Academy of Art of Ukraine)
The Wanderer - Medieval songs of travel

20 August 2023
Jarosław, Poland
The Wanderer - Medieval songs of travel

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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