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3433Re: sequentia and reconstuction

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  • konrad_oddsson
    Aug 9, 2003
      --- In norse_course@yahoogroups.com, haukurth@h... wrote:
      > Hi, Dan!
      > This exchange is only marginally on-topic but I hope
      > no-one minds our discussing Sequentia a bit more.
      > > I doubt this CD was recorded with the
      > > intent of making it into an academic exercise on reconstructing a sung
      > > version of the "Edda?as it was performed in mediaeval Iceland.
      > I'm sure it is nowhere explicitly stated but that's
      > the impression many people seem to be getting.

      I got this impression as well. Heimir sent Sequentia to Norway, or at least
      made them listen to volumes of Norwegian traditional music, while the group
      also studied and listened to Icelandic and Faroese poetry singing. Despite
      this, I hear very little of these authentic sources in their recordings. In truth,
      the originals are far more authentic as far as Nordic tradition is concerned.
      The musicians in Sequentia are fine and highly trained specialists, but they
      simply lack the many years of highly specialized training, and the uniquely
      Nordic sensibility, which are absolutely required to perform this music. The
      Sequentia group make highly acclaimed recordings of Hildegard Von Bingen.
      These and other recordings are enough to secure the group's position as a
      very important and talented players in European medieaval music. The Edda
      recording will not be counted among their greatest achievements. While the
      playing is technically excellent and the compositional sense sound, the style
      and emotional expression conflicts with both the material and the received
      tradition of Nordic music.

      > > It is a modern artistic expression
      > > of an old text, not more no less.
      > Certainly. But why would they do all this research
      > if their goal wasn't, at least partially, to reconstruct
      > something?

      Reconstruction was a stated goal according to my reading of the writings
      which accompanied their Edda CD. However, as a performer of Nordic
      traditional music myself, I see no need to reconstruct Nordic music. The
      tradition did survive in Norway, despite the fact that extreme poverty and
      sustained persecutions lead to the extinction, or near extinction, of Nordic
      traditional music throughout the rest of Scandinavia. History has played its
      cruel tricks on the Scandinavians. Nevertheless, the ancient gemstone of
      Nordic traditional music did survive. Passed on note for note from teacher to
      student generation after generation, this extremely intricate, and melodically
      and rythmically complex, tonal treasure barely survived the ravages of man
      and time. It lost nothing of its raw and primordial power. This extraordinary
      music represents an unique and exceptional survival in European history. It
      has elements which are so old that one has to travel all the way to India to
      experience these same elements. Not surprisingly, Norse traditional music
      has often been mistaken for Indian, or other oriental, traditional music.

      > > To criticize it under this aspect does not do the craftsmanship and
      > > effort justice that was put into it.
      > The aspect we were asked (by more than one person)
      > to criticize was the accuracy of the pronunciation.
      > As I said two years ago:
      > "Obviously the members of Sequentia are musicians
      > (not linguists) and they will have to be judged for the quality
      > of their music. I don't know much of anything about music so
      > you shouldn't take my comments about it very seriously."
      > As for accuracy of pronunciation we found it mostly absent.

      The singing is excellent, but not in accordance with Nordic traditional music.
      The pronunciation is poor. Whatever pronunciation system is adopted for a
      sung language, the same sounds sound always be pronounced the same.
      This is also true as regards vowal and consonantal length. In the Sequentian
      recording, one can hear the same sounds and sequences pronounced with
      various articulations, a feature highly uncharacteristic of native speech.

      > > And how would you know how the Edda was performed in the first place?

      The Edda is being performed every day. Like the ancient and traditional music
      of the Nordic folk, the Edda is always growing and slowly accumulating new
      jewels in its crown. Members of every generation have participated in this
      gradual and careful evolution.

      > > Were you there? Even darwing conclusions from modern Icelandic,
      > > and Norwegian traditional folk music doesn't really help, because
      > > performace and musical styles develop and change over time at least as
      > > much as language does.

      In the case of Nordic traditional music, this development has been so slow
      that musicologists describe the music as "frozen" or "petrified". There are
      many reasons for this. Let me mention a few. To start with, Nordic traditional
      music was passed on using natural tunings not used in other European music,
      thus requiring new students to adopt an overall tonal system, as well as many
      tunings, which are incompatible with other European music. Additionally, the
      tradition has been such that highly intricate, often microtonal, miniature master-
      pieces were learned note for note, or at least nearly so, by each succeeding
      generation of traditional musicians, many players spending their entire lifetime
      mastering the music. Finally, the traditional musicians have been more or less
      isolated inhabitants of country districts until relatively modern times, travelling
      from district to district to play weddings, dances, parties and funerals. As is
      often the case even today, the audiences demanded recognizable tunes and
      the traditional playing which they had grown up with.

      > Even so, later Icelandic and Faroese folk songs would surely
      > be a better approximation than, say, traditional Japanese music
      > or modern opera. And this criticism was founded on their own
      > claims. They said they'd listened to a whole lot of traditional
      > Nordic music - yet I hardly heard a trace of that in their
      > performance. Neither did ?kar.

      Agreed. I play Icelandic and other traditional Nordic folksongs and hear little
      such influence in the Sequentian recording.

      > But it so happens that now we do have someone on this list
      > who is much better qualified to judge Sequentia's music.
      > Konrad, what do you think?

      That would be me. My qualification is that I play Nordic traditional music, both
      folksongs and intricate traditional masterpieces. I am a devout adherant and
      religious student of the masters and of traditional playing. The music and the
      poetry are my whole life.


      > By all means, don't let me ruin your enjoyment of the music.
      > I keep giving the impression that I hated this CD but that's
      > not the case at all. I enjoyed some of the melodies. I'd even
      > like to own it but I'd rather prefer not to pay for it ;-)
      > Kve?a,
      > Haukur
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