Benjamin Bagby / Sequentia
Representation (Exclusive of Europe)
Hus in himile:
Apocalyptic Songs from German Cloisters (9th -11th centuries)
Benjamin Bagby, voice, harp
Jasmina Črnčič, voice
Norbert Rodenkirchen, flutes, harp
Ian Harrison, wind instruments
The long Covid confinement of 2020 has fostered reflections on the fragility of the world, and given a rebirth to the legendary Sequentia program and CD, 'Fragments for the End of Time' (Endzeit Fragmente). Vocalist/harper Benjamin Bagby and flautist Norbert Rodenkirchen will be joined by vocalist Jasmina Črnčič and multi-instrumentalist Ian Harrison (Les Haulz et les Bas) to explore the musical world of surprising, powerful, apocalyptic texts from medieval German cloisters.
From the time of Christianity’s introduction into Europe until the end of the first millennium, apocalyptic images of the End of Time and the Last Judgement were widespread, both in texts and in the visual arts. These powerful Christian images, based largely on the Biblical Revelation of John, at times bear a remarkable similarity to the pagan-germanic description of the world’s destruction during the final battle fought by the gods and giants of Norse mythology. It is a musical tradition steeped in mystery, with a special dreamlike quality, including descriptions of the celestial heavens but also firmly rooted in the violent world as it was known. There are also tender promises of a blessed afterlife, an end to sickness and suffering, and even a 'hus in himile' (home in heaven). These are songs from a thousand years ago and more, when men and women were expecting the world to end, and the singer's duty was to prepare them, warn them and yet also, to console.
The premiere of this program will take place on 18 March 2021, in Cologne, Germany, as part of the ZAMUS Early Music Festival.
The instruments used in this concert include reconstructions of Germanic harps (based on 7th century instruments from Oberflacht and Trossingen), copies of medieval transverse flutes, and other winds.
Sung languages include: Old High German, Old Saxon, and Latin.
Duration: 75 minutes, without interval
Video titles will project all sung texts in translation.
Words of Power
Charms, Riddles and Elegies of the Medieval Northlands (8th-11th centuries)
Benjamin Bagby, voice & Anglo-Saxon harp
Hanna Marti, voice & harps
Stef Conner, voice
Norbert Rodenkirchen, wooden & bone flutes, harp
The musicians of Sequentia present songs of magic, exile, of the uncertainty of fate, of longing and regret, of the healing power of magic herbs, of irony and just plain fun. The pagan roots of the recently christianized medieval north can still be discerned in some of the oldest manuscript sources known to us today: the Old English Beowulf epic (possibly 8th century), the Old Icelandic Edda, the poems surviving in ancient songbooks such as The 10th-century Exeter Book, and numerous fragments from Germany and Switzerland. Each of these chants, songs and spoken riddles gives us a glimpse into a time so distant from ours and yet near in spirit, a world of singing poets, warriors, valkyries and seeresses, healers and philosophers, whose creations were the first to be written down in English and other Germanic languages (in addition to Old English, we perform songs in Old High German and Old Icelandic, with a hint of Latin). In reconstructing lost musical traditions from this time, Sequentia searches once again to resonate again those long-silent, ancient voices, sometimes accompanied by harps and flutes, which would have been welcomed in any gathering of souls, pagan or Christian, those seeking help for their problems, entertaining their friends, or those giving voice to their longing for a lost partner, or a lost tribe.
Mr. Bagby comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has... That is much too rare an experience in theater. — The New York Times
Monks Singing Pagans
Medieval songs of heroes, gods and strong women
Benjamin Bagby, voice & harps
Hanna Marti, voice & harp
Norbert Rodenkirchen, bone & wooden flutes
When we think of medieval monks and their musical lives, the first thing to come to mind is Gregorian chant, the solemn and ritual song which accompanied the monk's liturgical day, week, season and year. But a closer look at medieval religious manuscripts from the 9th to 12th centuries shows that many monks and clerics were singing other songs as well, with texts which were often anything but Christian. The monastic and cathedral schools of medieval Europe were great centers of learning and focal points of intellectual life. For all monks and clerics, who were native speakers of European vernacular languages (each with their own pagan roots), it was essential to become bilingual -- to speak, think, perhaps even to read and write in Latin, the language of their faith, the liturgy, the sciences, philosophy and literature. And this crucial link to Latin could best be enhanced by studying 'ancient' texts which had survived: Roman authors, poets, dramatists, teachers, philosophers and historians whose works were studied and memorized, and many of these were also sung. Taken together with occasional Germanic pagan texts, there were songs of the old gods (Woden, Zeus, Jupiter, Bacchus), of men and heroes (Hercules, Orpheus, Boethius, Caesar) and of powerful female figures and goddesses (Valkyries, Fortuna, Philosophia, Cleopatra, Dido, Venus, the wild Ciconians). The survival of these songs, sometimes very fragmentary, provides us with a rich treasure-house of European vocal art, and witnesses to a vibrant culture where the Christian monk gave voice to his pagan ancestors, passing on stories and ideas which resonate to this day.
Note: English translations of the sung texts will be projected as supertitles in our performance.
Sequentia is one of the world’s most respected and innovative ensembles for medieval music. It is an international group of singers and instrumentalists – united in Paris under the direction of the legendary performer and teacher Benjamin Bagby – dedicated to the performance and recording of Western European music from the period before 1300. Based on meticulous and original research, intensive rehearsal and long gestation, Sequentia’s virtuosic performances are compelling, surprising in their immediacy, and strike the listener with a timeless emotional connection to our own past musical cultures.
Founded by Benjamin Bagby and the late Barbara Thornton, Sequentia can look back on almost 40 years of international concert tours, performing throughout Europe, North and South America, India, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia. Sequentia has brought to life over seventy innovative concert programs that encompass the entire spectrum of medieval music, in addition to the creation of music-theater projects such as Hildegard von Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum, the Cividale Planctus Marie, the Bordesholmer Marienklage, and Heinrich von Meissen’s Frauenleich (several of which were filmed for television). The work of the ensemble is divided between a small touring ensemble of vocal and instrumental soloists, and a larger ensemble of voices for the performance of Latin liturgical chant and polyphony.
Sequentia’s comprehensive discography spans the entire Middle Ages. In 1981, the ensemble began to release the first of many LP's and CD's which encompass the entire spectrum of Medieval musical practice.
The past years have seen a growing corpus of Sequentia performances and recordings centered on the importance of oral tradition, story-telling, and the earliest musical documents of medieval Europe. These programmes are all grouped under the banner of ‘The Lost Songs Project’ and have their roots in the ground-breaking work which Bagby has done with his reconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf epic.
In 2002, Sequentia released an acclaimed 2-CD set of sung tales from medieval Iceland: The Rheingold Curse: A Germanic Saga of Greed and Vengeance from the Medieval Icelandic Edda, on the Marc Aurel Edition label. Other recent programs, such as Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper (released on the BMG Classics/DHM label in 2004), and Chant Wars, (SONY-BMG / 2005, a co-production with the Parisian ensemble Dialogos) have received wide international critical acclaim. The most recent recording, Fragments for the End of Time, featuring apocalyptic songs from early Medieval Germany, Saxony and Aquitaine, was released on the Raumklang label in 2008.
Benjamin Bagby Vocalist, harper and scholar Benjamin Bagby has been an important figure in the field of Medieval musical performance for more than 30 years.The years since 1977 have been almost uniquely devoted to the work of Sequentia. Mr. Bagby created more than 70 innovative concert programs of medieval music and music drama, giving performances in Western and Eastern Europe, North & South America, North and West Africa, the Middle East, Japan, Korea, and Australia. In 1981, the ensemble began to release the first of many LP's and CD's which encompass the entire spectrum of Medieval musical practice.
For all of these recordings, which were researched and assembled by Bagby and Thornton, the accompanying booklets are appreciated for their rigourous scholarly quality, with great attention to detail, to the sources, and to the work of philologists (such as Peter Dronke, Pierre Bec, Heimir Pálsson and Ulrich Mueller) who collaborated on the textual editions. In addition, Sequentia projects witnessed collaboration with musicologists such as Leo Treitler, Edward Roesner, Harmut Möller and Richard Crocker.
The most recent CD releases of Sequentia (Edda: Myths from Medieval Iceland; The Rheingold Curse; Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper and Fragments for the End of Time) are based solely on the research of Benjamin Bagby, reflecting his interest in oral poetry and the use of traditional music in reconstructing ancient modal vocabularies. They are grouped under the banner ‘The Lost Songs Project.’
Bagby also directs the Sequentia men’s vocal ensemble for the performance of medieval liturgical polyphony and chant, which traces it beginnings to the mid-1980’s. The major project for the men’s voices in 2003-4 was a collaboration – entitled Chant Wars – between Sequentia and the Parisian ensemble Dialogos (dir., Katarina Livljanic). The CD of this program was released by Sony-BMG (DHM label) in 2005. In 2009, he created a new men’s vocal ensemble in Paris, which has toured extensively.
Apart from the research and ensemble work of Sequentia, Mr. Bagby devotes his time to the solo performance of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic oral poetry; an acclaimed performance of the Beowulf epic is an ongoing project, with performances given yearly worldwide, and a DVD production released in 2007.
Bagby led ensemble and audience on an inner journey toward the mysteries of humanity's relationship with the infinite. These seven men sing with full voices and hearts. The sound of them in perfect unison in the sinuous traceries of chant is like cold water to a thirsty soul.
Marvelous is the way Benjamin Bagby—the show's prime mover and principal narrator—delivers his material with such evident relish. Words of bargain and bloodshed slip from his mouth like polished jewels, he keeps a fresh smile at the wonder of it all.
New York Times
More than 30 recordings
Awards for Recordings
Edison Award, 1987 & 1998
Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, 1993
CHOC - Le Monde de la Musique, 2002
Diapason d'Or, 1995 & 1999
Sequentia's best-selling CD,
Canticles of Ecstasy
has sold more than one million copies worldwide and was nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Choral Recording.