So I wrote a melody for the Old Norse text Voluspá.
The recording of it is above
Please see below if you are interested in the documentation. It is a WIP.
There are no surviving songs from the Viking Age and it is nigh on impossible to know what melodies from the Viking Age may have sounded like. We can hypothesise based on musical instruments at the time and songs/melodies/lyrics that have been passed down orally. But frankly we just don’t know.
There are records of songs that were sung such as in ‘Eiríks saga rauða’ (The Saga of Eirik the Red). In Chapter 4. Concerning Thorbjorg the Seeress:
She asked for the help of women who knew the lore that was needed for magic, which was called Varðlokur. But there were none of these women to be found. Then the farm was searched, to see if anyone knew any.
Guthrith said: “I am neither magical nor a witch, but Halldis, my foster-mother, taught me the song called Varðlokur in Iceland.”
Thorkell said, “Then you are luckily wise.” She said, “But this is the one procedure, that I want to have nothing to do with, because I am a Christian woman.”
Thorbjorg said, “It could be that you would help the people around here, and then you wouldn’t be a worse woman than you were before. And Thorkell, I expect you to provide me the things that I have need of.” Thorkell talked to Guthrith now, and she said that she would do what he wanted.
The women then positioned themselves in a circle around the scaffold that Thorbjorg sat at the top of. Guthrith spoke the poem so beautifully and so well that no one who was there thought he had heard the song sung with a more lovely voice. The seeress thanked her for the song and said that many spirits had now come to them and thought the song was beautiful to hear when it was so well delivered.
(Translation by Jackson Crawford)
However as was the practise with Christian documentation at the time, no pagan songs were to be recorded and you can see the heavy hand of Adam of Bremen in this record. Since, as this song was required and valued for a pagan ritual it was to be merely mentioned.
You can see in the text however how deeply vital both poetry and music were to the lives and practices of Vikings.
Using this knowledge, I decided to use a text that involves a vǫlva (Old Norse – witch) speaking to Odin and put it to a melody of my own. Using a period text and a melody that I believed suited the tone, language and weight of the piece.
My intent was that the melody could be adapted for every verse. I have managed to adapt it for quite a few and it works well, however as most people don’t particularly want to hear 10 verses or more I simply use the first two in performances. I feel it’s a good length and holds the interest of the audience just long enough. However more verses can be sung if requested.
I have a recording taken at Mordenvale’s midwinter event Tocal 2018 of the performance. It was the perfect atmosphere for the song, you can hear the notes echoing through the hall and it was dark enough that no one could see where I was or where the singing was coming from. (Fenech, 2018)
Below is the text that I used to create the song.
|1. Hljóðs bið ek allar helgar kindir,
meiri ok minni mögu Heimdallar;
viltu, at ek, Valföðr!
vel framtelja forn spjöll fíra,
þau er fremst um man.
|1. Heed my words,
all classes of men,
you greater and lesser
children of Heimdall.
You summoned me, Odin,
to tell what I recall
of the oldest deeds
of gods and men.
|2. Ek man jötna ár um borna,
þá er forðum mik fœdda höfðu;
níu man ek heima, níu íviði,
mjötvið mœran fyr mold neðan.
|2. I remember the giants
born so long ago;
in those ancient days
they raised me.
I remember nine worlds,
and the seed
from which Yggdrasil sprang
(Original text taken from (Translation from The Poetic Edda:
http://www.voluspa.org/voluspa1-5.htm) Jackson Crawford 1)
A large part of my focus with this song was pronunciation, specifically using the pronunciation of reconstructed Old Norse as opposed to the more common method which uses modern Icelandic pronunciation. I feel using the reconstruction lends a more rhythmic feel to the words, feels more authentic and the poems seem to fit and flow better. Jackson Crawford has some excellent resources both video and written. As does Jesse L. Byock, Michael Barnes and Anthony Faulkes. I will include their books in my references as the information was invaluable.
In the future I hope to put more Old Norse texts to my own melodies, not only in an attempt to recreate what songs in Old Norse may have sounded like, but to also expose those texts to a wider audience and to find a new way of retelling these age-old stories.
Anthony Faulkes, M. B. (2008). A New Introduction to Old Norse: III: Glossary and Index of Names with Two Supplements . University College London: Viking Socity for Northern Research.
Barnes, M. (2008). A New Introduction to Old Norse: I: Grammar. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
Byock, J. L. (2013). Viking Language 1. Jules William Press.
Crawford, J. (2015). The Poetic Edda: Stories of The Norse Gods and Heroes. Hackett Publishing Co, Inc .
Crawford, J. (2017). The Saga of the Volsungs : With The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok. Hackett Publishing Co, Inc.
Faulkes, A. (2008). A New Introduction to Old Norse: II : Reader. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
Fenech, C. (n.d.). Runa, Tocal 2018. Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBqbD0oX_48