© EDMUND HUNT 2022
Duration: c. 7’25”
18.02.11 - Ruth Hopkins/Phillipa Thomas (mezzo-sop.), Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, cond. Edwin Roxburgh, Adrian Boult Hall.
Text: Old Norse (anon.), from the poem Vǫluspá (‘The Seeress’s Prophecy’), 10th/11th century A.D.
. Ár var alda
þar er Ýmir byggði,
vara sandr né sær
né svalar unnir,
Jörð fannsk æva
gap var ginnunga,
en gras hvergi.
 Geyr garmr mjök
festr mɑn slitna,
en freki renna.
Fiölð veit hon frœða,
fram sé ek lengra
 Sól tér sortna,
sígr fold í mar,
hverfa af himni
leikr hár hiti
við himin sjálfan.
 Sér hon upp koma
jörð ór ægi
flýgr örn yfir,
sá er á fjalli
Vǫluspá (The Seeress’s Prophecy) is believed to date from the late tenth or early eleventh century, and was probably composed in Iceland due to its use of imagery derived from volcanic phenomena. It is in fornyrðislag (‘old story metre’ or ‘epic metre’), consisting of stanzas of eight lines, each of which has two stressed syllables and a varying number of unstressed syllables. Alliteration links the lines.
In composing the piece, the text was used for its vivid imagery and for the sounds implied by these images. Although the phonetic sound of the text is generally not reflected in the orchestral writing, individual instrumental lines frequently include the same intervals and melodic shapes as the vocal line. Different verses of the poem (other than those sung by the soprano) stress the act of symbolic utterance. Thus the idea of breath became an important idea in the orchestral writing, and is evident in motivic material (such as ‘breath sounds’ in the wind instruments accompanied by a tam tam ‘scrape’ or cymbal stroke, and in slowly emerging chords that begin from and end in nothing). The imagery of the text gave the impression of swirling, undulating motions, culminating in a vortex (verse 57 of the text) which then gradually subsides, through a series of undulations, to nothing.
3.It was the beginning of time
when Ymir made a settlement,
there was no sand nor sea nor cool waves;
earth was nowhere nor the sky above,
the void was chaos, grass was there nowhere.
44. Garm bays loudly before Gnipa-cave,
the rope will break and the ravener run free,
much wisdom she knows, I see further ahead
to the terrible doom of the fighting gods.
57. The sun turns black, earth sinks into the sea,
the bright stars vanish from the sky;
steam rises up in the conflagration,
a high flame plays against heaven itself.
59. She sees, coming up a second time,
Earth from the ocean, eternally green;
the waterfall plunges, an eagle soars over it,
hunting fish on the mountain.