Saturday, April 28, 2012

Early Medieval Music

Being the ever-so-curious person that I am, while reading The Mists of Avalon I began to think about Early Medieval music, so I went to the web to see what I could find.  Loreena McKennitt is who I found.  In her autobiography, she says:

I became smitten with what is now referred to as Celtic music in the late 1970s, but it was only when I started to connect with its history that my journey really began. At an exhibition of Celtic artifacts in Venice in 1991, I learned about the geographic and historic spread of the Celts. I found myself drawn into a rich, ancient tapestry of sounds and rhythms and stories. I discovered myths and traditions that resemble one another from far corners of the globe, people who share traits and yet are instinctive.” 
(find more of Loreena's information at

The Lady of Shalott was a young woman who fell in love with Sir Lancelot, King Arthur’s best friend.  Alfred Lloyd Tennyson wrote about her and Loreena McKennitt sings it beautifully. Is it authentic music?  No, but it is a connection from the past to the present and  she sings it like a bard. The YouTube video author said that when the video was uploaded she was only permitted 10 minutes at that point in time, so some of the end may be missing. :-( 

Mary B.

The Lady of Shalott
By Alfred Lloyd Tennyson

On either side of the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the world and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road run by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay,
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The Knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady Of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady Of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode back to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
he flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra Lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces taro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance -
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to towered Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

We're still in the Early Medieval Period

It’s Thursday.  We have been studying the Early Medieval Period since about the beginning of March and are still finding myriad books to read/review with each other. The beauty is we all seem to find different information to present to the group.  Where do we find them?  At the public library, book stores, discount book stores, second-hand stores, personal collections, and on line; wherever one finds books. We bring the books on our Thursday meeting days to share and this is today's share:
An Introduction to Celtic Mythology by David Bellingham.  This book not only tells folk tales, but has images of artwork of the period.

The Book of Kells by Charles Gidley.  It’s a book showing actual images of each page of this magnificent manuscript.  One of the most renowned pages is of the Chi-ro-iota.  It is like a chapter introduction to the text that follows.  Actually, The Book of Kells is a translation of the four Gospels in the Bible’s New Testament written in old English.  I saw this book when in Dublin, Ireland, over 25 years ago and I didn't know what I was seeing, just that it was beautiful and fascinating.  Now I know!

Early Medieval Art by Ernst Ketzinger, Revised Edition.  There are great images and explanations of this period’s art.
Celtic, Viking & Anglo-Saxon Embroidery by Jan Messent.  In this book, she “. . . combines contemporary interpretations of ancient art and embroideries with historical narrative.”

Our “group read” is progressing.  Currently it is The Mists of Avalon a novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She relates Arthurian legends from the perspective of the female characters.  It’s nice to get a different point of view from the King Arthur legend. Reading fiction or historical fiction is a great way to get perspective on culture and historical context in a particular period of time.  I feel like I can almost “walk-in-their-shoes” for a time by taking advantage of the author’s research.  One way to do this would be to Google a word or place you find in a book that is unfamiliar or curious and see where it takes you.  I’ll reveal a few of my revelations in future posts.

Mary B.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Welcome to our blog!

We are a group of five women that meet every Thursday morning at a cozy coffee shop to study art history.  We began meeting weekly about 3 years ago with the stipulation that our class be serious, flexible, and broad enough to include literature, architecture, music and anything that was considered "art" not just fine art.  We will do our best to recapture our timeline of the last three years, then move forward from our current studies. 

This is still an exciting journey for all of us and we hope to inspire your own art history awakening!