HYLESTAD (2017) - for two narrators, Bb trumpet, and string quartet

Premiere: Musikkbaren - Music for String Quartet, Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo, Norway, March 7th, 2018


Duration:  ca. 8 min


Program Note:


Hylestad is a town in southern Norway known for its historical wooden stave church which was torn down in the 17th century. The church had portal carvings, broken into narrative panels, featuring the story of Sigurd Fåvnesbane, a legendary figure from Norse mythology, slaying a dragon. Tales from Sigurd can be found in the Prose Edda and the Völsunga saga. These church panels are persevered today in the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway, and are a testament to a time of mixed polytheistic and Christian belief in 12th Century Norway. There has been scholarly debate about why purely Christian churches could display blatantly “pagan” references so prominently at the church entrance. Historian and linguist Jesse Byock argues that these carvings were featured on the church portal because of a syncretic parallel of Sigurd the dragon-slayer with the story of the saints as dragon-slayers in Christian hagiography and symbolism, including the archangel St. Michael and St. George. These figures represent defenders against Satan and other evil spirits.

Hylestad explores these religious parallels through two narrated stories of the dragon-slayers—St. George and Sigurd—two parallel streams that alternate, join together when similar events in the stories overlap, and separate. These stories are accompanied by music in the string quartet, which takes material from a 19th-century Christian Hymn for St. George by Henry Gauntlett and a 13th-century Scandinavian folk tune Drømde mig en drøm i nat (I dreamt a dream last night)—the oldest existing Nordic folk tune notated in runes, which are re-harmonized, layered, combined, and abstracted at different points in the narrative. The improvised trumpet acts as glue between the two worlds, freely coloring the lines of the stories and weaving them together like the complex patterns in the church carving.

The texts are extracted from Snorri Sturluson's "Prose Edda" and Jacobus de Voragine's "Golden Legend" and summarized by the composer.