Celebrating Early Music and Early Music Performance

The origins of storytelling are ancient and lost in the mist of time. When was the first the story told? Was it perhaps told around a flickering fire in the gloomy recess of a cave? Did a primitive hunter tell his family of his successful hunt as they devoured the game that he brought home? Or, more likely, he told of how he found off a terrible animal that stole his kill, adding a little imaginative details to convince his hungry family that he had did all he could but was foiled by cruel fate? In some ways, storytelling may have begun as excuses for failure. Stories could have also been used long ago to calm the fear of family and clan members huddled at night in their fire-lit caves while wild animals howled outside. As families joined with other families to form clans, then tribes and eventually nations and societies, those who could spin a good yarn and tell of heroic events of the tribe began to attain position of respect and power. People began to listen to them. Thus may have developed the Shaman, the priest, the judge and the ruler - all effective storytelling in their own way.

In later centuries, when most of the population were still illiterate, people had to listen to learn anything and a good memory was an important tool. The person who could tell a good story always found an audience as well as respect, a good meal and place to sleep. People when they traveled took along their stories and shared them with others in far away lands. When they returned home they brought back exciting tales of exotic places and people.



Beowulf in Old English  literally "bee wolf" i.e. "bee hunter", a kenning for "bear" is the conventional title of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.

It survives in a single manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. Its composition by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet is dated between the 8th and the early 11th century. It fell into oblivion for many centuries, and its existence did not become widely known again until it was printed in 1815.

In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, battles three antagonists: Grendel, who has been attacking the resident warriors of the mead hall of Hroðgar (the king of the Danes), Grendel's mother, and an unnamed dragon. After the first two victories, Beowulf goes home to Geatland in Sweden and becomes king of the Geats. The last fight takes place fifty years later. In this final battle, Beowulf is fatally wounded. After his death, his servants bury him in a tumulus in Geatland.

Use the slider on the right of the player to access all 41 chapters of the epic poem of Beowulf.


Caedmon's Hymn: West Saxon Version

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard,

meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs
ece drihten, or onstealde.

He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes weard
ece drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig

Here's a translation into Modern English (courtesy of wikipedia):

Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven, the might of the architect,
and his purpose, the work of the father of glory as he, the eternal lord,
established the beginning of wonders.

He, the holy creator, first created heaven as a roof for the children of men.
Then the guardian of mankind, the eternal lord, the lord almighty,
afterwards appointed the middle earth, the lands, for men.

Read by Kara Shallenberg, a.k.a Kayray.  http://kayray.org


The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century (two of them in prose, the rest in verse). The tales, some of which are originals and others not, are contained inside a frame tale and told by a group of pilgrims on their way from Southwark to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.
The themes of the tales vary, and include topics such as courtly love, treachery, and avarice. The genres also vary, and include romance, Breton lai, sermon, beast fable, and fabliau. The characters, introduced in the General Prologue of the book, tell tales of great cultural relevance.
The version read here was edited by D. Laing Purves "for popular perusal" and the language is mostly updated.

01 - Preface

02 - The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer

03 - The General Prologue

04a - The Knight's Tale

04b - The Knight's Tale

05 - The Miller's Tale

06 - The Reeve's Tale

07 - The Cook's Tale

More recordings to follow