Hymn to St Magnus, the most ancient song from Orknøy (tune)
This song (from Codex Upsalensis, ca. 1280) was taught by Kåre and Tove Lie and Maja Marcussen at the first Nordic Harp Meeting in Lund (click here to listen to a recording of this song on Kåre’s website).
In Sweden, there exists a children song which exploits the same melodic motif, with the poetic lyrics “Till Paris, till Paris ska vi rida på en gris“.
Although the title of the tune looks as it might refer to the home of Stein Villa, it does not…
This tune (also known as Willafjord, Willa Fjord, Willow Fjord, Wullafjord…) is one of the most famous Shetland reels. According to Shetland fiddler and collector Tom Anderson, it was brought home from Greenland by Shetland sailors during the late 19th century arctic whaling expeditions. It has a highly syncopated rhythm: “If du imagines som een gaen wij wan fit ida stank an de idder een on a broo an gaein a lunk as dey go alang, dat’s da kind o’ syncopated rhythm du haes to get whin du plays dis een.” (Tom Anderson 1981)
King Orfeo (tune + text)
This is a Shetland ballad fragment published as number 19 in Francis Child’s collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads. It was recovered from oral tradition: The singer remembered the English text and two refrains in some strange old forgotten language. It turns out that although the ballad itself is in the Scots variety of the English tongue, the refrains are in Norn (the now extinct Shetlandic descendant of old Norse) whereas the stanzas of the ballad fragment seem to be closely related to the Middle English poem “Sir Orfeo“, which in turn is probably a medieval transformation of the ancient Greek story about Orpheus in the underworld. It has Scandinavian ballad parallels in “Harpans kraft“. However, in this Shetland version, instead of the harp, the protagonist plays the pipes.
Since this ballad has been sung at several previous Nordic Harp Meetings by various performers, regular participants might recognise it by now and join in the refrains next time somebody starts singing it:
Refrain 1: – Scowan ürla grün (skoven herlig grøn ?)
Refrain 2: – Whar giorten han grün oarlac (hvor urten hun grønnes arlig ?)
You’ll find several recordings on Youtube, looking for “King Orfeo”…