for Dianne Berkun and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Children's chorus, piano, synthesizer, 8'
Syllables is an exploded setting of an old Icelandic text describing the end of the world. I say exploded as I elected to set the text both in English, fragments of Old Icelandic, as well as nonsense syllables taken from both languages. There is a constant, anxious pulse throughout the first section, which ends with a giant unison and the entire choir singing the same text for the first time in the piece. This texture melts into an aquatic, lilting piano accompaniment, over which a long, long line eventually dissolves into unison chordal syllables, as if the last things standing are the fragments of language.
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Sól tér sortna, sÃgr fold Ã mar,
hverfa af himni heiÃ°ar stjÃ¶rnur;
geisar eimi ok aldrnari,
leikr hÃ¡r hiti viÃ° himin sjÃ¡lfan.
Geyr nú Garmr mjÃ¶k fyr GnÃpahelli;
festr man slitna, en freki renna.
Sér hon upp koma Ã¶Ã°ru sinni
jÃ¶rÃ° ór Å“gi iÃ°jagrÅ“na;
falla forsar, flÃ½gr Ã¶rn yfir,
sÃ¡ er Ã¡ fjalli fiska veiÃ°ir.
Ãžar munu eptir undrsamligar
gullnar tÃ¶flur Ã grasi finnask,
Ã¾Ã¦rs Ã Ã¡rdaga Ã¡ttar hÃ¶fÃ°u.
VÃ¶luspÃ¡ 57-59, 61
The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,”¨The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;”¨Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,”¨Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.
Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,”¨The fetters will burst, and the wolf run free;”¨Much do I know, and more can see”¨Of the fate of the gods, the mighty in fight.
Now do I see the earth anew”¨Rise all green from the waves again;”¨The cataracts fall, and the eagle flies,”¨And fish he catches beneath the cliffs.
In wondrous beauty once again”¨Shall the golden tables stand mid the grass,”¨Which the gods had owned in the days of old.
Trans. Henry Adams Bellows (1923)