Many years ago — Londonist can't even remember how many — we found ourselves in a tiny recital hall on a provincial university campus somewhere. Benjamin Bagby walked on stage, alone, with a six-stringed lyre. He proceeded to recite, from memory, all of Book One of Beowulf, in Old English. Parts were sung, parts were acted out, parts were done in funny voices. It was musical, it was theatrical, it was performance art. It was one of the most powerful, vital, unforgettable performances of our entire lives.
Bagby, with his ensemble Sequentia, will be performing in the intimate Purcell Room of the South Bank Center next week, Wednesday December 7. Although the performance will not have the astounding force of an entire evening of Beowulf, but what the programming lacks in unity it gains in variety.
The concert is titled Apocalypse: Fragments for the end of Time:
From the beginnings of European Christianity until the end of the first millennium, apocalyptic images of the Last Judgement were widespread in literature and the visual arts. They often displayed a remarkable similarity to the pagan-germanic descriptions of the world's destruction during the final battle between the gods and their mortal enemies the giants.
Sequentia explores the musical world of these powerful medieval images through some of the earliest surviving lyrics, including the Lay of the Last Survivor from Beowulf, the Alsatian monk Otfrid's rhymes of advice on preparing for the last day, and the Norse Edda's harrowing description of Ragnarok, when the armies of Surt and Loki launch their final, deadly assault on the northern European gods.
So we get crazy Christian last judgement visions, crazy pagan last judgement visions, and a fragment of Beowulf to boot? We're there.
Book tickets, and listen to sound clips, here