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Songs We Love: Trio Mediaeval, 'Morgunstjarna'

On the new album <em>Rímur, </em>Trio Mediaeval teams up with trumpeter Arve Henriksen.
Oddleiv Apneseth
/
Courtesy of ECM
On the new album Rímur, Trio Mediaeval teams up with trumpeter Arve Henriksen.

It's a curious thing how ancient music can sometimes sound so contemporary. Listen to "Morgunstjarna," and it's as if three centuries' worth of music history evaporates. The anonymous song from 17th-century Iceland sports a catchy, bittersweet melody and rhythmic hook that pop outfits like Peter Bjorn and John might be happy to whistle.

But "Morgunstjarna" is no pop song. It is, in fact, a hymn to Jesus, "my star of the morn." It's sung in the traditional Icelandic Tv ís öngur ("twin singing") style, in which two vocal parts closely intermingle.

<em>Rí</em><em>­mur</em>, by the vocal ensemble Trio Mediaeval and trumpeter Arve Henriksen.
/ Courtesy of ECM
/
Courtesy of ECM
­mur, by the vocal ensemble Trio Mediaeval and trumpeter Arve Henriksen.

As the song opens, one of those "twin" voices is actually the breathy, atmospheric trumpet of Arve Henriksen. He appears throughout the new album R ímur, by the vocal ensemble Trio Mediaeval. The result is music that seems old and new at once. (In that sense, it's not unlike a previous project on the ECM label, Officium, which paired Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble.)

Anna Maria Friman, in husky voice, offers a perfect patina over Henriksen's slightly jazzy trumpet. Her colleagues Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Berit Opheim join in after the first stanza, providing an ambling beat. After the second stanza, Fuglseth takes flight, soaring beautifully above the groove. For a few moments, we're caught up in a heavenly swirl of improvisation. There's a repeat of the opening lines and we gently touch back down to earth — a little lost in time, perhaps, but smiling.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.