Text by Elizabeth Raum based on Sir Gowan and The Green Knight
1990, Knox Metropoliton Church, Regina, Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan Choral Federation, Kathryn Laurin, Conductor
Many years ago I had an idea to write a new opera on the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I researched the epic Medieval poem, wrote a libretto, plotted staging, and wrote two major works as sneak previews for perspective commissioners. The two works were Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a five movement suite for orchestra, and Four Medieval Songs for chorus and brass quintet.
My opportunity to create a choral work presented itself when the Saskatchewan Choral Federation commissioned me to write an SATB chorus in 1990. I wrote the words first, selecting four scenes that might be typical for music and poetry of the medieval period.
Since the hunt scene of the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight figured so prominently, The Hunt became the first movement. A hunt in the poetry of the Middle Ages was often symbolic of seduction and conquest, and certainly in the poem about Sir Gawain, there is the parallel scenario of Sir Bertilak hunting a deer while his wife tries to seduce Sir Gawain. The first song is full of imagery and double entendre as was portrayed in the poetry of the time.
The words for the second song, In Temptationibus, were from actual medieval Christmas music with slight editings substituting the original “monk” with “lord” and “nun” with “maid which I thought were more appropriate. Since I studied Latin for two years in high school, I was able to translate roughly, alternating Latin with English. The words, Temptationibus, obviously meaning temptation, and Inducas, a warning meaning not, recur throughout, but the lord appears to woo the maid successfully in spite of the caution. Bawdy songs in Latin were common in the era (think of Carmina Burana by Charles Orff).
The third song, Where Is My Love, is a sad tale of a couple seeking but not finding each other because they have died. Again, this was a popular theme of the Middle Ages (and beyond!)
And finally, the Drinking Song needs little explanation as these have existed throughout history. It is a carefree celebration, something I had thought to open my illusory opera at King Arthur’s banquet where the whole story begins.