Nasher Sculpture Center presents Soundings: Beowulf
Vocalist, harper, and scholar Benjamin Bagby brings the chilling, magical power wielded by the untitled Anglo-Saxon epic poem known as Beowulf in a performance that has been called a “double tour de force of scholarly excavation and artistic dynamism” by the San Francisco Chronicle. The story has its roots in the art of the scop (“creator”), the bardic story-teller of early medieval England who would retell the story of Beowulf in song and speech, accompanying himself on a six-string harp for an audience that would be captivated by the finest details of sound and meaning.
Bagby’s impetus to re-vocalize this medieval text as living art has come from many directions: from the power of those bardic traditions, mostly non-European, which still survive intact; from the work of instrument-makers who have made thoughtful renderings of seventh-century Germanic harps; and from those scholars who have shown an active interest in the problems of turning written words back into an oral poetry meant to be absorbed through the ear/spirit, rather than eye/brain. But the principal impetus comes from the language of the poem itself, which has a chilling, magical power that no modern translation can approximate.