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Title:Eða Hvat
Author(s):Kato, Kevin
Subject(s):First Place
TTBB Choral Composition
American Choral Directors Association
Student Chapter
Abstract:Program Note by Composer: This piece is based off of the Old Norse poem Völuspá, a poem which tells of the end of the world and the mythical Ragnarök. I learned about this poem in a viking mythology class here at the University of Illinois, and the phrase “Axe-age, sword-age, Wind-age, wolf-age, No men will each other spare” really stuck with me. The clear harshness of the words is echoed in dramatic language throughout the poem, and this aggressive sound was easily translated into music in my head. I wrote roughly the first half of the piece with this sentiment in mind, attempting to convey a sort of savage, military sound. The piece then transitions into a much calmer, “prettier” segment, with the lyrics speaking essentially about what can be interpreted as either the afterlife or a new golden age for a new earth. This is something that I kept in mind when writing this piece; namely that, depending on how one reads the text, vikings might have considered Ragnarök either an apocalypse preceding an eternal paradise or a reoccurring event in a cycle of destruction and rebirth. While this calmer section relates more to the first interpretation, the cyclic interpretation is one I drew on heavily in the following section. This section is still and repetitive, declining in both volume and motion, and echoes the words at the beginning of the piece. This stillness contrasted with the aggressive, rousing lyrics invokes in my mind the futility, colorlessness, and despair I associate with this kind of an eternal cycle. The entirety of Norse mythology deals heavily with the preparation the gods make for the final battle at the end of the world. Does living in this kind of a cycle, with each iteration spent entirely in preparation for the end, serve any purpose it ultimately culminates in the same unavoidable violence? To me, this sort of a life would be one of constant menace and fear. As such, my musical inspiration for this section was the Veljo Tormis’ “Varjela, Jumala, soasta”, which translates to “God Protect Us from War”. This piece was written as a song of protection in response to the Soviet War in Afghanistan in 1984, a war which caused the Russian-occupied Estonians to fear conscription by the Soviet army. The fear and praying for protection expressed in this piece exemplifies my thoughts on the idea of a cyclical Ragnarök, and provides the sort of sound I went for in this section. Additionally, I quote Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux in the piano, utilizing Messiaen’s representation of a raven. Ravens have strong connotations with Norse mythology, representing the king of the gods, Odin, who is one of the primary patrons of warfare, knowledge, magic, and death. Additionally, ravens traditionally are associated with death, loss, and bad fortune, making their call all the more fitting for this section of the piece. The piece ends with the words “Eða hvat?", which translate to “Would you know more?”. This line is spoken frequently by the narrator in the poem, a seeress who is telling Odin of the end of the world. The seeress ascertains with this question whether Odin understands the knowledge he has been burdened with. By the end of the poem, she has told him of his sacrifices, the deaths of his sons and comrades, and even his own unavoidable death; the fear and desperation he would have felt would have to have been tremendous. As such, the meaning of the words “eða hvat” serve as a brief reminder of the unavoidable suffering and despair contained in the idea of an eternal cycle in Norse mythology. I wrote this piece partly to encompass my thoughts and feelings on this subject, but also as a reason to explore Norse mythology more deeply. The class I had taken was an excellent exploration of the subject, and after completing the course I was excited to have a good reason to research it more deeply.
Issue Date:2021
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-05-10

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