For The Season, Trio Mediaeval Spans Centuries

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Trio Mediaeval is (from left) Berit Opheim, Anna Maria Friman and Linn Andrea Fulgseth. (Courtesy of the artist)
Trio Mediaeval is (from left) Berit Opheim, Anna Maria Friman and Linn Andrea Fulgseth. (Courtesy of the artist)

For all those who just can't bear to hear "Jingle Bell Rock" or any of the other Yuletide earworms that will invade shopping malls and radio waves in the coming months, Norway's Trio Mediaeval has some new old music for the holiday season.

The group's new album, Aquilonis, features 15th-century English carols that member Linn Andrea Fuglseth found in a book of Old English medieval carols before Trio Mediaeval formed. In fact, "Alleluia: A New Werke," one of the carols on the album, is the reason she started Trio Mediaeval, she says.

"It was so spectacular when I first heard it," she tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

The album is not just carols. There are also Italian songs from the 12th century, Icelandic chants from the Middle Ages, a few modern works and traditional Norwegian folk melodies. The record also marks the first time that the trio of women has recorded with accompaniment from a special type of fiddle played by member Anna Maria Friman.

"It's sort of the national instrument of Norway, which is called the Hardanger fiddle," Fuglseth explains. "It's a violin that's from a place called Hardanger in the west coast of Norway. And the special thing about this fiddle is that it has sympathetic strings underneath the main strings so you can hear more than one string at a time. The actual decoration on the instrument is very, very beautiful ebony pieces that are made into beautiful artwork on the actual violin. It's a beautiful instrument."

Medieval music is, in many ways, the domain of men. Most of the music the group — Fuglseth, Friman and Berit Opheim — performs was originally written for male voices.

"That's the nice thing," Fuglseth says. "That we can actually take some music that's written for men and do it for female voices. There were a few monasteries, also, for nuns in Europe in the Middle Ages and there's some music from there too. But we haven't done as much of that. I think it's nice to do things that's not expected."

Those who want to get as far away from American Christmas as possible will want to hear the full conversation at the audio link, in which Fuglseth describes the Norwegian version of the winter holiday. Hint: It includes a "very small Santa Claus."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Oh, brace yourself. It is that time of year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JINGLE BELL ROCK")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock.

MARTIN: But if you simply cannot bear some of the Yuletide earworms invading shopping malls and radio waves, here's some new old music for the holiday season.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A WORCESTER LADYMASS")

TRIO MEDIAEVAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: This is a 15th century English carol performed by Norway's Trio Mediaeval on their new album "Aquilonis." Also on the collection, Italian songs from the 12th century, Icelandic chants from the middle ages and a few modern works as well.

Joining us from NRK radio in Oslo is Linn Andrea Fuglseth from the Trio Mediaeval. Welcome to the program, Linn.

LINN ANDREA FUGLSETH: Thank you very much, Rachel. Thank you.

MARTIN: How did you find these old English carols?

FUGLSETH: Well, the song you just played and a few other carols have been with us in the group for 17 years. And I found them actually in a book of Old English mediaeval carols. And I must say, that one of these carols in particular, which is also on our new recording called "Alleluia: A New Werke," that on song is the reason why I started the Trio Mediaeval because I thought it was so spectacular when I first heard it.

MARTIN: Oh, let's play a little bit of that. This is "Alleluia."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLELUIA: A NEW WERKE")

TRIO MEDIAEVAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: When we think about mediaeval music, we often think about this being the domain of men and male voices. What did you want female voices to bring to the sound of these pieces?

FUGLSETH: Well, maybe that's the nice thing that we can actually take some music that's written for men and do it for female voices. But yes, you are right that most of the music we sing has been written originally for men. But there were few monasteries also for nuns in Europe in the Middle Ages. And there's some music from there too, but we haven't done as much of that. So yeah, I think it's nice to do things that's not expected.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLELUIA: A NEW WERKE")

TRIO MEDIAEVAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: As we mentioned, it's not just an album of Old English carols. There are also some traditional Norwegian melodies on here, right?

FUGLSETH: That's right. We have I think we have three hymns, religious hymns, old folk melodies from Norway as well, yes.

MARTIN: Let's listen to a bit of this hymn, which begins with the sound of a Norwegian fiddle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRIO MEDIAEVAL'S NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS")

TRIO MEDIAEVAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: I understand this is the first time that you've recorded a record accompanying yourselves with instruments. Can you tell us a little bit about what we're hearing now? This fiddle, it's not a typical violent, right?

FUGLSETH: No, that's right. It's sort of the national instrument of Norway, which is called the Hardanger fiddle. It's a violin that's from a place called Hardanger in the West Coast of Norway. And the special thing about this fiddle is that it has sympathetic strings underneath the main strings. So you can hear more than one string at a time. The actual decoration on the instrument is very, very beautiful; ebony pieces that are made into beautiful artwork on the actual violin. So it's a beautiful instrument. And Anna Friman in the group has been playing fiddle since she was around 4 years old I think.

MARTIN: Oh, my.

FUGLSETH: I mean, in the classic tradition so it's just a few years ago that she ordered a Hardanger fiddle and started playing that. So we thought that was so fun that she's now playing every now and then in our concerts as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRIO MEDIAEVAL'S NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS")

TRIO MEDIAEVAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: You know we are moving into the Christmas season. And I wonder if you wouldn't mind just telling us what the holiday is like in Norway because I have heard something about a gnome.

FUGLSETH: It's kind of a Santa Claus but very, very small.

MARTIN: (Laughter) A small Santa Claus.

FUGLSETH: A very small Santa Claus. We call him Nissen. And he's dressed in a knitted jacket or a knitted sweater. But the little red hat, that also looks like the Santa Claus, you know. And apparently he comes to the farms and eats porridge so you should put out a tray of porridge...

MARTIN: Porridge.

FUGLSETH: ...To Nissen.

MARTIN: Low maintenance. He doesn't need big, fancy cookies or anything, just some porridge.

FUGLSETH: Good old porridge, yep.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, it was such a pleasure to talk with you. We've been talking with Linn Andrea Fuglseth. She is part of the group the Trio Mediaeval. Their new album is called "Aquilonis." She joined as from NRK radio in Oslo. Thanks so much for talking with us, Linn.

FUGLSETH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRIO MEDIAEVAL'S NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS")

TRIO MEDIAEVAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.