Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica
Performing Art (Music Piece)
An Interpretation of Le Morte d’Arthur
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

While brainstorming ideas for this creative assignment, I decided to go back to what I do best and love most: music. It is especially fitting considering many of the medieval texts we have studied in this semester, like the romances and lais, were themselves performed orally or to music. In pondering how best to bring across themes such as forbidden love, treachery, danger, death, magic, and religiosity which I see in Le Morte d’Arthur, I decided that what could best capture all these elements was a musical impression. Thus, this piece is meant to capture some main themes of Le Morte d’Arthur, not create an exact soundtrack for it. I say it is medieval-inspired because I have done my best to adhere to medieval music forms, theory, practice, and instrumentation1 – these I will further elaborate on later. The piece tracks the rough development of Le Morte d’Arthur from the birth of Arthur to his demise, as well as that of the Round Table. While it would have been nice to include all twenty-one books of Le Morte d’Arthur, due to time constraints I will only be focusing on a few. With this in mind, I have selected enough of Le Morte d’Arthur to fit a piece of approximately five and a half minutes.

The piece is structured into five sections, each around one minute in length. Their titles are “Arthur’s Birth and Coronation,” “The Fight,” “The Sangrail,” “Romance,” and “Death of Camelot,” respectively. It is entitled Ars Electronica because it has been programmed, played, and recorded on an electronic keyboard instrument called the Electone.2 It is also a wordplay on ‘Ars Nova,’ a style of music which flourished in France in the 14th century, about which a treatise was written by Phillip de Vitry.3 My choice of the Electone is both symbolic and practical: first, it has three keyboards – one for right hand, one for left and one for the foot, much like the medieval positive organ.4 In that sense, it is an electronic organ, the modern-day counterpart to its medieval cousin. More importantly, the Electone’s versatility enabled me to programme and fine-tune the sound settings such that they resembled medieval instruments as closely as possible. Its multiple keyboards also allowed me to play three or more different instruments at the same time.

A Note on Medieval Styles

This piece posed a particular challenge for me as I had never encountered medieval music before.  In my classical musical training, we were schooled extensively in Renaissance and Baroque, but nothing earlier than that. As such, I embarked on my own quest of researching medieval music. One of the first things that stood out to me was the lack of regular metre or bar-lines. At that time, the modern system of time signatures which we use today had not been invented yet, so the music had specific rhythmic patterns but not bar-measures, per se.5 Thus, in my music I tried to replicate the free-flowing, meandering nature of medieval music.6 Another feature of note is the use of ornaments7 at liberty, in an almost improvised manner.8 I too have tried to follow that kind of ornamentation in my music. Medieval music also uses modes instead of the musical ‘keys’ we are familiar with today.9 Hence, I have used exclusively Gregorian modes in my composition as well.

1. Arthur’s Birth and Coronation

For the first part of this section, Arthur’s birth theme, I chose the most basic Medieval instrument available: the human voice. I used the Dorian mode10 and minor chords to give it a sombre feel. This recalls the grim circumstances of his birth: using Merlin’s help to disguise himself as Igraine’s husband the Duke of Cornwall, Arthur’s father Uther had tricked Igraine into going to bed with him, only hours after the real Duke’s death in battle. The sombreness of the music represents both the solemness of death and the graveness of treachery. I have chosen the lower male voices to add to the heavy atmosphere, making it sound like a mass.11 This adds a layer of irony: holy music being played for a child born out of trickery, the very violation of Christian and knightly values. In line with Uther’s trickery towards Igraine, I have added my own twist in the music – according to the usual Dorian mode, the B flat note is used instead of B natural. Up until the end of the first part, I consistently used B flat to prime listeners to expect the B flat every time; however, at the ending cadence of the first part, I jump to a B natural, changing the chord from a minor-key G chord (G, B flat, D) to a major-key G chord (G, B natural, D). It is a plot twist of sorts which then leads into the second part of this section, Arthur’s coronation theme. The tone and beat of the theme are celebratory, both to celebrate Arthur’s success in proving his worth through pulling the sword out of the stone, and as an exaltation of his virtues. This theme is also written in the Ionian mode12, which is known as the “pure” mode because of its lack of accidentals13. This is to show that, despite the treacherous circumstances of his birth, Arthur turned out to be noble and good. Thus, the ‘purity’ of the key is an allusion to Arthur’s purity; it is meant to symbolize his knightly virtue. The instrumentation also changes to a mixture of organ and voice. According to medieval thought, wind instruments were said to “arouse or exasperate amorous spirits, and to an extent move them to the sweetness of [religious] devotion.”14 Since the organ consisted of a multitude of windpipes, it was deemed the only instrument allowed for church use. Seeing as Arthur was christened before he took the throne, the use of the organ adds to atmosphere of holiness and jubilation, signaling the ascension of a noble and worthy king. Inspiration for this part was drawn from Gaude Felix Francia, the 1226 conductus for King Louis of France’s coronation and anointment.15

2. The Fight

In this section I used the medieval ivory horn and tubular trumpet. Although medieval brass instruments used only plain tones (no vibrato),16 I was unable to remove the preset vibrato in the sounds I used on the Electone. I chose these instruments because they are strong and stately, symbolic of the kind of bravado knights display in fights. The tone is authoritative and demanding, mimicking knights engaged in combat. This section features a layering of voices in polyphony – a feature that started to take root only in the late medieval period.17 The trumpet comes in first, followed by the horn in inversion, then subsequently both play in a pattern of interweaving melodic lines. The lines weave in and out of each other, crossing and clashing, representing the conflicts Arthur and his knights had with other kingdoms over the course of the book, such as Arthur’s campaign against Rome. I have also added a flute in the background, which appears at unexpected intervals and flits up and down uncontrollably. This represents the unpredictable magical interference of Merlin, Nineve and Morgan le Fay – one never knew when or where they might strike or choose to help. Even if they were not part of the main action, these magical characters were often lurking on the sidelines, much like the flute does here. Moreover, the flute adds to the sense of destabilization reminiscent of conflict. Additionally, I used the Locrian mode18,  which contains a diminished interval between B and F. This diminished interval creates a highly dissonant sound, thus I have extensively exploited it, along with big melodic leaps, to represent the chaos of battle.

3. The Sangrail

This section represents the various knights’ quest for the Sangrail, as instructed by Arthur. I once again used the organ, as well as the harmonically “pure” Dorian mode19 to symbolize the holy nature of this quest. The tempo is quick and the mood more upbeat, to mirror the excitement of going on a quest-adventure. However, although the melody ends on the mode’s tonic ‘C,’ there is an unexpected crescendo added, which suggests that all is not what it seems and there is danger lurking ahead. As we know, many knights did not come back from the quest for the Sangrail, and the crescendo is supposed to represent this.

4. Romance

This section interprets both Tristan and Isolt, and Lancelot and Guinevere’s stories. Even though they are slightly different, I see a parallel between both in that both are a story of a forbidden love, held on through trickery and deceit, that ends inevitably in tragedy. In this section I have used the pan flute and harp: both have associations with amorous Greek figures – the pan flute with the fertility god Pan, and the harp with the virtuosic lover Orpheus. Furthermore, both have a mild, sweet tone which gives the music an air of tenderness, otherworldliness, and delicacy, which is how romance characters often describe the feeling of falling in love. Specifically, the harp plays a series of soft arpeggiated chords much like a dance, and the two pan flutes dance with each other in polyphony. The higher flute represents the females like Isolt and Guinevere, while the lower pan flute represents the males like Tristan and Lancelot. The way the flutes communicate with each other is reminiscent of lovers’ embraces and intimate conversations. However, keeping in mind that these were forbidden romances, the sweetness does not last long: the mode quickly changes from the joyous Mixolydian20 mode to the more ominous, minor-sounding Phrygian21 mode. The music slows down menacingly, and the harp breaks its strumming pattern to play a flush of notes, foretelling the tragedy to befall these lovers.

5. Death of Camelot

In the final section, the music evokes not only Arthur’s death, but the dissolution of the Round Table with it. The music is modelled after a mourning mass – it is chordal organ music which is slow, stately, and grave. Unlike the earlier sections where there is a high degree of ornamentation, this section pulls back some of the ornaments to deliver a plainer line, reminding us of the solemnity of Arthur’s death. All the chords used are minor chords, with the exception of F, adding to the somber tone. The harmonic chord structure is also symbolic: I have used a pattern called the circle of fifths22 to represent the knights of the Round Table. The original circle of fifths for this mode should be B minor → F# minor → C# minor → G# minor → D# minor (enharmonic to Eb)23 → Bb minor → F → C minor → G minor → D minor → A minor → E minor → B minor. However, before the music even has a chance to reach E minor, I break the circle by going to a different chord, suggesting the breakdown of the Round Table. Although the circle of fifths is a pattern only developed during the Baroque era, I chose to make a creative departure from medieval music theory just this once, for the symbolic character of the circle.

At the end, the music resolves from dissonant chords to the tonic of the Hypodorian mode24, A minor. The Hypodorian mode is also known as the “natural minor” mode for its highly minor-sounding character, thus adding to the gloomy mood of the finale. I also added tolling church bells to add to the sense of death and finality in this last section. With this, Arthur and his Round Table are no more.


Diagram of the eight medieval modes, taken from Companion to Medieval and Rennaisance Music, p.255.


Diagram of the circle of fifths, taken from classicFM website25


1 Nigel Wilkins, “Instruments and their Music,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music,  451-474.

2 For more information, refer to

3 Fuller, “A Phantom Treatise of the Fourteenth Century? The Ars Nova; Ars nova: French and Italian Music in the Fourteenth Century.”

4 Case Western Reserve University Early Music Instrument Database, “Organ (Medieval).”

5 John Caldwell, “Rhythm and Metre,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 718-746.

6 An example would be Joseph Payne’s transcription of the 15th century manuscript Praeambulum super D, here played by Catalina Vicens on a 15th century church organ:

7 Musical embellishments like trills, mordents and turns.

8 Cambridge History of Medieval Music.

9 Liane Curtis, “Mode,” Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, 255-264.

10 Mode which spans mostly white keys from D to D, with the exception of B flat. Refer to Annex for diagram of all the modes.

11 Such as the Kyrie mass, exemplified in this performance by Oxford Camerata:

12 The mode that spans the white keys from C to C.

13 Flats, sharps or any alterations to the note.

14 Case Western Reserve University Early Music Instrument Database, “Organ (Medieval).”

15 Peter M. Lefferts, “Tonal Organization in Polyphony, 1150–1400,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 747-773; Refer to this performance of Gaude Felix Francia:

16 Cupeiro, “Medieval Horn,”; Case Western Reserve University Early Music Instrument Database, “Trumpet (Medieval).”

17 Peter M. Lefferts,“Tonal Organization in Polyphony, 1150–1400,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 747-773; Roman Hankeln, “Liturgy and Plainchant, 1150–1570,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 774-800.

18 Mode which starts on B.

19 Refer to section ‘Arthur’s Birth and Coronation’ above for explanation.

20 Mode that spans the white keys from G to G.

21 Mode that spans white keys from E to E.

22 A pattern where the music moves through chords which are a fifth apart from each other until it comes back to the starting chord (Refer to Annex).

23 Enharmonic notes are notes which share the same pitch but have different letter names; # means sharps and b means flats.

24 The mode that spans the white keys from A to A.



Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Flute (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Harp (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Organ (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Trumpet (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Cupeiro, Abraham. Medieval Horn. YouTube, 2021.

Everist, Mark, and Thomas Forrest Kelly. The Cambridge History of Medieval Music. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Fuller, Sarah. “A Phantom Treatise of the Fourteenth Century? The Ars Nova.” Journal of Musicology 4, no. 1 (1985): 23–50.

Knighton, Tess, David Fallows, and Liane Curtis. “Mode.” Essay. In Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, 255–64. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Machaut, Guillaume de. Guillaume De Machaut: La Messe De Nostre Dame – Kyrie. YouTube, 2009.

Malory, Thomas, and Helen Cooper. Le Morte D’arthur. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Marshall, Kimberly. “Medieval Organ Music.” Vox Humana, October 14, 2018. 

MasterClass. “Medieval Era Music Guide: A Brief History of Medieval Music – 2022.” MasterClass. MasterClass, December 7, 2020. 

Vicens, Catalina. Medieval Organ C.1425-1430 Ostönnen / Praeambulum Super D. YouTube, 2017.


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The Distant Utopia


The Distant Utopia
Literary Art (Short Story)
An Interpretation of Le Morte D’Arthur
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

“Bedivere, take my sword,” said King Arthur in between heavy breaths, “and cast it into the waters…”

“My lord, your commandment shall be done,” said Sir Bedivere, head lowered. Slowly, he reached for the sacred sword, its golden hilt ever gleaming in the afternoon light, and tugged it under his belt. “I shall not be long.”

And he turned, mounted onto his horse and rode off, the image of the king laid against an ancient willow tree burned into his mind. Once or twice he glanced behind to ensure he could still see his king, that as though his glance could will the king to continue breathing. He had to make haste, for his king still needed him. The others were not around.

The lake, crystal clear, was a short path away from the willow tree. Sir Bedivere quickly dismounted and pulled the sacred sword. Lifting it high in the air, he halted.

This was Excalibur, said to have been forged by the fairies and imbued with miraculous powers. For the longest time it had been the symbol of his king, the symbol that held Britain together. He had witnessed its might and prowess in victories which secured the well-being of all under the sun. This was a gift, a bestowment of divine providence. The sword of promised victory. Sir Mordred might had fallen, but what of the enemies beyond who were plotting to cannibalise Britain once they heard word of his king’s defeat?

But this was King Arthur’s to wield, and his only. There could be no one else that was eligible. Perhaps the king’s decision was to ensure that the sacred sword would never be used for harm. His death shall seal the miracle away forever.

When Sir Bedivere returned to the king shortly, he reported the fulfillment of the order. King Arthur, seemingly in a trance, asked what was seen there.

“My lord, I saw a beautiful lake with rippling waves pushed by a gentle breeze.”

The king closed his eyes and opened them after a moment and smiled. “O foolish Bedivere, you did not do as I say… make your way back and carry out my commandment. Spare it not, and throw it in.”

“My apologies,” Sir Bedivere stood up at once. “I shall be on my way.”

Returning to the lake, Sir Bedivere retrieved the sacred sword from beneath a towering cypress. As he raised it up, he halted once again.

The others were gone. Sir Lancelot was still away in exile, but many of the rest were not as fortunate. Sir Lucan, his brother, was dead as well. Although nowhere near the prominence of Sir Gawain and Sir Tristan, Sir Lucan was a loyal knight. For years he had been a mentor, friend, and confidant to Bedivere. He could still see the time when the round table was whole, when he and Lucan were both there, enjoying the festivities at Christmas, engaging in swordplay together, eyeing each other as they made a toast to the fellowship, their king, and their kingdom. Bedivere stared blankly at the water. The flickering light had begun to turn gold.

When Sir Bedivere dismounted and knelt before his king to report the fulfillment of the order, the latter asked once more what was seen there.

“My lord, I saw nothing but the moving waters and shifting waves.”

The king heaved a long sigh. “O Bedivere, you must enjoy teasing your king. It had been two long naps… Go, Bedivere, you have never yet questioned my orders… go forth and set my mind at ease, so that I may rest…”

Sir Bedivere’s head hung low. “My apologies, it will be done this time.”

After fetching the sacred sword from a beech’s hollow, he walked towards the water’s edge for the first time.

He could still hear Lucan’s laughter as they watched the court jesters. He could still see Lucan’s guts spilling out, tainting his polished armour, and the foam that gushed from his mouth. He could still see the last light leave Lucan’s eyes, and the thud sound that echoed within even Bedivere himself as his brother fell to the ground, never thence moving…

Bedivere’s grasp onto the handle tightened.

The image of his king’s better days flooded him. His courage, his uplifting speeches, his inspiring spirit, his battle prowess, his undying care for the people, and his kind smile… it was a smile that he had not seen in a very long time. It was all reduced to a worn-out figure by the willow, a tired man who desired peace and closure. He had to hurry, for he must not keep his king waiting.

With all his strength, Sir Bedivere hurled the sword far into the water. Just then  there came an arm and hand above the water that caught the sword, much to his surprise. It lingered for but a brief second before vanishing into the depths of the lake, the sword along with it. Thereafter Sir Bedivere returned to his king and reported what he had seen this time.

“Thank you, Bedivere,” replied Arthur.

“Did you have a good nap, my lord?”

Arthur smiled. The sunlight was dying away with every passing minute. The shadows of the woods were growing, reaching out towards the spot where they were, beckoning. The wind was benevolent. Its whispers reverberated across the grounds, the leaves circling and falling.

“Take me to the water,” he said, raising his arm, which Bedivere caught. Pulling the king onto his back, Bedivere straightened himself and began to trudge upon the path, a trail of blood trickling behind.

“Why do you not set me on the horse?” asked Arthur quietly, after a while.

“My apologies if I am transgressing,” said Bedivere between breaths and steps. “But I would like to take you there on my own.”

There was a chuckle amidst the deep coughing.

“Why are you always apologising?”

Bedivere felt his eyes grow hot. Was it the strain from carrying the king? Bedivere was not the strongest amongst the round table knights, in fact strength had never been his forte. He had a slimmer physique than most, and this walk towards the lake was certainly taking a much longer time than before. It was a shame that it should be so. Surely it would have been effortless for the likes of Gawain and Lancelot.

“I’m sorry sire,” his face looking away from the golden light. “I am not strong enough. I do not deserve to serve you.”

Arthur laughed again. The king had not been this at ease in a long time. “I am glad that you are here, Bedivere… therefore apologise no more. You do not owe me anything.”

“I owe you my life, sire,” said Bedivere. “Both Sir Lucan and myself. We have yet to repay you. And… all those times in court, I could have spoken up against Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred. I could have spoken more with Sir Lancelot and helped to stop him before it was too late…”

There was a pause. Their armour clunked as Bedivere pressed on.

“My lord?”

His heart skipped a beat.

“… Mmm,” muttered Arthur. “I was just thinking about the dream I had…”

“What kind of a dream was it?”

“There was a pair of kingfishers, a parent and child. They were flying… the little one was new to it, and it gave its all…”

The path was widening as they approached the water. A rose-coloured hue had been painted across the horizons. There was a little barge by the shore, with four hooded figures by its side. Somehow, Bedivere knew that was where they were bound. He could feel his legs becoming lighter.

“…but it could not catch up with its parent and fell behind…”

“We’re almost there, my lord,” said Bedivere, his voice shaking somewhat. There seemed to be a thin, white veil descending upon his vision.

“…by then it had savoured the feeling of flight that it kept going… until it was too tired and dropped, injuring itself…”

Bedivere’s steps came to a stop. The hooded figures were tall, fair maidens who were smiling serenely.

“Ah,” said Arthur finally. “I see my ride is here.”

With the help from the four maidens, Bedivere laid the king carefully into the little barge brimming with flowers. Although there were only the few of them there, a hymning was echoing round the lake, as though the woods themselves had begun to sing. Or was it the maidens? With each harmony, the surrounding air seemed to cool.

“I think I’m quite ready,” muttered Arthur.

Bedivere held onto Arthur’s hand.

“My lord, can’t – can’t I go with you?”

Arthur chuckled. Now that Bedivere looked at him again, it was as though Arthur had become younger, the beauty and vitality of his earlier days restored. The blood had vanished, and though Bedivere was unsure when it happened, Arthur was now clothed in robes, his armour nowhere to be seen. If anything, he seemed radiant even, and something about him now felt soothing; every breath he drew coaxed the air round them. The wind had been reduced to a faint breeze, and the waters were still.

“It is not yet your time, my friend,” said Arthur, his voice as steady as Bedivere remembered before Camlann. “I’m afraid this time my slumber shall last for a very long time… perhaps I will be dreaming the dream that I had my whole life.”

“But… there’s no one left. And what shall become of me, and of us all?”

The ethereal voices in the wind crooned on. Arthur reached out his hand and gave a pat on Bedivere’s shoulder.

“When the dream ends, the sleeper has to awaken,” said Arthur. “From here on it is your journey. You are worthy, remember that.”

The maidens stepped onto the little barge and looked towards the sunset. So did Arthur, who was now humming softly to the emanating harmony. They seemed to be waiting for something. It was then, from beyond the lake, came a faint strum of a harp.

“Live on,” said Arthur, as Bedivere gradually let go of his hands. The little barge began to drift as the waves returned, moving ahead without oars. “This is my final order to you, as a king. And my last request, as a friend.”

“This is farewell, at least for now.”

Arthur smiled. Once it left the bay, the little barge continued to glide silently across the lake towards the sundown.

Bedivere stood there and watched until it reached the very end of the golden horizon, where suddenly the skies became the waters that it was sailing on. At which point, he could see the silhouette of an island rising from the distant skies towards the earth. The lake waters remained relatively still and turned deep azure, as thousands of fireflies emerged, their twinkling in consonance with the fading song. The amber glow reminiscent of the days that were, as though nature itself was celebrating the union of the once and future king and his promised utopia. The good knight lingered for a great deal, enchanted by what he beheld with his eyes, until the heavens darkened. The mirage departed, he turned his back against the lake and looked behind no more.

Author’s Remarks

This short story expands on the sparsely outlined episode of King Arthur’s final moments in “The Death of Arthur” chapter. Bedivere and Arthur are given more characterisation, and the mood of the story is enhanced by playing with the setting and the inclusion of popular medieval motifs such as the prophetic dream and the harp (a nod to the Arthurian legend’s distant Celtic origins). The back-and-forth motions of Bedivere trying to carry out his king’s order and holding back are conflated with memories of the Round Table, which captures the nostalgia for the once-golden age and the bittersweetness towards its end and immortalisation.


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