The Crusader Knight Bevis and Arondel


The Crusader Knight Bevis and Arondel
Performing Art (Song)
An Interpretation of Bevis of Hampton
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)



And Beves rod on Arondel
That was a stede gode and lel
He smot hit with spures of golde
Thanne thoughte that hors, that he scholde
Tho laide thai on with eger mod
And slowe Sarsins, as hii wer wod
Beves and is ost withinne a stounde
Sexti thosent thai felde to grounde

Pax in Nomine Domini

And Bevis rode on Arondel
Who was a fine and loyal steed
He struck it with golden spurs
The horse knew what it was meant to do
They attacked with keen vigor
And killed Saracens as though they were berserk
Bevis and his host, within that time
Fell sixty thousand to the ground

Peace in the Name of the Lord


Arondel thar Ivor bestrit
That hors wel sone underyit
That Beves nas nought upon is rigge
The king wel sore scholde hit abegge
And er hii mighte that hors winne
Thai laughte him with queinte ginne
No man dorste come him hende
Thar that hors stod in bende

Ivor mounted on Arondel
That horse very soon knew
That Bevis was not upon its back
The king soon paid for it painfully
And before they could catch that horse
They had to trap it with clever tricks
No man dared come near
Where that horse stood in fetters


Whan that hors herde nevene
His kende lordes stevene
His rakenteis he al terof
And wente in to the kourt wel kof
Arondel ne wawede no fot
Til Beves hadde the stirop
Beves in to the sadel him threw
Tharbi that maide him wel knew

When that horse heard the sound
Of his rightful lord‘s voice
He broke away from his fetters
And galloped quickly into the court
Arondel did not move a foot
Until Bevis had the stirrup on
And threw himself into the saddle
With that the maid knew him well


“Mahoun thee save!” seide Saber
“Fro whanne kometh this fair deistrer?”
Aboute he ternde the deistrer
Up behinde lep Saber
And smot the Sarasin ded adoun
With the pik of his bordoun
To the King Ivor he gan grede
“Lo, Arondel ich a wei lede”

Pax in Nomine Domini

“Mohammed save you!” said Saber
“Where did this fair steed come from?”
The Saracen turned the steed around
Up leapt Saber onto its back
And struck the Saracen down and dead
With the spike of his staff
To King Ivor he did implore
“Behold, I shall lead Arondel away”

Peace in the Name of the Lord


To his stable Beves gan fare
Arondel a fond thar ded
That ever hadde be gode at nede
Tharfore him was swithe wo
In to his chaumber he gan go
And segh Josian drawe to dede
In is armes he gan hire folde
And thar hii deide bothe ifere

Bevis walked to his stable
And found Arondel dead,
Who had always been there in need.
For this he had such great sadness.
He began to go into his chamber
And saw Josian also nearing death.
He embraced her in his arms
And there the both of them died together.


An hous here sone made of riligioun,
For to singe for Sire Bevoun
And ek for Josian the fre
God on here saules have pité
And also for Arondel
Yif men for eni hors bidde schel
Thus endeth Beves of Hamtoun
God yeve us alle Is benesoun!

And their son established a monastic house
To sing prayers for Sir Bevis
And also for Josian the gracious
May God have pity on their souls
And also for Arondel
If men should pray for any horse
Thus the end of Bevis of Hampton
May God give us all His blessing!

Artist’s Remarks

Bevis of Hampton may appear to an unknowing audience as yet another chivalric romance at first glance, but its extensive geographical setting and significant attention to the encounters between medieval Europe and the Middle East set the tale apart. While Bevis’ adventure takes the forefront, the tale never shies away from the violence and religious tensions of its time. It includes Bevis’ slaying of some sixty thousand Muslims, his refusal to convert to Islam in Armenia, and his eventual conversion of the entire Armenia to Christianity. This creative adaptation takes the form of a song and seeks to draw out the underlying context and tone of the Crusades and trace the subjectivity of the horse Arondel in Bevis of Hampton through a musical marriage with the troubadour Marcabru’s similarly themed poem Pax in Nomine Domini. This piece reflects on how chivalric identity can be perceived as a composite figure of man and horse, and explores the intimate connection, perhaps even participation, of the animal in heroic quests and religious violence during the Middle Ages.

The song’s lyrics tell an abridged version of Arondel’s involvement in Bevis’ adventures throughout the tale that fleshes out the deep sense of loyalty and intimate coordination of the human (Bevis’) and animal bodies in their actions, as well as the extent of violence inflicted by this composite Crusader knight of Bevis and Arondel (and their companions) on others, notably the “Sarasins” (a medieval term used to refer to those who practised Islam, especially the Arabs and Turks). Split into six verses, the song begins with an introduction to Arondel and a key moment in the earlier part of the tale where together, Bevis and Arondel slayed a total of “[s]exti thosent” Saracens. This is possible due to an almost telepathic connection between the two; the line “Thanne thoughte that hors, that he scholde” shows how Arondel is able to perceive his master’s intention and thereafter move in synchronisation with it. The second, third, and fourth verses each highlight an instance where Arondel demonstrates his loyalty to Bevis and perhaps even plays a crucial role in moving the narrative forward. The third verse in particular shows Arondel becoming a trope common in medieval romances—a sign for separated lovers to recognise each other. However, the tale employs this trope in an unusual manner, where Arondel is both the sign and an additional, non-lover entity who undergoes the process of recognition to reunite with Bevis. It is only upon their recognition that the lady Josian herself recognises and reunites with Bevis (“Tharbi that maide him wel knew”). The final two verses then shift to examine the impact of Arondel’s death upon the story. Interestingly, Arondel’s death seems to herald both Bevis and his lover’s deaths, as well as the conclusion of the tale. Even more curious is how the tale consecrates not just the knightly hero and his lover at the end, but Arondel as well. A most intriguing line—“Yif men for eni hors bidde schel”—follows, hinting at the narrative’s self-awareness of how absurd it may appear for a horse to be dedicated such religious importance and further gesturing towards the importance of the horse in construing the knight as a composite of man and animal.

In compiling the different episodes involving Arondel, some were inevitably left out to ensure that the song is able to function as a standalone narrative and as one that retains the original tale’s structure—we are introduced to the central figure, taken along on various quests and battles, made to witness their death, and compelled into a meditative mood with the closing religious tone. Minor edits were made to the Middle English lines, often for clarifying or reducing redundancy in pronouns and references to characters. These lines were also mostly incorporated with their original pairings in the tale so as to keep them as rhyming couplets, for their sonic symmetry renders them more song-like and thus easier to transpose into music. A notable exception occurs in the fifth verse, where the rhyming couplet pattern is intentionally broken by the line mentioning Arondel’s death to depict its rupture of Bevis’ knightly identity (“To his stable Beves gan fare / Arondel a fond thar ded”). Two lines of “Pax in Nomine Domini” (literally “Peace in the name of the Lord”) are retained from Marcabru’s original work to serve as brief interludes dividing the song into a structure of “introduction / episodes of Bevis and Arondel’s bond and violence / Arondel’s death and aftermath”. Furthermore, this Latin phrase also maintains the solemn tone of the song and accentuates the tale’s context of the Crusades. Further inspiration is drawn from the often flexible order of verses in troubadour poetry that Marcabru is known for to guide the act of gathering and shuffling lines from the original Bevis of Hampton tale in writing this song.

The song borrows the melody of Marcabru’s “Pax in Nomine Domini” poem, with minor alterations to better accommodate the Middle English words, for a perfect fit is difficult given linguistic differences from Old Occitan. Performance of the song’s vocals is largely monophonic and accompanied by harp chords and tambourine jingles using GarageBand. Both instruments are natural picks given their popularity in both Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages. In the context of this performance, these instruments are also utilised for their evocation of seemingly dualistic qualities. The harp adds a tender tone to bring out the close bond of affection between Bevis and Arondel, while arousing a melancholic mood over the deaths and bloodshed mentioned throughout the lyrics. The tambourine evokes a sense of folk music that calls to mind the tale’s linguistic style, which can resemble oral storytelling due to its repetition and fairly narrow vocabulary, yet simultaneously suggests a sense of ritual and praise that is consistent with the tale’s heavy biblical overtones in its celebration and consecration of Bevis’ deeds.

The first verse begins with sparse instrumentation so that attention is drawn to the declarative introduction of Bevis and Arondel’s story and relationship. Following the interlude of “Pax in Nomine Domini” sung a capella, the next three verses are sung in a more dance-like rhythm, accompanied by regular harp chords and then tambourine jingles. The harp accompaniment evolves into strumming after the third verse, which speaks of Arondel’s liberation from the fetters imposed upon him by King Ivor. The fifth verse slows the song’s tempo dramatically to give pause to Arondel, Bevis, and Josian’s deaths. Here, the harp instrumentation is stripped bare: the harp chords begin with three notes, reduced to two upon mention of Arondel’s death, and cease being chords altogether upon mention of Josian’s death. A barely audible low “A” note is held for most of the verse to add a foreboding mood. The final verse picks up the tempo slightly and is accompanied by only the tambourine to accentuate the silence after the end of the main characters’ deaths, and simultaneously to mark their consecration and reflect on the tale’s ritualistic performance of knightly identity through its repetitions and episodic narrative. Overall, the song pays tribute to many musical and poetic forms as discussed above, but with no strict adherence to a specific tempo even within each verse. Performed in freestyle, the song draws out the more chaotic, “animalistic” side of the medieval knight figure in a tale full of heroic deeds and chivalric violence alike.



Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Saracen”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Feb. 2022, Accessed 29 April 2023.

Eckert, Ken. “Bevis of Hampton”. Chaucer’s Reading List: Sir Thopas, Auchinleck, and Middle English Romances in Translation. 2011. University of Nevada Las Vegas. PhD dissertation.

Savall, Jordi. “Marcabru (1100-1150): Pax in Nomine Domini”. YouTube, uploaded by Eric Boulanger, 9 May 2012,


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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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In Memoriam


In Memoriam
Performing Art (Instrumental Piece)
An Interpretation of “Laüstic
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

Music, to me, is a universal storyteller that evokes powerful emotions which words cannot describe. Similarly, love is a nebulous and subjective concept, often also indescribable. The Lais by Marie de France is a collection of poems that explore different forms and boundaries of love and suffering. “Laüstic”, in particular, connects love and music in the form of birdsong; the song of a nightingale represents the connection between two distant lovers. I thus decided to reimagine “Laüstic” from The Lais as a 3-minute orchestral piece. I chose to write it as an orchestral piece to allow for more fluidity, conventional flexibility and elaborate nuances which enhance the emotion and imagery exhibited by the music. This piece is titled In Memoriam as it is written in memory of the life and death of the nightingale in the poem, and concomitantly, the love it represents. Initially, the nightingale flies freely albeit in the distance, then it gets trapped and murdered, yet is remembered forever after. The stages of the nightingale’s life in the music parallel stages of the relationships between characters in the poem. The structure of the piece also mimics the poem’s, as it moves from describing love in the private sphere to the invasion of the public sphere into the private to quash that love. The emotion of the piece hence intensifies suddenly after a calmer beginning to reflect the tragic narrative of the poem. The piece is written in the key of A minor to communicate tragedy, predominantly using the harmonic minor scale, where the seventh scale degree is raised to create a stronger pull towards the tonic or root note. This strong pull is intended to evoke the emotion of unfulfilled desire and longing exhibited throughout the poem.

In Memoriam begins with a light flute melody accompanied by subtle undertones of strings to introduce the nightingale. The high tones of the flute are intended to form an image of a bird flying high in the distance. This section has a three-beat rhythm (3/4) indicating movement and wavering stability. It also establishes the distant yet dynamic relationship between the married woman and her neighbour, the knight. From 00:00 to 00:07 of the piece, I played an ascending, then descending flute melody, reminiscent of a bridge going over an obstacle. This was to reflect how the lovers manage to somewhat overcome the “great high wall of dark-hued stone” (38) between them. The increased ambience and reverberation effects imitate the sound of a large hall, thus exacerbating the feeling of distance. These first few seconds establish the secret and distant connection between the lovers that the free-flying nightingale represents. The overall sombre melody also foreshadows the tragic turn of future events.

The next section is introduced by bar chimes that create a transition into an enchanted, magical and dream-like space, mirroring the poem’s description of summer. This section exhibits the lovers’ time together with a syncopated and playful rhythm played by the harp to evoke the joyful emotion of their love. The soft and peaceful tones of the harp are also evocative of a lullaby, as the lovers saw each other at night as they listened to the nightingale’s song. The undertones from the synth are intended to create an ethereal and dream-like soundscape to reflect the magical and otherworldly quality when the “moon shone” as the lovers met (69). The effect of the background synth strings is a feeling of simultaneous distance and immersion, similar to how their love is physically distant, yet intimate and secret from the public. This is coupled with nature sounds I recorded from a forest to reflect the natural descriptions of summer and birdsong in the poem, and the association of nature with love and desire. The chord progression of this section is Am, G, F, G. This simple palindromic progression is intended to reflect the reciprocative relationship of the lovers as they “could toss tokens to each other, throw little gifts, lover to lover” (43-44). This section also has a 4-beat rhythm (4/4) unlike the first section. I wanted to create a sense of irony that their fleeting time together has the most stable time signature of the song. This is to parallel how Marie criticises the constructs of courtly love and the jealous husband trope in the poem. The tone of the poem seems to support the secret and unlawful relationship between the wedded woman and her bachelor neighbour, while painting her husband as the villain despite being legally in the right. The husband is referred to as a “spiteful boor” (116) while the neighbour is directly contrasted as “not a boor” (148). Hence, the sweet and short interactions between the lovers imply that their relationship is more stable and healthy than that of the woman and her husband, as he controls and guards her. Yet, this idyllic and enchanting relationship is only a transient fantasy. The changing time signature shows that events are ever-changing, and warns against getting comfortable with a false sense of secret stability. True enough, the end of this private fantasy is signified by the sound of descending bar chimes.

The middle section leading up to the climax of the piece encapsulates entrapment. The combination of percussion and random, spasmodic and dissonant strings is intended to portray the nightingale flapping its wings desperately trying to escape being trapped. I used tritones, also known as the devil’s interval, to create the dissonant and unsettling atmosphere. This feeling of entrapment and being stuck reflects how the lovers are also trapped – they never meet physically and will never do so. The jealousy and selfishness of the husband has also trapped the wife. The sudden, loud cracking  sound created by several drums played consecutively imitates the violent and sickening snapping of the bird’s neck by the husband. The former bass drum beats resemble a heartbeat, which stops suddenly at the snap to symbolise the death of the nightingale and coinciding heartbreak of the wife. This heartbreak is a reimagination of the visual image of literal heartbreak in the poem when the dead nightingale “bloodied her breast” (119).

The death of the nightingale and the lovers’ relationship invite mourning. The high E note sustained by the strings creates a ringing effect to hold the tension and prolong the discomfort. The multi-layered amplification of the dead nightingale, created by the elaborate wrapping in lines 135-137, is represented by the several layers of strings that follow. The use of a “reliquary” (149) to carry the nightingale’s corpse suggests a religious significance much more precious than before. The added volume from all the strings being played simultaneously and the descending bassline create a dramatic, yet grand and reverent sound that intensifies. The dissonant E7/#9 chord, played at 2:07, also includes a tritone and reminds listeners of the previous horrific violence that the wife still has to live on with despite the grand new significance of the bird’s memorial.

The last part of the song is a repeat of the melody of the flying nightingale played at the beginning. However, it is played an octave lower using a flute organ to mimic the mourning at a funeral or memorial. The muted tone of the flute organ emphasises concealment, as the nightingale is now inaccessible, like their private love. At the end, the flute organ fades out and slows down to create the sense of eternal continuity, as the knight “carried it with him everywhere” (156). Although “the vessel [was] sealed” (155), symbolising a closed chapter of unattainable love, this love remains a literal and emotional burden he will always bear. The nightingale will be remembered forever, and with it, the love that never took flight.

Poetry and song in “Laüstic” glorify relationships in an unrealistic way, as the nightingale’s song romanticises the lovers’ unconsummated love. The Nightingale represents an idyllic fantasy that gets destroyed by reality and the public sphere. In Memoriam encapsulates the message that secret relationships in the private sphere do not last, and that idyllic fantasies are unsustainable. Yet, because this love ended so tragically, memories of it transformed to take on a newly elevated, greater significance. The memory of a relationship with a loved one, alongside the heavy burden of its loss, is carried forever.



We Three Kings (Three Dead Kings Version)


We Three Kings (Three Dead Kings Version)
Performing Art (Choral Piece)
An Interpretation of Three Dead Kings
Death, Mourning and Memory in Medieval Literature (YHU3345)



We Three Kings, thy fathers we were;
Lo, behold, our children of earth.
Sorrowing, sighing,
Seeming like fiends,
Honoured not, nor of worth.


O, Lord, our saviour, Lord on high!
Lord of everlasting light!
Purge our sorrow, lift our spirits,
Save us from our damning plight!


Black as night, and barren as dust;
Mark! These bones of glory long past.
Gold, I had halls,
Wives, I had more!
Astray I was from just.


O, Lord, our saviour, Lord on high!
Lord of everlasting light!
Free our slavery, light our crossing,
Save us from our damning plight!


All but fools would bow to me not;
Make me your mirror to what ought.
Crowned I was, and
Yet pride I wore,
All my mirth turned to naught.


O, Lord, our saviour, Lord on high!
Lord of everlasting light!
Purge our terror, light our crossing,
Save us from our damning plight!


We Three Kings, remember us forth,
Live your worth and right all your wrongs,
Heed our words, please,
We beseech thee,
Judgment shall come anon.


O, Lord, our saviour, Lord on high!
Lord of everlasting light!
Guide our journey, kind, and mercy,
Save us from our damning plight!

Sheet Music

Artist’s Remarks

My creative adaptation retells Audelay’s Three Dead Kings in the form of a four-verse, three-part choral piece sung a capella, without instrumental accompaniment and in the style of the chapel. The piece borrows its title and melody from John Henry Hopkins Jr.’s popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings”, whereas the arrangement and lyrics are original. Although the nineteenth century carol is considered a modern work, it is able to retell an old story through a music style reminiscent of the medieval period. Likewise, my creative adaptation aims to remain faithful in spirit to the original text. Primarily, it is concerned with the danse macabre of Three Dead Kings and seeks to explore and enhance it in a meaningful manner.

Choral pieces are often split into four parts. However, this adaptation is sung by a trio to emphasise the number “three” and to make it seem as though it were the three dead kings (and the three living kings) themselves singing. Correspondingly, the first three verses each represent one of the titular dead kings’ voice and perspective. Although restrictive, I have chosen to keep mostly to the structure of the original carol, with each verse containing five lines observing an AABBA rhyme scheme and an “eight-eight-four-four-six” syllable allocation. This is done in hope that the resulting piece remains as memorable instead of being convoluted and forgettable, so that the memento mori effect of Three Dead Kings can be maximised for the listener. The form of a choral piece also requires a closing segment, which is the reason for an additional fourth verse on top of the three dead kings’ individual “airtime”. This final section serves to tie the individual kings’ messages together for a stronger, single collective message to be communicated. A refrain runs after every verse that represents the living kings’ perspective in the text and to provide a temporary relief of tension from the more serious nature of the dead kings’ words. The individual dead kings are fleshed out effectively in the choral piece through different lyrics, messages, tone of language, mood, and for music, different rhythms, harmonies, and dynamics. In the original text, the most apparent distinction between the kings could be seen from their physique and emotion, reinforced by their living counterparts’ similar reactions if we understand them as the “merour” of each other, as suggested by the third dead king (Line 120).

The first verse’s lyrics focus mainly on bringing out the first dead king’s declaration of their identity—this very act reinforces the lack of remembrance for them (“Honoured not”) and the lack of even the time and “worth” for their living descendants to do so. This sadness of this reality is emphasised through the sibilance in “sorrowing, sighing, seeming”, and the message of the first verse thus hinges on the call for their descendants to notice them (“Lo, behold”) after witnessing them, and remember them thereafter (implied from the dead king’s sorrow at being “[h]onoured not”). This call for the dead kings to be looked upon also directly evokes the memento mori agenda of the text and my adaptation. As the opening and declaration of the bizarre encounter, the music is set to mezzo forte to sound sufficiently solemn for an impression to be made, and yet not overly harsh, so that the weight of the words of grief, “sorrowing, sighing, seeming”, can more effectively convey the extent of the sorrow felt by the first dead king. In terms of technical details, the piece’s triple metre (Time Signature of 3/8) helps to set a waltz-like rhythm that immediately sets the tone for the danse macabre literally, while the minor key, the genre of choral music, and reverberating vocals (enhanced by a concert hall effect) all help to establish the encounter as something both divine and ghastly. Following the first verse, the refrain is written in the style of the classic mass hymns’ chorus part, expressing feelings of reverence. This is done to portray the perspective of the three living kings, who as per the text, “oche…apon Crist cryde, / With crossyng and karpyng o Crede” (Line 51-52), perhaps out of both fear and awe. The third line alone will be changed for the subsequent refrains to reflect the corresponding living king’s reaction and emotion upon the encounter. Unlike the original text, the corresponding living and dead king’s words are place adjacent to each other in the adaptation to further enhance the mirror effect of this danse macabre and memento mori. For the music of the refrain, the original melody at “our damning plight” is rewritten to introduce a minor chord and chord resolution, primarily to reduce monotony, but it also generates a sense of unease and caution to signal that the encounter with the dead king is real, unavoidable, and ongoing, even with their prayers to Christ.

The second verse focus on the next dead king’s lament of all material things’ eventual ruin by drawing attention to his pitiful and hollow state in death (“Black as night, and barren as dust”), juxtaposed with the material success that he had in life, which was a mistaken obsession (“Astray…from [the] just [way of living]”), and in death seemed only ludicrous (“Gold, I had halls / Wives, I had more!”). As the second dead king was described as “a ful brym bere” (Line 105), almost obnoxious, the music here is set to forte, with the bass vocals lowered in terms of pitch. For rhythm, there is now an accent on the first note of every bar and parts of the verse initially scored as beamed-quavers are changed to long-short dotted notes. The rhythm for this verse thus has a slight swing and comes off as somewhat stately, which further fleshes out the dominant character of the second dead king. The second refrain maintains at forte, with the third line written to sound more like words of rally, mirroring the second living king’s similar strength. The third line is also an allegory to the biblical Exodus to depict more vividly the living kings’ predicament of being trapped in this encounter. Furthermore, the word “slavery” is a double entendre, where aside from referring to their entrapment, also points to the second dead king’s enslavement to material desires, which could possibly—ironically—apply to the second living king as well.

The third verse captures the third dead king’s contempt for others while alive and his retribution in death (“pride I wore” against “[a]ll but fools would bow to me not”). It also contains his haunting message of “Makis your merour be me”, a quintessential quote from the text since it confirms the significance of this danse macabre as a memento mori for the living kings, bidding them to reflect and repent on their actions (“to what [they] ought [to be]”). As the third king is described as frail, “[w]ith eyther leg as a leke” (Line 119), and his living counterpart experienced terror with “[b]ot soche a carful knyl, to his hert coldis” (Line 81), the volume of the music here is set to mezzo piano to express the third dead king’s fearful nature and his demolished pride while in death. The arrangement of the bass vocals and the rhythm returns to that of the first verse, primarily to distinguish from the second verse (and the second dead king), but it also builds onto the waltz-like tempo of the first verse. Along with the lighter vocals, this verse becomes slightly more hypnotic, and its repetition from the first verse creates an ambience that resembles being on a revolving carousel, implicitly evoking the carnivalesque nature of the encounter between the living and dead in the text. The third refrain’s third line is almost identical to parts of the previous refrains—on one hand, it depicts the third king’s desire to flee from this fearful event; while on the other, the establishment of repetition in words and the melody by this point helps to reinforce the text’s danse macabre, suggesting life and death as something circular like a carousel, and something that applies to all.

The final verse, as the closing segment and final reminder of the text’s memento mori, is much more didactic, signified by the direct address and commanding tone of the lyrics, the return of the second verse’ music and rhythm arrangement, and the dynamic of fortissimo. However, it is also a plea for remembrance, seen from the third line’s words “please” and “beseech”, the ritardando, the switch from long-short dotted notes back to regular beamed-quavers, the decrescendo, and the fermata at the word “thee”. The verse ends with accents on the word “Judgment” to close the danse macabre, by warning the living kings to live properly should they desire to avoid punishment in afterlife. The decrescendo and drop in volume from fortissimo to forte then indicate the dead kings’ imminent departure. Unlike the first three verses where the note at the word “O” contains a fermata, the music of the final refrain is not detached from that of the verse to avoid fragmenting the final attempt at sending the text’s overall message across. This union of the verse and refrain in music also symbolises the living kings adopting a “hendyr hert” henceforth (Line 136), with them being on the same page as the dead’s warnings. The change in how they live is further showcased from the humbler and gentler tone of the lyrics in “Guide our journey, kind, and mercy”, which is less sorrowful, less prideful, and less fearful. The original carol’s major chords supposedly sung for the part, “our damning plight”, is then restored for the final refrain to demonstrate an optimistic resolution of the tale, as per the way it ended in the original text of Three Dead Kings.


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