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A Medieval Bestiary

author of text
adapted from Richard Barber's translation of the Bestiary (Bodley 764), and Kevin Crossley-Holland's translations in The Anglo-Saxon World

A Medieval Bestiary (2011) explores medieval man’s relationship with the world of animals. The text intersperses colourful descriptions of animals—real and imaginary—from a thirteenth-century bestiary now in the Bodleian library, with three Anglo-Saxon animal allegories. Ranging from the comical and the inspired to the downright peculiar, the animal descriptions offer a fascinating glimpse into the medieval mind. The text is based on translations of the bestiary by Richard Barber and of the allegorical poetry by Kevin Crossley-Holland. The Folio Society facsimile Bestiary, its extraordinary illustrations interpolated into the text, gave a starting point for the piece: vivid musical colours to match vivid textual descriptions.

After the introduction, in which the animals of the world are given their names by Adam, sections introducing the beasts of the land, sea and air are each followed with longer passages devoted to the panther, the whale and the phoenix. These symbolically represent respectively Christ, Satan and the resurrection.

The medieval naturalists had didactic intent—to use the natural world to demonstrate how we can be better Christians—and so each of the three large panels ends with a sermon in which the choir instructs the audience on the lesson to be learnt. In the libretto the specific, and leaden, Christian explication of the original sources is removed to leave poetic but opaque moral instructions, for example the final words of the piece: ‘O man, make your chrysalis, and clothe yourself in the new man.’ The musical setting is extremely varied, from the plainchant-inspired opening, to the chorale-like sermons and the exhilarating chaos of the naming of the animals.

from notes by Bernard Hughes © 2016


Hughes: I am the song & other choral works
Studio Master: SIGCD451Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


No 01: Prologue  Beasts of the Land!
Track 13 on SIGCD451 [3'58] Download only
No 02: The Beasts of the Land  Of the animals named by Adam
Track 14 on SIGCD451 [1'25] Download only
No 03: The panther  There are marvellous things said
Track 15 on SIGCD451 [4'20] Download only
No 04: First sermon  Blush, wretched man, blush!
Track 16 on SIGCD451 [0'51] Download only
No 05: The Beasts of the Water  In the submerged world of the sea
Track 17 on SIGCD451 [1'23] Download only
No 06: The whale  I will sing about a fish
Track 18 on SIGCD451 [3'33] Download only
No 07: Second sermon  So you, O man, the eyes of whose heart are darkened
Track 19 on SIGCD451 [0'49] Download only
No 08: The Beasts of the Air  Of all the beasts, the flying creatures known to us as birds
Track 20 on SIGCD451 [0'58] Download only
No 09: The phoenix  Far from here, away to the east
Track 21 on SIGCD451 [4'33] Download only
No 10: Third sermon  O man, make your chrysalis
Track 22 on SIGCD451 [2'38] Download only

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