Performer recreates lost music to medieval epic, lectures on his craft
OXFORD, Miss. — Famed performer Benjamin Bagby will bring Beowulf’s epic battle with the monster Grendel to life on Halloween night in a free event at the University of Mississippi’s Nutt Auditorium.
Bagby, who consistently gets rave reviews for his theatre work, brings “Beowulf: The Epic in Performance” to UM Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by the UM departments of English and Music. Bagby performs the Old English epic poem and does his own accompaniment with his Anglo-Saxon harp. He also plans to give an on-campus lecture about his work, which happens the day before he takes the stage.
Those who attend Bagby’s show will experience a rare theatrical treat at no cost, said Lindy Brady, UM assistant professor of English. Brady and Julia Aubrey, UM associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Music and director of opera theatre, helped organize the performance.
“If people go to this concert, they are going to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Brady said. “He is the one person in the world who does what he does.”
Bagby’s performances of the show in iconic venues like Carnegie Hall, among others, have been well received. The New York Times called the show “much too rare an experience in theatre,” saying Bagby “comes as close to holding hundreds of people in a spell as ever a man has.”
There’s a twist to the show. The performance features music, though original accompaniment to the piece penned by an anonymous poet sometime between the eighth and 11th centuries was lost. Bagby used medieval music theory to reconstruct notes for his Anglo-Saxon harp he believes would have been similar to the original.
“This is an individual who created the music, sings the text and accompanies himself on this one-of-a-kind harp that he researched and had built for this purpose,” Aubrey said.
Though the Old English language of the original text could be intimidating to some, the performance will feature modern English supertitles. The full epic was lengthy, but Bagby’s performance only lasts about an hour and 25 minutes. On stage, he handles just the first third of the piece, in which Beowulf battles the monster Grendel– a selection fitting for Halloween.
Admission is free thanks to generous support from the UM Lecture Series, the departments of Music and English, UM Opera Theatre, the Medieval Studies Minor and the performer himself. Bagby comes to UM as part of a joint effort between UM’s music and English departments and the University of Louisiana-Monroe. A fan of author William Faulkner, Bagby says he is particularly excited to visit Oxford.
The day before he performs, Bagby will discuss his craft in a free lecture titled “Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon scop: A Visit to the Workshop of ‘A Singer of Tales,” which happens Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 4 p.m. at Nutt Auditorium.
— Michael Newsom, Ole Miss News Desk