Bedford, David - Fridiof Kenning

This piece was written in 1980 to a commission from the Myrha Saxophone Quartet (John Harle’s group). It is based on a section from Fridiof’s Saga, one of a trilogy of young peoples’ opera using Icelandic mythology that I wrote for Gordonstoun School in the late 1970s. A kenning is an expression used in the Icelandic Eddas to denote a poetic periphrasis – part of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda is a telling of various stories in order to explain some of the more obscure kennings. It’s clear, for example, why ‘Odin’s wrath’ means thunder, but to learn why ‘Kvasir’s blood’ means poetry requires a little more explanation. It is rather as if one were to use the expression ‘Achilles heel’ to someone ignorant of Greek mythology, with the consequesn necessity of telling the story which gives rise to the expression.

In musical terms, I have taken the term kenning to mean amplification, fuller explanation or development, more complete exposition. The original material was a very simple C major tune whose main interest was rhythmic. There are four bars grouped as follows: 12312312/123123/12312312/121212. As a reference against which the treatment to which this rhythm is subjected can be heard, a tambourine maintains a constant quarver beat. Each player develops the basic rhythmic cell in his own way, often in cross-rhythms with the others. Sometimes they all play the rhythm together, then gradually get out of phase.

At the end, the entire range is presented by having all the players start on soprano saxophones, then gradually, one at a time, change to alto, then tenor, then baritone, so that the piece ends on the lowest possible notes.

David Bedford