Hey people! 🙂
For today’s song of the day, I chose a beautiful and tragic medieval ballad. I guess every single country or culture has a similar famous tragic love story. I first heard Bendik og Årolilja back when I was just starting to acquaint myself with Scandinavian and Nordic folk music, and back then I happened to be quite a lot into folk metal, largely thanks to the influence of my late friend Jacek from Helsinki, so the first version of this song was by Gåte. In case you’re curious of Gåte I actually posted one song by them WAAY back in the beginnings of my blog, specifically, it was Inga Litimor.
But back when I heard their Bendik og Årolilja, and then a bit later Bukkene Bruse’s version, the only Norwegian I understood was through Swedish, and since this song is in quite archaic language, I didn’t really understand much at all, I just knew that it’s some sad medieval ballad and suspected that it had to do with tragic love and someone’s death or something like that, and not much more. I first heard Hirundo Maris’ version in December last year, so I’d already been learning Norwegian for a while by then, but still my understanding of it was very patchy. It was thanks to Balladspot, a blog about Scandinavian ballads, that I’ve finally learned what exactly the plot line of this song is and if you’re interested in Norwegian folk music as much as I am, I highly recommend reading that post because it includes a few different versions of this ballad, including this one and one by Kirsten Bråten Berg, whose one song I’ve even shared on here in the past, but hadn’t heard her version of Bendik og Årolilja before.
In the ballad, Bendik leaves home in search for a wife and subsequently falls deeply in love with Årolilja – daughter of a Danish king. – However, the king is not favourably inclined towards Bendik as his daughter’s future husband, or perhaps doesn’t want her to be married at all, because we are told that he built some sort of mysterious golden track, which is not to be treaded by anyone or else they will die. Supposedly, this track leads to where Årolilja lives and probably is a symbolic representation of Årolilja herself. Undeterred by that, Bendik embarks on this forbidden journey. He hunts during the day and visits Årolilja each night. Their happiness doesn’t last long though, because the king soon finds out about them through his young servant boy, which means death to Bendik. He is imprisoned and tied up with lots of ropes, which he breaks free from easily though. Thus, the same young boy who previously spied on young lovers, tells the king to tie him up with Årolilja’s hair. Those bonds indeed prove unbreakable for Bendik, as he says he’d rather remain inprisoned than break one of his beloved’s hair. Then we have all kinds of living creatures who ask the king to have mercy for Bendik, from birds and fish and trees to Årolilja herself and even her mother the queen who reminds him that he had promised to fulfil any request that she makes, but the king rejects all their pleas. Bendik is killed in the least appropriate place possible – beside the church – and soon after that Årolilja dies from sorrow. – It is only then, when the king finds out about his daughter’s death, that he finally regrets his actions. We are also told that on the graves of Bendik and Årolilja lilies started to bloom, which I think must be related to Årolilja’s name, because lilje and Lilja mean lily in modern Norwegian and Swedish respectively. As a name nerd I do have to add that I think the name Årolilja is really interesting and that it’s sad it’s not actually in use in Norway these days. 🙂
I’ve already shared a couple songs by Hirundo Maris in the last few months so I don’t think I need to introduce them much, but for those who are unfamiliar with them, this is an early music group founded by Catalan soprano and harpist Arianna Savall and Norwegian singer Peter Udland Johansen.