Riddle Songs is a vehicle for Stef Conner’s integrated theoretical and practice research into early medieval musical evidence, undertaken during her Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.

Stef performs her own compositions – solo (voice and lyre) and fully scored for choral ensemble – in combination with duo songs co-devised with medieval music singer Hanna Marti. 

This album is the first commercially released recording of a speculative idiomatic reconstruction of Cædmon’s Hymn with choral settings of riddles in Old English. It draws unique materials for composition from musicological and philological speculation regarding lost oral traditions. Simultaneously, it shuns any closure to such speculation, exploring instead the potential for creative experimentation and practice-based critical reflection afforded by what is known about these traditions.

The approach is rooted in the question ‘how might songs akin to Cædmon’s Hymn have originally sounded?’, but framing the results in an album of contemporary music responds to an important objection to the very idea of reconstructing lost oral traditions: that presenting the products of such speculation in Early music performance contexts, alongside interpretations of historical notations, creates a false equivalence between imagined and documented artefact, conferring undue authority on the former by framing it as if it were the latter.

Presenting the research outcomes as new music acknowledges the impossibility of the question ‘what did Old English vernacular song sound like?’ but demonstrates the value of finding explicitly conjectural ‘working’ answers in order to engage with the broader topic of early medieval song in an experiential, experimental manner.

A 2020 duo tour, incorporating additional riddles, was postponed due to the COVID pandemic. Instead, the duo developed an ongoing series of ‘lockdown riddle videos’.

More information on the CD and lockdown videos

Featured researcher

Stef Conner

Dr Conner is a composer and singer who combines scholarly interpretation and imaginative reworking of ancient musical evidence to create new compositions that engage with the deep past. 

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