Monday, 30 May 2016

Heming and King Harald

The ballad of Heming and King Harald comes from Norway. Contests make good ballad stories, and the competition described in this ballad involves skiing and shooting: obviously this was an early Norwegian biathlon championship. The duel is all the more interesting as it takes place between a powerful king, Harald Hardrada, and a young boy called Heming.

The story this ballad tells is also told in a Faeroese ballad (Gauti Aslaksson), and in an Icelandic tale (Hemings thattr Aslakssonar), both of which extend the story with episodes in England. Swedish and Danish versions of this ballad are not known, though the Danish legend of the hero Palna Toke tells a similar story.

Heming Aslaksson is possibly a fictional character. In the Faeroese ballad it is written that his name is actually Gauti, and that Heming is a nickname. The ballad is set, of course, before King Harald's demise at Stamford Bridge in England in 1066.

by Knud Bergslien


The ballad begins at Harald's court. In typical ballad style, Harald is wondering whether he will ever meet anyone who he will be able to regard as an equal. When someone suggests that a boy named Heming may in fact be his match, Harald takes offence. He quickly sails away to meet this Heming.

Heming's father, Aslak meets King Harald when he arrives. He tries to protect his son, encouraging him to stay at home rather than going out to meet the visitor. But Heming is not deterred. He is keen to go out and compete with King Harald.

First they compete in archery. In their first shooting competition, nothing can separate them, so Harald challenges Heming to shoot a walnut from his brother's head. Heming is able to do this too.

Next, a series of apparently impossible challenges are made. Heming accepts the challenge to ski down the hopelessly difficult Snarafjell. In fact, the omkväde (chorus line) of the song tells of how well Heming can ski (Heming the young he could run on his skis so well), so it should come as no surprise that he easily manages this challenge.

Heming then knocks Harald over. In some versions of the ballad, Heming gives Harald such a severe beating (cutting off his hand and more ...) that his death seems inevitable. The ballad ends with Heming running away north into the mountains.

In the Faeroese ballad, there is also a swimming competition, but nothing but fragments that may refer to this survive in Norwegian versions.

The walnut-on-head shooting episode in isolation is reminiscent of the William Tell legend (from Switzerland), and also with the ballad of William of Cloudsley (a Child ballad from England), but really this story has little or nothing else in common with either of these two. The Danish legend of Palna Toke, though, is rather similar, and features competitions in both archery and skiing.

Here is a reading of the full text of my translation of the ballad on Soundcloud.

by Kay Nielsen


I know of three recordings of this ballad on YouTube. All very different, all for me very good, and all in Norwegian, of course.

Here is an unaccompanied performance by Agnes Buen Garnås: Harald Kongen og Heming Unge. I believe this melody is based on a melody collected in the 19th century by Landstad. Agnes Buen Garnås is a well known Norwegian folk singer, certain to appear again on this blog. This song appears on the album Soltreet (Amazon link). Agnes Buen Garnås's daughter Ingvill Marit Buen Garnås has recorded the ballad The Mermaid (Villfar og Sylvklar), as mentioned here.

A take from the Norwegian folk rock band, Folque: Heming og Harald Kongjen. This song appears on their album Kjempene På Dovrefjell (Amazon link). Readers of this blog may remember that Folque also recorded Sir Olof and the Elves (Dans Dans Olav Liljekrans), as mentioned here.

Here is Kim André Rysstad with a big orchestral rendition of Heming og Harald Kongjen.
I will not miss the opportunity to link to another of his folkier recordings ... a short snatch of beautiful sound: nystev.


What next for Heming and Harald?

Heming appears in another ballad, known in Sweden as well as Norway, called Heming and the Mountain Troll. Also in this ballad Heming is skiing, and this ballad shares the same omkväde line (Heming the young he could run on his skis so well). But the theme of the ballad is quite different: it is a troll ballad with supernatural elements.

Although Harald takes a severe beating at the hands of Heming in this ballad, it is well known that he travelled to England with a failed invasion bid and died at Stamford Bridge in 1066. After telling of the sporting contest, the Icelandic thattr continues the story, telling of not only Harald, but also Heming in England. Heming had travelled to England long before the attempted Norwegian invasion, and had become a friend and ally of the English king, Harold Godwinson. The story tells of how Heming's archery skills were of great importance in the battle of Stamford Bridge. He was able to recognise Harald Hardrada, and to shoot him, not to kill, but as a marker so that someone else could kill the Norwegian king. (Heming had actually sworn an oath to St Olaf not to kill Harald Hardrada.) Finally Heming was able to shoot and kill Harold Godwinson's treacherous brother Tostig with an arrow to the eye ... (read more about Hemings thattr here)


M. B. Landstad, Norske Folkeviser, Christiania, 1853

My translation of Heming and King Harald is included in Warrior Lore.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Lord Peter's Sea Voyage

Here we have another ballad of the sea (Herr Peders Sjöresa in Swedish).

by Kay Nielsen


The ballad begins with an ominous warning from our hero's foster-mother that gives us a pretty clear hint as to how the ballad will end. "How will I die?" asks Lord Peter. "At sea," she answers. Apparently unperturbed, Peter goes down to the sea shore, and starts to build a ship. Soon he sets sail. Predictably enough, things start to go wrong out at sea. A dead calm creeps up on them and leaves them lying still on the ocean top.

They decide that their problems are due to their having a sinner onboard ship, and they throw dice to find out who is responsible for their predicament. The dice clearly indicate that Lord Peter is the one. So he confesses his sins, and from what he reveals it does seem that he has not behaved himself too well. He then tells his fellow sailors what they should say has become of him to his foster-mother and also to his lover, and pleads to God that he might make it to land again. Finally they throw him overboard, and the ship begins to move again.

As ever, there are variations in the story. In some versions, it is a storm rather than a calm that comes to trouble them. And in some versions, the ending is different, and the whole ship sinks as Lord Peter finishes speaking.

Here is a Swedish ballad text from Geijer and Afzelius.

Some of the Scandinavian ballads have a relationship with traditional English-language ballads (as catalogued by Child), and for some ballads this relationship is closer than for others. For Lord Peter's Sea Voyage, this is worth bringing up. The story told in Child ballad #57 Brown Robin's Confession is clearly similar, though many details, the beginning, and the ending are all different, and the Child ballad is much shorter (at least in its surviving form, with only nine verses). But the stories are broadly similar: a ship runs into difficulties out at sea, a man is singled out to make confession to atone for the sins that (presumably) caused the problems, and that man is in both cases the most important man on board. The Swedish ballad actually follows the biblical story of Jonah quite closely. And the episode where the seamen throw dice to decide who is to blame for the unhappy plight of the ship is treated quite similarly in both Lord Peter and Brown Robin.


Several melodies are known for the ballad Lord Peter's Sea Voyage.

(1) Herr Peders Sjöresa -- Ahlström No 194 (Östergötland), Berggreen No 36 (Östergötland), Arwidsson No 67.
(2) Herr Peders Sjöresa -- Ahlström No 193 (Värmland).
(3) Herr Peders Sjöresa -- Arwidsson No 67 variant. (in 6/8 time)
(4) Herr Peders Sjöresa -- Södermanlands Kulturhistoria No 33 (Södermanland).

None of these melodies have an omkväde (chorus) line. One text variant appearing in Geijer and Afzelius does have an omkväde line, but I am not aware of the melody that goes with this.

I have made a video where can see a demonstration of what the melodies sound like (with English and Swedish text, only the first two melodies) on YouTube here.

The recordings listed below do not use these melodies, however.


Here is a traditional unaccompanied performance by Hilma Ingberg from Bromarf in Finland.

Carin Kjellman and Ulf Gruvberg would later go on to form the band Folk och Rackare. But their first record Med Rötter i Medeltiden (1974) was released as a duo, and it included the ballad Herr Peders Sjöresa. This youtube link to the album track unfortunately seems to be restricted, so it may not work for you. The melody is the same as in the traditional performance above.

Triakel are a Swedish folk band consisting of singer Emma Härdelin, fiddle-player Kjell-Erik Eriksson, and organist Janne Strömstedt. You may recognise the name Emma Härdelin as she is also the singer in the band Garmarna, whose interpretations of traditional ballads I sometimes mention here. Triakel have recorded a number of ballads on their albums. Herr Peder appears on their 2014 album Thyra, an album showcasing the songs of the Jämtland singer Thyra Karlsson.

I was pleased to find out that Nordman recently recorded this ballad for their album Patina (2014). Nordman are a folk-rock duo who were big in the 1990s, with this song being an especially big hit in Sweden. They made a comeback when I was living in Sweden with an entry in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish national song contest) in 2005 that unfortunately didn't quite make it all the way to Eurovision. Nordman have a very characteristic sound that is based around the nyckelharpa ... but the nyckelharpa is not very prominent on this track (just on the album cover ...)!

This used to be a youtube link to a live performance of this ballad by Nordman. The video seems to have disappeared, but I will leave the link in case it works for people outside the UK. Here is a link to Nordman's recording on Amazon. The melody they use is the same as for the two recordings listed above.

Punsch, Herr Peder (live). I'm afraid I don't know anything about this --- they discuss a little bit about the medieval ballads in general before starting the performance, and use a different melody:


J. N. Ahlström, 300 Nordiska Folkvisor, Stockholm, 1878
A. P. Berggreen, Folke-Sanger og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1860
A. I. Arwidsson, Svenska Fornsånger, Vol 2, Stockholm, 1887
E. G. Geijer and A. A. Afzelius, Svenska Folkvisor Från Forntiden, Stockholm, 1814--1816

My own translation of Lord Peter's Sea Voyage is included in Lord Peter and Little Kerstin.