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A Celtic Legend: Tristan and Isolde

Review about Deirdre’s CD
by Gertraut, Vienna


Several people of our Fan-Club have asked me if I know more about the story behind this CD and so I did some research and have come up with some interesting facts:


So when you start the CD, it first it presents you with a shortened version of the legend by the Poet Béroul, written approximately in the second half of the 12th century and based on the Celtic Legend that dates back to the dark age of the 6th century. In Cornwall a stele was found with DRVSTANUS written on it, so maybe after all it’s partly true. Here in Vienna we have a fragment of a Dutch version of Thomas of Britain’s " Tristan" in our National Library.


Patrik Bergin acts as narrator. He tells us that Isolde does even hate Tristan at first for he is supposed to have killed a relation of her..


Then we come to know Tristan in ‘Prince of Lyonesse’ (in another story it was said he was named ‘Tristan’ because he was born in a time of grief). Jim Carey sings the Tristan part.


‘A Journey to Tintagel’ follows and it is sung without words.


Tristan has to bring the beautiful Isolde from Ireland to King Mark, whom she is to marry. Her mother has made a powerful love-potion, but unfortunately instead of the King the young knight Tristan drinks from it and the beautiful Isolde of Ireland too. And now this spell cannot be undone, they will be lovers forever…


The absolutely lovely ‘ A Lovers Song’ follows, I guess from now on – to enter into the spirit of the legend – I’ll call our beautiful singer ‘Deirdre of the lovely voice’, she deserves it!


‘Tell me the secret’ comes next, of course it is difficult for Tristan to understand, he does not want to love King Mark’s bride but cannot stay away from her, followed by ‘Kings’, where Arthur Brown states that "Kings stand above the people", meaning they have to be more noble in their actions, I guess. And he bemoans the fact that ‘the world is cold to them’. Nothing has changed, has it?

Now it is ‘Leap of Faith’ and ‘Dance of Ogrin’, two lively tunes, they are supposed to give an idea of life at the court and of the festivities there. But no correct placing along the story… Maybe I should try to get access to Bèrouls story somewhere…As it is, I read three stories on this theme already, each differing a little from the others!


Then follows the tune ‘Forest of Moresk’(I suppose it is the forest of Morrois mentioned in a French version of the legend, where the lovers take shelter, unhappy and frightened) and when they are discovered by the King, it is -

‘The Last Goodbye’ -, this being another one of these unforgettable tunes, sung by ‘Deirdre of the lovely voice’ and Jim Carey and she manages to convey Isolde’s heartbreak to us.


’The battle of Carhaix’ comes next; Tristan, when he has to leave Isolde of Ireland, goes and marries "Isolde of the white hands" in Brittany, but is never able to forget ‘his Isolde’ and with his wife’s brother in law fights a battle and gets mortally wounded. His wife cannot help him, so he sends for ‘Isolde of Ireland’ to heal him.


And this is where the song ‘Why me’ by ‘Isolde of the white hands’ comes in, ending with ‘you will die in my arms, loving her’.(sung by Tina Leppard). And of course this is exactly what happens.


‘La mort de Tristan’ is capturing all the mourning and grief when Tristan dies, for he has asked his wife to tell him if the sails of Isolde of Ireland’s ship are black or white, black meaning she would not come; actually the sail is white, but ‘Isolde of the white hands’ tells him: "It’s black." And so he loses hope and dies.


‘Long is the night’ is next, no explanation needed, Deirdre sings this sad, grieving song; The unhappy Isolde of Ireland arrives and falls down next to Tristans lifeless body and dies of a broken heart.


King Mark comes and takes them both home and buries them side by side…

And out of their graves grow ‘The Vine & the Rose’( sung without words), these two intertwining and nobody could separate them, although the King had them cut back again and again…. and their story will be forever a reminder of the Greatness, Darkness and Danger of Magic.


There is one more song: "Ysolt y’nn Gweinten" (Isolde in the spring) that accompanies the short film made for the release of the DVD (Gwenno Saunders).

Well, did medieval music really sound like this ? Tell you what, I’ll never know! I can’t and won’t go back in time, (my own record-collection is going back in music-samples to music from around 1200, but is sounding quite different. And if we miss any crescendoes in this music, well, in medieval music it wasn’t there, it came up in the 1700 something, around Mozart’s time).


I have listened to it again and again. It is lovely. Thanks.