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The Wandering Ballad – Song no. 2: Skön Anna

This is the second in a series of blogs about the songs on our new CD “The Wandering Ballad”.

At the time my grandmother passed away when I was in my twenties, one of the treasures I inherited from her was a book of ballads from the Swedish speaking part of Finland.

I was very excited when I began reading these odd sung stories of strange, supernatural beings and tragic romances.

I remembered I had heard about these ballads before. As a child I had spent two summers on an island called Nötö off the coast of Finland. On this island lived a lady called Svea Jansson, a famous ballad singer. She had even made a record and also appeared on radio. She had learned these medieval ballads from her grandmother. The ballads had been handed down in her family for generations.

I have later learned the Svea Jansson had a career as a singer in the 1960s and 70s and also worked in Sweden at Svenskt Visarkiv, an organization working for the preservation of traditional songs and music.

I started using some of these songs in dance and theater productions at my company Teater Bava in Malmö in Sweden. I explored the stories behind them. In the ballads the stories are told in a scaled down way, often through dialog. Sometimes it is necessary to research legends, myths and folktales to get the full story. It was interesting detective work to see how themes from legends and ballads seemed to converge and separate, inspire each other and differ.

The second song on our CD is Skön Anna (Finland). It is a variant from one of the islands off the coast of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Skön Anna “Fair Anna” tells the same story as in our production “La Freine”. See my previous article about Les Tristes Noces.

The lyrics are in Swedish so I am giving a rough English translation below.

Skön Anna hon gångar åt vida sjöstrand

och ser sig omkring för vida.

Till henne så kommer en unger konungsman.

Han hälsar på henne för vida.

Fair Anna she walks on the wide sea shore

and looks around far and wide.

To her came a young royal man.

He greated her far and wide.

“God dag god dag, skön Anna min,

skön Anna, du dygdiga blomma.

Med mig ska du följa I främmande land

och bliva min unga brufurstinna.”

“Godday, godday, my fair Anna,

fair Anna, you virtous flower.

You shall follow me to a faraway land

to be my young princess.”

“O nej o men, det kan jag ej bli.

Ej heller må ni detta begära.

Jag haver så mången som aktar uppå mig

och haver tillbudit min ära.

“Oh no, oh but, I cannot.

And you must not ask this of me.

I have so many who are watching over me

and I have promised myself to someone else.

På mig aktar fader på mig aktar mor.

På mig aktar syskonen kära.

På mig aktar greven men förra fästeman

som haver tillbudit mig sin ära.”

“I am watched by my father, I am watched my my mother.

I am watched by my dear siblings.

I am watched by the earl my former fiancé

who has promised himself to me.”

“Akta uppå eder vem eder akta må

men med mig skolen I följa!

Med mig skall du följa I främmande land

och bliva min unga brufurstinna.”

“May they watch you as much as the want

but you will follow me!

You shall follow me to a faraway land

to be my young princess.”

Tillsammans de voro i åtta runda år.

Sju söner de hade tillsammans.

Men när som det led till det nionde år.

En annan furstinna han begärde.

Together they were for eight round years.

Seven sons they had together.

But when the ninth year began.

Another countess demanded.

As these ballads have traveled through centuries and over continents, what changes is the melodies, the names, titles, dress code, and weaponry. However the main narrative thread remains.

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