Any fan of literature, or culture or anything really, knows who Chaucer was. His epic, and unfinished, work The Canterbury Tales is perhaps the best known example of Middle English we have today. But how many of us knew about some of Chaucer’s other works? Troilus and Criseyde for example? I won’t get into gritty details of the story, maybe I’ll analyze it at a (much) later date, but the basics of the story are Troilus, a Trojan soldier and youngest son of Priam the king, falls in love with Criseyde, the daughter of a traitorous seer, against the backdrop of the Trojan War. Inevitably things turn sour, as is the narrative of tragedies, and death ensues (I won’t spoil it beyond that though). What has all of this got to do with dungeon synth? Let’s find out!
Chaucerian Myth, a fantastic project out of North Carolina, recently released a dungeon synth album devoted to the story of Troilus and Criseyde. I hope I’m not going to give him too big a head by comparing his construction of the narrative, at least the music, to the construction of Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner. I became aware of this project after I found the mammoth sized undertaking of the Canterbury Tales as completed as we know it today; it lasts for well over three hours long, something Richard Wagner would approve of I’m sure. Troilus and Criseyde isn’t nearly as long but that same devotion to material and atmosphere is present in both albums. The integrity of the piece and an accurate portrayal of the text is paramount here.
Much of the album is played on the piano rather than a pure synth. The instrument gives much of the album a jazz like feeling, the beat and the rhythm are very mellow, tender almost. Just as the play has tender moments wrapped in tragedy, the music is thematic, epic, and atmospheric in the most cathedrallike of ways. The music, even though the piano gives it a jazzy feeling, never strays from the truth of the time period the story was written for. Indeed, the sound often moves from the ancient Greek feel to the Middle English, weaving both the historical character with the Chaucer character. THe music is grandiose and powerful, grabbing its listener with wistful tales of youth and love, a bright light against the harsh shadow of war and death. Ultimately though, death and war cannot be denied.
The music, the entire album, plays out like it would within an opera. Each character has a theme that follows them through the play, it changes over the course of the play. It’s stripped down, rebuilt, enhanced, and broken. The characters within the music feel vibrantly real yet caricatures of singular character traits and archetypes, staying true to the source material. Chaucerian Myth isn’t so much creating his own spin on the works of Chaucer as he is making the material more relatable and understandable. By setting complex literary themes to music he is giving the listener an easier path to understanding the epic poetry of the Middle English period.
Chaucerian Myth is not an artist one should listen to with the intention of background music. The music created here is far more important and poetic to be delegated to background noise. Troilus and Criseyde is an epic that deserves the attention that epics get at the opera house, in music halls, and theaters, anything less is truly criminal. Chaucerian Myth is a project dedicated to aligning music to epics in a way that makes them both accessible to the unwashed masses. My hats off to such an effort, it is not in vain. Give Chaucerian Myth your attention, give Troilus and Criseyde your attention, listen to the subtlies and the nuances of the music and the melodies. Breath the Middle English air and enjoy!
Listen and support the music!