Music from the North

Among the Christmas cards I received in 2016 was one from Tone Holte, a dear friend of mine who shares my passion for and interest in Aud or Unn the Deep-Minded. The envelope also included a gift, a CD by Lyra fra Nord. Lyra fra Nord or ‘The Lyre from the North,’ an ensemble featuring Rolf Agaton, Tone Holte and John Vedde, focuses on medieval and traditional Scandinavian music. The group released its first album Det som bølger ut i havet (‘What waves might bring’) in December 2016. 


Tone Holte sings, and Rolf Agaton and John Vedde perform on lyres — both reconstructions of instruments found in archeological digs of Viking sites. The instrumental and strophic songs with texts inspired by Old Norse literature and Norse bards convincingly evoke what one might imagine as the world of the Vikings — wild, unpredictable, and sometimes brutal. The performances are energetic and passionate, and Tone’s voice is just right for the songs.

Two of the songs featured on the album, Unns sang (‘Unn’s song’) and Tilbakkeblikk (‘Looking back’), were both adapted from classical stories about Aud or Unn the Deep-Minded.

As early as 2014, the song Auds Sang (‘Aud’s song’) was released as a single on Spotify. In february 2016 Lyra fra Nord released this single under the title Unns sang on Soundcloud. It features as the first track on their album, Det som bølger ut i havet, released at the end of 2016. The song is centred around the life history of Aud or Unn. Or, as summarized in Tone’s own words:

Unn’s life (all texts about Unn are inspired from the stories about her authentic life) turns out to be quite hazardous. Moving very early in her life to the Hebrides, due to lack of mutual confidence between her father and King Harald The Fairhaired, she then experiences a broken marriage with the King of Dublin, Olav Hvite. Finally, she gather’s all her kin and thralls, builds a ship during autumn and winter, and eventually moves to Iceland.


The song’s melody flows like the waves of the Atlantic, the ocean Aud or Unn crosses on her way to Iceland from the Hebrides. In the narratives, waves run like a red thread through her story. The refrain, “Bølger, Rans hav, bølger hav” (‘Waves, Rán’s ocean, ocean waves’), alludes to this theme in Laxdæla saga. There is also a clear connection with the name Unn, which is derived from the Old-Norse noun unnr meaning ‘wave.’ In Norse mythology, Unn was one of the nine daughters of Ægir and Rán. Each daughters’ name refers to a specific type of wave; with Unn’s referring to a frothing wave. The song’s tune certainly evokes images of waves washing up on the shore.

The second song featuring Aud or Unn is entitled Tilbakkeblikk (‘Looking back’) and relates about Unn looking back on her life as a matriarch.

As Unn has got her whole family in Iceland, she sees to the wedding of her grandson Olav. When the ceremonies and feast have taken place in the great hall, she knows that this is her time to prepare for her own farewell; she goes into her chamber, remembers it all, summoning all her kin, then she dies.


As Unn’s voyage comes to an end, a new adventure starts with the life of her grandson and his descendants. Both songs complement the story of Unn masterfully.

The 16 tracks on the album offer a wide variety of lyrical textures. It includes an old boat-song from Unst, one of the North isles of Shetland Islands; Sigurdskvadet, a Faroese ballad song tracing back to the 13th century; and, the song King Orfeo in Norn, the ancient Scandinavian language of Orkney and Shetland. A lovely gift for anyone with a keen interest in Vikings and their narratives or in medieval and traditional Scandinavian music.

You can follow Lyra fra Nord on Facebook, watch some of their videos on YouTube, or check out their homepage. Want to buy or download the CD? This can be done via their website by clicking here.

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