Loreena McKennitt takes her inspiration from the Celtic peoples
Produced by the Canadian singer/composer herself, An Ancient Muse is, McKennitt says, a work of “musical travel writing”. Drawing on research and literary musings that took her from the steppes of Mongolia to Ireland’s western shores and the islands of the Mediterranean, McKennitt takes her inspiration from the Celtic peoples, fusing the melodic sensibility of Scottish and Irish balladry with musical traditions from Greece, Turkey, Spain, and even Scandinavia.
Beginning with an invocation inspired by Homer’s Odyssey — “Tell me, O Muse, of those who traveled far and wide”— its nine tracks take the listener around the globe, across the ages and into the stories of a wondrous cast of characters. We hear the voices of a Scottish knight and his English lady, united by love and divided by strife; adventurers of the Silk Road approaching the gates of Istanbul; a Byzantine princess who witnessed the Crusades; the wandering Celts who claimed King Midas’ lands; and Odysseus’ faithful wife Penelope, scanning the wine-dark seas for his return.
From the sinuous grooves of “Caravanserai” to the elegiac echoes of “The English Ladye and The Knight” and the plaintive refrain of “Penelope’s Song,” the album boasts an exotic tapestry of instruments: harp, hurdy-gurdy, uilleann pipes, cello, kanoun, Turkish clarinet, lyra, bouzouki and nyckelharpa. Supporting musicians include Brian Hughes, Donald Quan, Hugh Marsh, Caroline Lavelle, Manu Katché, Rick Lazar, Nigel Eaton, Steafan Hannigan, Tal Bergman, Tim Landers and Greek musicians Panos Dimitrakopoulos, Socratis Sinopoulos, Haig Yazdjian and Giorgios Kontogiannis, along with acclaimed string players and members of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey.
In an age whose uncertainties and strife make it perhaps not so very distant from eras long past, An Ancient Muse’s theme, McKennitt suggests, is that we can learn lessons from history if we choose to do so – by remembering those very particular places in time when religious harmony and cultural fusion brought diverse societies together.
“I have not wavered in my conviction,” she observes in the written introduction to An Ancient Muse, “that we are a culmination of our collective histories, and that there should be more to bind us together than tear us apart.”
McKennitt recently performed three triumphant concerts at the legendary Alhambra monument in Granada, Spain, which have been captured on film for a PBS Great Performances television special. PBS will air the special Loreena McKennitt – Nights From The Alhambra in early 2007.