If I’m perfectly honest I can take or leave most attempts at recreating traditional folk music for modern audiences. Far too many of them are too precious by half turning what should be something interesting and dark into some new age pablum unfit for human consumption. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and the German group Faun, as seen in their latest release, Märchen & Mythen (Fairytales & Myths), from Universal Music Germany, are one of them.
For those not familiar with the band at all, which considering they do very little work in English might be a few people, perhaps introductions are in order. Swedish born Oliver s Tyr, aside from playing Celtic harp, Irish Bouzouki, Swedish nykelharpa, guitar, mandora, and contrabasharpa, has a Masters degree in medieval literature and is an accomplished poet. Oh, he sings and writes most of the band’s lyrics.
Fiona Rüggeberg seems to be able to play almost any wind instruments and supply vocals. Aside from various bagpipes, flutes and whistles. she also plays oud and a variety of percussion instruments. Stephan Groth has been with the band since 2012 and handles all the keyboard type instruments, including the hurdy-gurdy. He also plays bass whistles and supplies vocals.
Laura Fella, supplies vocals, percussion and plays mandola, and has only recently joined the band (2017). Rounding out the group are drummer/percussionist Rüdiger Maul and Niel Mitra who provides for all things electronic for the band from playing synthesizer to sampling. The last might sound a little odd for a traditional folk band, but it allows them to create layers of sound through loops and effects which gives their music an extra dimension.
As the title of suggests Faun has created an album of music inspired by traditional tales and mythology. Now, if you’re not at German speaker, it takes a little research to find out the story behind each song. However, not only is an understanding of German not essential for appreciating their music, but you really don’t need to know the stories they’re singing about.
That being said it’s interesting to find out things like the sixth track of the album, “Aschenbrödel”, is the name of a ballet written by Johann Strauss ll. Perhaps better known by the name Cinderella. Faun has created a song in this instance that both reflects the lightness of the story and its origins as a ballet. In your mind’s eye you can almost see a dance unfolding before you.
Faun has the ability to create mood and evoke locations with their music. What’s wonderful is how well they are able to bring you to places and evoke sense memories of things you might not even know existed. Their music takes you down paths in forests into glades where oak trees still grow and people worship at alters made of natural objects.
These aren’t the nice pretty fairy tales of Disney, nor the cleaned up myths of story books. These are the dark and frightening tales from the Brothers Grimm that have scared the bejesus out of children for centuries. This is the dark wood forest where humans aren’t in charge. In fact, on most of these songs Faun has made sure we know there are still places in the world where magic and wonder exist.
“Aschenbrödel” isn’t the only song on the record with classical music antecedents. The album’s opening song is appropriately titled, “Es war einmal” (Once Upon a Time). Aside from being the standard opening line to most fairy tales, it was also the name of a fairy tale opera by Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky. The opera itself was based on the 19th century Danish play Der var engang (Once upon a time).
Under other circumstances I’d suspect myself of reading too much into the title of a song – seriously how many modern song writers would draw upon 19th century Danish plays and Austrian operas for inspiration. However, given the fact the two longest serving members of Faun, Fiona and Oliver, both have degrees that relate to the history of music, this isn’t much of a stretch for them.
Like the 19th century Romantic artists, musicians, and poets Faun are fascinated by a world that is larger than life. Filled with swelling emotions and classical themes their songs transport us into a world which stirs our hearts and takes us beyond the mundane world of reason and logic.
Fairytales and myths were how humans originally explained the mysteries of the world around them. They were the answers to the questions we couldn’t even begin to explain. In Märchen and Mythen Faun have taken us back to those dark and mysterious time of these stories with a musical odyssey into a wonderful world.