I asked and you answered, so here is the result! I recently did a poll the other day on my Instagram account asking if my readers would enjoy periodically seeing aesthetic playlists compiled by me. The answer was a resounding “yes!” so here is my first one. I lately have been very interested in the the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, (a school of painters from the mid 19th century) who often featured as their subjects characters and scenes from Arthurian legend so this prompted me to entitle this playlist “Of Knights and Maidens Fair.” In numerous ways, the Victorian era was truly the golden age for those interested in everything Arthurian. You could meander among the halls of the great museums and see Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, or walk into a bookshop and purchase a copy of Tennyson’s now beloved Idylls of the King. So the next time you feel like dreaming of being a Pre-Raphaelite “stunner,” put on this playlist, and be prepared to be transported to far away lands filled with magic and myth.
The Lady of Shalott
Arranged and sung by Loreena McKennitt (Adapted from the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Many people are no doubt familiar with this particular work because of it’s being referenced in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. The tragic tale of Elaine “The Lily Maid of Astolat,” (or Shalott as it is more commonly called) who pines for Sir Launcelot, is a gorgeous work by Tennyson that captures the poignancy and beauty of the Arthurian age. I became a big fan of Loreena McKennitt many years ago, in no small part because of her ability to set beautiful works of verse to music, and her rendition of The Lady of Shalott is simply stunning. So press play, close your eyes, and imagine you’re drifting down the river “to many towered Camelot.” Or maybe do a little weaving of your own while you listen.
Tip: Loreena McKennitt has recorded many versions of this song, so if you want the full version consult her album The Visit and search for that one.
I have been a big fan of Arkenstone’s for a long time and that’s because he does songs like this so well. He really captures the magic and romance of the Arthurian stories. The Arthurian saga is full of stories of forbidden love, the most famous of all perhaps being the love between the married Queen Guinevere, wife of Arthur, and Sir Launcelot. This song is for anyone who imagines being the heroine of her own fairy tale, roaming the moors arm in arm with your knight errant, or sequestered in your tower writing notes to your secret lover.
La Belle Dame sans Merci
Arranged and sung by Loreena McKennitt (Adapted from the poem by John Keats)
Noticing a theme here? Loreena McKennitt does beautiful poetic adaptions and this one is no exception. John Keat’s Beautiful La Belle Dame sans Merci, or in English, The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy, tells the tale of a young knight who is beguiled by a lovely maiden, “a fairy’s child,” who lures him with dreams of the beautiful fairy otherworld. Keats is one of the greatest Romantic era poets for a reason, and that is because of his sumptuous language that weaves a spell every bit as intoxicating as that used by La Belle Dame. This is a song best savored and enjoyed on a beautiful, quiet evening, perhaps while picking the last of the summer’s blossoms.
For the Love of a Princess
The Celtic Woman version
Celtic Woman is an amazing vocal group from Ireland that has so many classic songs, but this beautiful instrumental version in which Tara McNeill, the group’s violinist, takes center stage with this heartwrenching piece is a real gem. This song sounds like one a gallant knight might have heard as he leaves for war, thinking of his sweetheart waiting for him back home, and the aching, soaring, crescendo captures all the varying emotions of love gained and lost in a way that is simply breathtaking. This is a song to listen to at the break of dawn as you imagine riding your fine white steed.
This song is one that is hardly known except to a few but it’s so underrated and lovely. The nineties was a great time for New Age and Celtic revival music, and Alkaemy was one of many niche groups who played in this genre. Nimue’s Lament though is hands down the highlight of their The Merlin Mystery album. The song is sung in first person by Nimue, the lover of Merlin, who longs for his return after he was imprisoned by magic and held captive beyond her reach. This song is one of grief, but also of power, as Nimue uses the strength of her voice and the steadfastness of her love to command the powers that bind him to release him to her arms. The chorus is also used to great impact and really enhances the emotion of the piece. This is a song to sing along with when you’re wanting to feel inspired.
The Dragon’s Breath
This is another favorite by Arkenstone. What would be a Arthurian playlist without dragons? The dragon as an archetype features heavily in many stories, including in the very surname of Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. It also crops up in many other related myths such as Tristan and Isolde, where Tristan must slay the beast that is ravishing the kingdom of Isolde’s father, and in so doing, wins Isolde’s hand, or the famous British myth, Saint George and the Dragon. The bagpipes in this one really bring out the power and the awe of the knight as he struggles against the creature, locked in mortal combat, building as the song does until finally one proves the victor. Will it be the knight or the dragon? You’ll have to decide for yourself. This song sounds like going on a daring quest, perhaps through the wooded forest.
The English Ladye and the Knight
Adapted and Sung by Loreeena McKennitt
The title of this one makes it the quintessential final song for this playlist. A beautiful ballad adapted by McKennitt, this tells the tragic story of a woman’s love for her heroic knight in spite of all obstacles placed in their way. What makes so many of McKennitt’s works shine is her ability to convey a story through words and to express each delicate phrase in such a cinematic way that it paints the images before your very eyes as you listen. Ballads like these carry a sense of history, since they’ve been passed down orally in many cases from generation to generation, and there is no better way to feel connected to the beauty of the past. This is the perfect song to play by the dying embers of a fire when all the house is still and night draws in.
Did I inspire you to add any of these songs to your playlist? Be sure to drop me a comment and tell me your favorite!