Ginnungagap is an Old Norse word for the chaos filled chasm that existed before the beginning of the world. It is mentioned in the evocative opening of the poem Vǫluspá (The Seeress’s Prophecy), from which this text is taken. The poem is over sixty verses in length, and describes the major events of Scandinavian mythology from the beginning of the world until its end and eventual rebirth. Rather than setting the entire text, Ginnungagap uses verses that refer to the salient points in the Old Norse life cycle; the beginning of the world, its destruction and its regeneration.
The text’s vivid imagery provided the imaginative stimulus for the particular melodic and harmonic material that forms the basis of the piece. Many verses of Vǫluspá stress the act of symbolic utterance. Thus breath became an important idea in the orchestral writing, both in the use of breath sounds and in the shape of phrases. At times, natural harmonics in the brass are used to colour the harmony.
Vǫluspá is believed to date from the late tenth or early eleventh century, and was probably composed in Iceland due to its use of imagery derived from volcanic phenomena. It is in fornyrðislag (‘old story metre’ or ‘epic metre’), consisting of stanzas of eight lines, each of which has two stressed syllables and a varying number of unstressed syllables. Alliteration links the lines.