Darkness into Light

Darkness into Light
(Harmonia Mundi Catalog #907274)

Medieval & modern-a mystical journey

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Track List

Vespers hymn: O lux beata trinitas
Jube domine / Lection: In principio
JOHN TAVENER: Come and do Your will in me (voices & strings) (1997)
Compline hymn: Christe qui lux es
Lectio ysaye prophete / Lection: Surge illuminare
JOHN TAVENER: As one who has slept (voices & strings) (1996)
Nocturn hymn: Medie noctis tempus est
Leccio libri apokalipsis / Lection: Vidi civitatem
JOHN TAVENER: The Lordâ??s Prayer (1999)
Alleluia: Quinque prudentes virgines
JOHN TAVENER: The Bridegroom (voices & strings) (1999) World premiere recording
Hymn for the New Light: Inventor rutili
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Reviews of Darkness into Light

Darkness into Light is the title of this new Anonymous 4 CD, and, indeed, many of the works refer to the perils and glory, religiously speaking, of the former and the latter, respectively. Sprinkled within the eight 12th- to 14th-century hymns, all beautifully performed and interestingly varied in tone and use of voices, are four works by the contemporary British composer John Tavener, one of which is receiving its recorded premiere and was composed for Anonymous 4 and the Chilingirian Quartet. It is called "The Bridegroom," and in its 17-plus minutes examines the metaphor of Christ-as-Bridegroom, with the strings standing for Christ and the four voices, in the words of the composer, for "the people of the world, full of that longing which is a kind of Divine eros." Be that as it may, it contains some wonderful high-lying vocal lines, many short, phrases and a series of long-held, fading-out notes. The effect is very interesting and the string quartet adds to the mystery. The other three Tavener works are in the same vein. Whether or not one subscribes to Tavener's only occasionally convincing brand of religiosity, the performances here--of his music and the rest--are gorgeous, as the Anonymous 4 sing with their usual combination of abundance and absolute purity--an odd combination, but a unique one. The ear is constantly enchanted here, even if one finds the ancient piety more appealing, universal, and convincing than the modern. --Robert Levine. Amazon.com

Darkness into Light Program Notes

Medieval & modern-a mystical journey

“He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.” (Daniel 2:22)

As the last of a three-work commission for the Chilingirian String Quartet, Sir John Tavener composed The Bridegroom in 1999 for the quartet and Anonymous 4. The text he chose, from the liturgy of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church, is based on the New Testament parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) in which ten virgins await a wedding feast. Five are prepared with enough oil for their lamps to greet the bridegroom’s sudden arrival at midnight. The other five are not prepared and, without light, are barred from the wedding feast and cast out into the darkness.

This parable draws on one of the oldest and most fundamental of spiritual dichotomies: that of darkness and light. The cycles of the day and of the year - the rhythms of the sun - were richly imbued with the symbolism of fall and redemption by the infant Christian church. Its annual cycle of feasts and its daily rituals (the eight “hours” of the Divine Office, along with the mid-morning Eucharist, or Mass) are intimately connected with the journey from darkness into light. From Office and Mass we have chosen medieval plainchant and polyphony that mark steps on that journey.

Although hymns are now associated with the celebration of the Christian Eucharist, or Mass, they were originally part of the Divine Office. The hymn is a strophic composition which, by the later Middle Ages, used regularly scanned verse patterns and which often (but not always) used rhyme as well. The first three hymns on this program, all in settings from twelfth-century sources, are from nighttime liturgies of the Divine Office. O lux beata trinitas is a hymn for Vespers, which is celebrated at sunset, and Christe qui lux es is for Compline, which is sung just before bedtime. Both hymn texts cite the perils of darkness and seek the salvation of the light. Medie noctis tempus est is a lengthy hymn for Matins, sung near midnight. Its text recounts several scriptural events and stories that took place at midnight. We sing the verses concerning the wise and foolish virgins, and have set the text, which survives without music, to another twelfth-century hymn melody for Matins (“Primo dierum omnium”). 

The three medieval lections are festive two-voice settings of biblical readings for the Divine Office and Mass. They are elaborated versions, both polyphonically and melodically, of recitation formulas that would have been used on less solemn occasions. Jube domine…In principio is a setting for Matins of the opening of the Gospel of St. John (“In the beginning was the Word…”). This highly abstract synopsis of the Christian plan of salvation uses the symbols of darkness and light to illustrate the struggle between good and evil. The manuscript source indicates that the closing portion of this setting, from the words “quod factum est” to the end, is to be said by the celebrant. We have set this portion to music using the melodic formulas of the earlier verses. Lectio ysaye prophete…Surge illuminare, a reading for Christmas Mass, is filled with references to light. This passage from the prophet Isaiah is often used in Christmas liturgies as a prophetic reference to Jesus as savior. The third reading, Leccio libri apocalipsis…Vidi civitatem, is a setting of a passage from the Apocalypse of St. John, and is part of the Mass for the Dedication of a Church. This comforting vision of the last days refers to the world after time - the New Jerusalem - as a bride adorned for her bridegroom.

Alleluia: Quinque prudentes virgines is an eleventh-century French chant for Mass on the Octave of the feast of St. Agnes. Its verse is based on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. In a delightful instance of word painting, an unusually wide-ranging roulade spins itself out on “clamor” (the “noise” made to announce the bridegroom’s arrival). 

The text of Inventor rutili was composed around the year 400 by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens of Spain, one of the most prolific of the early Christian poets. The original poem - a hymn for the lighting of the evening lamp - consists of 41 verses, and includes a retelling of the Exodus story. Our twelfth-century French setting is a much shorter version, and is designated as a processional hymn for the kindling of the “new light” during the Easter Vigil.

- Susan Hellauer

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