Four Centuries of Chant

Four Centuries of Chant
(Harmonia Mundi Catalog # HMX2907546)

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Track List

An English Ladymass
Prosa: Gaude virgo gratiosa (chant)
Hymn: Ave maris stella
The Lily & The Lamb
Processional Hymn: O gloriosa domina
Sequence: Stabat iuxta Christi crucem
Antiphon: Ave regina celorum
Miracles of Sant'Iago
Antiphon: Ad sepulcrum beati Iacobi
Brief responsory: Iacobe servorum
Offertory: Ascendens Ihesus in montem
Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary
Te Deum: Isten, téged
11,000 Virgins
Responsory: Spiritui sancto (Hildegard of Bingen)
A Lammas Ladymass
Antiphon (Anonymous) Que est ista
Hymn O quam glorifica
Recordare Virgo Mater Offertory
Legends of St. Nicholas
Responsory: Ex eius tumba/ Prosa: Sospitati dedit egros
1000: A Mass for the End of Time
Processional Hymn (Anonymous) Judicii signum
Darkness into Light
Vespers hymn: O lux beata trinitas
Alleluia: Quinque prudentes virgines
The Origin of Fire
Sequence: O ignis spiritus paracliti
Hymn: Beata nobis gaudia
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Four Centuries of Chant Program Notes

In 1986 when Anonymous 4 first began singing together in New York City, it was not common for vocal ensembles performing early repertoires to program chant and to explore ways to sing it.  For us, however, is was clear that medieval plainchant was an artistically important and esthetically rewarding as medieval polyphony.  So we pledged to give chant its due, in every program of medieval sacred music we might create. We quickly discovered that the inclusion of chant at liturgically appropriate places enhanced the nature and beauty of the polyphonic pieces we programmed, and that the polyphony, in turn, revealed the splendor of the chant. Restoring (to even a small extent) a musical balance between chant and polyphony was a revelaition to us and - we believe - to our audiences as well.

For those who love our way of performing chant (in a free and flexible manner, guided by the meaning, sound, and flow of the text), for the many people who are now coming to chant (or returning to it) as listeners or singers, and for those who are just learning about Anonymous 4, we have brought together in this CD some favorite medieval chants from our recordings.

From the daily round of the Divine Office, we've chosen hymns, antiphons and responsories. In modern usage, we tend to think of hymns as opportunities for congregational singing during the Christian Mass or Eucharist service, but in the Middle Ages these strophic songs were part of the Office Liturgy, many of them preserved for special occasions.  Ave maris stella is still a much-loved hymn, sung for feasts of the Virgin Mary. O quam glorifica is a hymn for Mary's Assumption, and we've chosen the Pentecost hymn Beata nobis gaudia to close this collection.  Most antiphons, like Que est ista, are relatively short, and are sung before and after the recitation of a psalm.  Some longer and more complex antiphons are meant to stand alone, like the Marian Compline antiphon Ave regine celorum, and Ad sepulcrum beati lacobi, in honor of St. James the miracle worker.  Responsories can range from simple works like the brief responsory lacobe servorum, to long, virtuosic masterpieces like Ex eius tumba and Hildegard of Bingen's Spiritui sancto.

From the liturgy if the Mass, we include two ornate Offertory chants, Felix namque, from the Ladymass, and Ascendens ihesus in montem, for the feast of St. James, as well as a very fluid Alleluia from an Aquitanian source, Alleluia: Quinque prudentes virgines.  We have also chosen two sequences - a chant genre developed by Frankish singer-composers in the 9th century, of which hundreds were written thoughout the Middle Ages.  All but a handful of sequences were removed from active service by order of the Council of Trent (1545-63).  It has been our pleasure to revive some of these lost treasures, like the haunting English Lenten sequence Stabat iuxta Christi crucem, and Hildegard's monumental sequence in honor of the Holy Spirit, O ignis spiritus paracliti.

Two unusual pieces are worthy of special mention.  The processional hymn Judicii signum, with its vivid recitation of the horrors of the last judgment, enjoyed a long life in medieval liturgical sources.  This version is from an Aquitanian manuscript from the 11th century.  While Latin is the usual language of liturgical plainchant of the Roman rite, in "peripheral' areas of Europe (the British Isles and Eastern Europe) it is not unusual to find examples of medieval chant in the vernacular language.  The great hymn of thanksgiving, the Te deum, is here represented by a vernacular version from medieval Hungary.

Susan Hellauer.

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Discography:   Three Decades of Anonymous 4 1865 Marie et Marion love fail The Drop That Contained the Sea Secret Voices
The Cherry Tree Four Centuries of Chant Gloryland Noel The Origin of Fire American Angels
Wolcum Yule Darkness into Light la bele marie The Second Circle 1000: A Mass for the End of Time Legends of St. Nicholas
A Lammas Ladymass 11,000 Virgins Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary Miracles of Sant'Iago The Lily & The Lamb Love's Illusion
On Yoolis Night An English Ladymass Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light A Portrait of Anonymous 4
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