An English Ladymass

An English Ladymass
(Harmonia Mundi Catalog # HMU 907080)

13th- and 14th-century chant and polyphony in honor of the Virgin Mary

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See Text and Translations

Track List

Prosa: Gaude virgo salutata (chant)
Polyphonic song: Edi beo thu, hevene quene
Introit: Salve mater redemptoris/Salve lux langentium/Salve sine spina/Salve sancta parens enixa
Motet: Lux polis refulgens/Lux et gloria
Kyrie: Kyria christifera
Motet: Spiritus et alme/Gaude virgo salutata
Song: Miro genere
Gradual: Benedicta et venerabilis
Alleluia: Alme iam ad gaudia/Alme matris dei/Alleluya per te dei
Sequence: Missus Gabriel de celis
Prosa: Gaude virgo gratiosa (chant)
Polyphonic song: Salve virgo virginum
Offertory: Felix namque (chant)
Sanctus & Benedictus
Sequence/Song: Jesu Cristes milde moder
Agnus dei: Virtute numinis
Communion: Beata viscera (chant & song)
Rondellus: Flos regalis
Chant setting: Ite missa est
Hymn: Ave maris stella
Listen to Samples

Reviews of An English Ladymass

"In the six years since this female quartet astonished the music world with its clear- voiced,  impeccably sung renditions of medieval chant and polyphonic music, chant rose from the dark and dusty corners of classical music to enjoy a phenomenal run at center stage.New and reissued chant  recordings achieved sales figures normally reserved for popular music. This is the recording that started it all (that Spanish monks disc came later), winning awards and earning near- permanent resident status on the national charts. Spiritually moving and vocally revelatory, this program recreates a kind of mass sung in English churches during the 13th and 14th centuries. With their  warm tone and perfect intonation, these four singers achieve an expressiveness that is rare among chant interpreters, most effective in the seductive, highly ornamented 'Kyrie.' The sound is exemplary--although a studio recording, it perfectly conveys the atmosphere of an English cathedral.
  --David Vernier,  Amazon.com 

An English Ladymass Program Notes

13th- and 14th-century chant and polyphony in honor of the Virgin Mary

"A certain parish priest, a man of upright life, knew no other Mass than the Mass of the Blessed Virgin, which he constantly chanted in her honour. Being accused thereof to the bishop, he was forthwith arraigned before him. When he avowed that he knew no other Mass, the bishop harshly upbraided him as an impostor, suspended him from his cure, and forbade him to chant the said Mass thereafter. The following night the Blessed Mary appeared to the bishop, belaboured him with reproaches, and demanded the reason of his ill treatment of her servant; and she further said that the bishop would die within thirty days unless he restored the priest tohis office. All atremble, the bishop summoned the priest and begged his forgiveness, commanding him to celebrate no other Mass than that of the Blessed Virgin." (The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, 13th century.G. Ryan & H. Ripperger, trans., Ayer Company [Salem, NH, 1987], p.528. Reproduced by permission.) 

Stories of the miracles of the Blessed Virgin abound from the late middlea ges. Her powers of intercession with her Son were apparently limitless;murderers, thieves, and every variety of miscreant could turn to Mary to be saved from their well-deserved punishment. She was the key to heaven— the kindly Mother who would not fail to 
smuggle an erring child into Paradise. And her cult was strong. 

In the 13th century, a Mass to the Virgin, a Ladymass, was offered dailyin the Lady chapel of Salisbury Cathedral. Most large churches had Ladychapels where such votive Masses were celebrated, either daily, as at Salisbury,or on Saturday, a day especially dedicated to Mary. Of the English polyphony preserved from this time, almost all of which is sacred, roughly two-thirds is in honor of the Virgin; much of this music could play a role in the Ladymass. For this recording, we have used liturgical polyphony and chant,along with other devotional works from the 13th and early 14th centuries, to create a composite Ladymass. 

Among the works included in our Ladymass are motet-like settings ofMass chants. The introit Salve sancta parens, the gradual Benedicta etvenerabilis, and the alleluia Per te dei were part of the Ladymass liturgy from the feast of the Purification (February 2) to Easter. The sequence Missus Gabriel de celis, the offertory Felix namque and the communion Beataviscera were sung during Advent. The latter two lack surviving polyphonic settings, and are here performed in their plainchant versions from the13th-century Sarum Gradual. The three-part song Beata viscera sets a poetic paraphrase of the communion chant, to which it is not musically related. 

There is no direct association of items of the Mass Ordinary (Kyrie,Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus dei) with the plan of the Ladymass. We have chosen a polyphonic Kyrie and Gloria pair that survive in the same manuscript,both of which feature virtuosic swirls of ornamental pitches. The Kyriehas additional text (a "trope") in honor of Mary, the "Christifera" or Christ-bearer. The Agnus dei is set in"alternatim" style, the liturgical plainchant alternating with a polyphonic Marian trope. The ritual Mass dismissal Ite missa est is an early example of four-voice composition, filled with rollicking melismas and unabashed dissonances. 

Since it was often permissible to substitute a new work for the prescribed liturgical sequence, we have used some of these works to augment our Ladymass.Missus Gabriel de celis occurs at the usual place for the sequence. The other sequences are Gaude virgo salutata and Gaude virgo gloriosa from the plainsong Dublin Troper, and Jesu Cristes milde moder, a two-voice English setting of the Stabat mater text. 

We have also included devotional works in other genres: strophic songs or conductus (Edi beo thu hevene quene and Salve virgo virginum), motets with multiple texts (Spiritus et alme/Gaude virgo salutata), and a rondellus (Flos regalis), a particularly English breed of composition that features a round-like exchange of tunes among the voice parts. We close with the simple and lovely vespers hymn Ave maris stella, from a 13th-century manuscript at Worcester. 

The fragmentary and scattered state of 13th- and 14th-century English polyphonic sources makes the creation of an edition a daunting task. There exists not even one substantial intact manuscript source from which to work. Instead, there are hundreds of strips, scraps, paste downs, and fly leaves to be found, matched, deciphered, and transcribed. Reconstructions, ranging from a few notes to an entire voice part, are often necessary. Imaginative scholarship as well as subtle musical grace were apparent in all of Ernest Sanders’ transcriptions and restorations in the editions from which we drew these polyphonic works for our Ladymass. It has been a pleasure to bring them to life. 


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