Soir, Dit Elle
Recorded December 1999, Gonningen
This recording is supported by Fond for Lyd og Bilde.
Alma mater, Ante thorum, Benedicta es celorum and De spineto nata rosa published by Antico Edition
Words of the Angel published by Vanderbeek & Imrie Ltd.
A most impressive new group. Their clear and unforced voices, with superb control of intonation and blend of tone, combine with an obvious musical intelligence, as evidenced by their ability to shape a musical line and give structure to a piece. Others have tried to reinterpret the medieval repertoire for soprano voices, but none as successfully as this young group." - Early Music Review
"Words of the Angel" is the debut album of an exceptional trio from Norway. The recording, made at the Evangelische Kirche, Gonningen, was produced by Hilliard Ensemble singer John Potter , who has monitored the Trio Mediaeval's development almost from the group's inception.
The Trio was formed in Oslo in 1997 and its musical direction was confirmed by intensive study with The Hilliard Ensemble at the Hilliard Summer Festival in Cambridge. John Potter recalls that "they already had that creative energy and an instinctive distinctive blend when they came to our annual summer school in 1998. This blossomed still further in subsequent visits over the next two years. Their repertoire also broadened during this period, adding a considerable amount of contemporary music to the medieval and Norwegian music that they performed with such elan. Medieval music has traditionally been the preserve of men, and the two-edged sword of authenticity hasn't made it easy for women's groups to make this music their own. The Trio's answer is to sing the music as though it is music of the present. The intense clarity and life that that they bring to it goes a long way to make up for the accident of history which forbade their sex from singing it first time around."
Through The Hilliard Ensemble , the Trio Mediaeval have come into contact with contemporary composers including Joan Metcalf, Paul Robinson, Markus Ludwig and Ivan Moody, whose "Words of the Angel" they first performed in 1998. Moody's is the sole contemporary piece on the recording, a jewel now re-set in the neighbourhood of the Messe de Tournai. Comprised of polyphonic mass movements from a 14th century manuscript, the Messe is interspersed, on this recording, with motets and songs from the same period, including several pieces from English manuscripts. Also included on the recording is monophonic music from a collection of Laude surviving in a thirteenth century manuscript from Cortona.
As Potter notes: "None of this music would have been sung by women. Medieval manuscripts show that women were just as likely as men to be singing secular music, but the unremitting hostility of the papacy to women in positions of power ensured that female religious houses could rarely support significant musical establishments. So the sound world that we enter here is an imaginary one, based on the question 'what if ...'"
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ===============
La Messe de Tournai, Ivan Moody: Words of the Angel
Scholars have often assumed that putting mass movements together into larger, coherent musical units marks a change in the way composers see themselves and their art. Although monophonic music could be conceived on a very large scale (the great lais, for example, or certain chants), polyphony was traditionally smaller and more sophisticated by design. The linking together of polyphonic mass movements, initially in pairs and with some common compositional elements, perhaps shows that - composers were beginning to envisage the potential of larger structures. If this was a conscious thought, then perhaps they were also thinking of their own personal craft as something they should put their name to: it is certainly true that 'anon' begins to take a back seat from this period onwards. The form of the mass itself is a huge and sophisticated construct that had been evolving for hundreds of years by the time the movements of the Messe de Tournai were composed. These pieces, the unchanging 'ordinaries', would perhaps have been the only polyphony in the service and each one would have its context, surrounded by prayers and chant. Many mass recordings present the movements as a sequence one after the other, and this tends to give the impression that we are witnessing a 'work', with a much grander design than would have been in the mind of the composer. Medieval musicians (and scribes) were much more pragmatic, and the grouping of material has more to do with organizational criteria that we can only speculate about. The design (if that's what we can call it) is in the structure of the service itself.
The movements of this mass were re-discovered in the nineteenth century in the library of Tournai cathedral. They are part of a fourteenth century manuscript, which contains only two other polyphonic pieces (a Kyrie and a Sanctus unrelated to this mass ) and a great deal of miscellaneous plainchant in honour of the Virgin Mary. It is very unlikely that they are all by the same composer. The fact that they all come together in one manuscript is probably due to an executive decision in the Tournai scriptorium, based on use rather than authorship. The Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus dei seem to pre-date the other three movements on stylistic grounds, and were probably composed in the late thirteenth century. The Gloria, Credo and Ite missa est show the freer rhythms and more advanced triadic harmony of the Ars Nova. In other words, the compiler of the manuscript drew together pieces which were stylistically divergent, reminding us that stylistic development doesn't run in the straight lines that history books sometimes imply. Fourteenth century singers were clearly happy with what today we might consider a bit of a stylistic mishmash.
We should be wary of the manuscript's supposed uniqueness in being the first set of polyphonic ordinaries: although it seems to pre-date the Sorbonne, Toulouse and Barcelona masses there may well have been other groupings of mass movements which are now lost to us. The Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei survive only in the Tournai source. The Credo, which survives in three other sources, has certain similarities with Machaut's setting of the same text. There doesn't appear to be any direct plagiarising, but many of the musical gestures suggest Machaut was so familiar with the anonymous setting that he couldn't get it out of his head while writing his own version for four voices. The connections between the two works are particularly noticeable in the short, two voice passages that punctuate important parts of the text. These curious tags also present an interesting performance practice problem. In both the Tournai and Machaut manuscripts the links are not underlaid with text. The assumption would normally be that unless a new word is inserted, then these short melismas belong to the previous musical material and would be a continuation of the previous syllable. But if the music is performed in this way it is very difficult to finish that syllable and start the next one at the tutti entry while still maintaining the tempo. The alternatives are to make a small rallentando to give time for the change of word, or to bring the new word forward so that it is sung to the link. After some experiment, the latter solution was adopted by the Trio for this recording. Like the Credo, the Ite missa est also had a wider currency. It appears as a motet in Ivrea, and its secular origins can be seen in the three texts which are sung simultaneously in the response. The tenor line is used for the words 'Go, the mass is over', and this line is then repeated slowly as the basis for the polyphony to the words 'Thanks be to God'. The two other texts sung at the same time have nothing to do with the service at all: the Latin text is political, and the French one a love song.
Wars, the church and changing tastes all contributed to the destruction of medieval manuscripts, especially in England where the pattern of survival is extremely fragmentary. What is left is probably only a small proportion of what there was, and some of the music survived in the most extraordinary circumstances. Alma mater, Benedicta es and De spineto nata rosa have only come down to us because of a succession of historical accidents. The parchment on which they are written, known as Berkeley Castle Select Roll 55, began life as financial accounts for restoration work done on Bretby Castle in 1302-1303. The music, two sequences and two motets (one of which is extremely anti-Semitic), was probably copied onto the back of this roll in the first quarter of the fourteenth century. Having served its purpose, the fate of much medieval music was to be cut up and re-used for bookbinding purposes. These pieces were presumably preserved because a conscientious accountant couldn't bear to throw away old financial records. The remaining polyphony, a mixture of Marian motets and sequences, is also from fourteenth century England, and survives in bits and pieces of what were once substantial manuscripts.
The monophonic music sung here is from a collection of Laude surviving in a thirteenth century manuscript from Cortona. The music may be older (Jacopone da Todi's poetry has been associated with the laudesi) and consists of monophonic spiritual songs. These are not liturgical pieces: the laudesi who originally sung them banded together in confraternities (not unlike the Franciscans) and were not usually associated with a particular church. They travelled from place to place, and the more zealous members are reported to have whipped themselves into a penitential frenzy. These outpourings of violent hysteria were presumably followed by periods of quiet reflection such as we hear in the music today. The laude are a reminder that in medieval times polyphonic music was almost always heard in the context of monophony, usually chant, sung in versions that would have been specific to the church in which it was performed. The chant would have been familiar, some of it repeated at each service, almost all of it recurring annually. Polyphony would have been new, unfamiliar and wondrous, a colourful illumination of the liturgy that shone out like the ornate capitals and vivid decorations of medieval manuscripts. We cannot recapture that context today, nor would most of us want to. But we can acknowledge it, and try to listen to the music on its own terms. There is no attempt to reconstruct the liturgy here, since this is simply intended to be a musical experience. Instead, the songs and motets have been inserted between the mass movements to give an idea of musical space, recognising the musical integrity of each of the mass movements. We must not forget though, that the music is only part of the picture. Almost all the texts are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the mass movements are also likely to have been assembled for one of the Marian feasts. The mass itself, whatever one's religious convictions, has a meaning beyond the music: the subtexts of love, death and sacrifice are there for all to understand. As the mass draws to a close it reaches its most poignant moment in the Agnus Dei where the supplicant prays for peace to the lamb of god. The lamb was the sacrificial animal for many cultures since pre-historic times, and in this context it echoes the sacrifice of the executed Jesus. Here, it is followed by the final lauda, a simple lament of Mary for the death of her son. Then comes Ivan Moody's Words of the Angel. This was written for the Trio Mediaeval in 1998, with a text is taken from the Orthodox Easter day liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The angel exhorts Mary to rejoice, for her son has defeated death. Finally, we return to Tournai for the Ite missa est: the mass is over.
None of this music would have been sung by women. Medieval manuscripts show that women were just as likely as men to be singing secular music, but the unremitting hostility of the papacy to women in positions of power ensured that female religious houses could rarely support significant musical establishments. So the sound world that we enter here is an imaginary one, based on the question 'what if...?'.