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Felix Femina: 13th Century Scottish Polyphony from the St. Andrews Music Book
Part One: A Scottish Ladymass
Hymn: Ave maris stella [3:47]
Introit: Salve sancta parens [3:10]
Kyrie: Creator puritatis [5:41]
Instrumental [0:55]
Gloria: Per precem piissimam [5:58]
Gradual: Benedicta et venerabilis [3:38]
Alleluya: Post partum virgo [4:00]
Sequence: Ave celi imperatrix [2:43]
Instrumental [0:46]
Offertory: Recordare virgo mater [3:00]
Sanctus: Mater mitis vere vitis [4:38]
Instrumental [0:44]
Agnus Dei: Factus homo [3:36]
Communion: Beata viscera [0:46]
Hymn/Prosa: Ave Maria gratia plena viris invia [5:10] Part Two
Laudes Christo decantamus [6:53]
Ave Maria gratia plena [2:40]
Instrumental: Sanctus: De vergine nato [2:00]
Ave regina celorum (chant) [0:55]
Ave regina celorum (polyphony) [1:44]
Instrumental: Alleluya: Virga Jesse floruit [1:19]
Communion: Simile est regnum [0:58]
Instrumental: Agnus Dei: Mortis dira [0:41]
Alleluya: Ave Maria gratia plena [4:54]
Instrumental: Preter Rerum [1:22]
Sequence: Hodierne lux diei celebris in matris dei [5:45]
Canty (Libby Crabtree, Micaela Haslam, Anne Lewis)/Rebecca Taverner
William Taylor (wire-strung clarsach, symphonie)
rec. 14-16 March, 2006, St. Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington, East Lothian,
Scotland
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 360 [78:01]

 


The town of Wolfenbüttel lying on the river Oker in Lower Saxony, is an attractive town, with many medieval survivals, some fine old churches and an impressive Schloss. It was home, at one time or another, to the composer Michael Praetorius and, much later, to the dramatist Lessing – he wrote Nathan the Wise there. It is also home, or more specifically the Herzog-August Bibliothek in the town, is home to one of the most important manuscripts of medieval Scottish music. Visit the library and you will have to ask for Wolfenbüttel Herzog-August-Bibliothek 628 Helmstadiensis – but there are modern facsimiles.

This Wolfenbüttel manuscript is a quite substantial collection. Its first ten fascicles contain music associated with the Parisian school centred on Notre Dame – including work by Perotin. The collection contains fascinating evidence as to the evolution of polyphony in twelfth-century France.  In fascicle 11, however, there are some 46 compositions, all of them designed for use in votive Masses addressed to the Virgin. These materials are designated as belonging to the Liber monasterii sancti Andree apostoli in scocia, that is ‘The book of the monastery of St. Andrew the Apostle, in Scotland’. This part of W1 (as the manuscript is usually referred to) at least, and perhaps not only this part, was copied at St. Andrews in Scotland. The music, in the words of the scholar Edward Roesner, “was drawn from diverse sources, some Continental, indeed Parisian, some British, some “local”, but the settings all reveal the same stylistic traits, suggesting the significant input of a local musician in shaping the music, whatever its original sources may have been. From all indications, that local musician and that compiler worked at St. Andrews, certainly no later than the middle of the 13th century and possibly a few decades earlier”.

Canty here give us a selection from the work contained in fascicle 11 of this important manuscript, and the results are very beautiful. All the polyphonic writing is in two parts and Canty give a persuasive account of it. There’s a radiance of sound that beguiles the ear and gives a particular quality to these settings of texts in praise of the virgin which are often quite sensuous in their language and imagery. Of course, it also loses one of the dimensions which performance by male voices would bring to the music. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

Material has been chosen and arranged so as to present a plausible approximation to the contents of a Lady Mass (which had no fixed form). Here is much to admire and enjoy here – such as the stately and austere joy of the ‘Gloria: Per precem piissimam’ or the unsentimental, tender dignity of the ‘Agnus dei: factus homo’. There is occasional instrumental accompaniment from William Taylor, always discreet. Quite a few of the items here are receiving their first recordings – including the lovely ‘Kyrie; Creator puritatis’. Full texts and translations are provided.

It was, I think, The New Yorker which once described Anonymous 4 as the “fab four of medieval music”. Canty bid fair to be Scotland’s “fab four of medieval music” on this well-conceived and executed CD.

Glyn Pursglove


 


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