A Portrait of Anonymous 4

A Portrait of Anonymous 4
(Harmonia Mundi Catalog # HMU 2907210)

"The group's exquisite and pure voices and blend create an atmosphere of angelic echoes." -- New Age Voice

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Track List

From Miracles of Sant'Iago (HMU 907156)
Venite omnes cristicole
Ad superni regis decus
Portum in ultimo
From The Lily & the Lamb (HMU 907125)
O Maria stella maris
Stabat iuxta Christi crucem
Stillat in stellam radium
From A Star in the East (HMU 907139)
Primo tempore alleviata
Speciosus forma
Mi Atyánk Atya Isten
From Love's Illusion (HMU 907109)
Puisque bele dame m’eime
Ne sai, que je die
Amor potest conqueri
Quant yver la bise ameine
On doit fin[e] Amor
From An English Ladymass (HMU 907080)
Edi beo thu hevene quene
Ave maris stella
Salve virgo virginum
From On Yoolis Night (HMU 907099)
Ther is no rose of swych vertu
Prolis eterne genitor
Ecce quod natura
From 11,000 Virgins (HMU 907200)
Spiritui sancto
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Reviews of A Portrait of Anonymous 4

"This sampler album of excerpts from seven other Anonymous4 releases is a good introduction for anyone who is unacquainted with theA4's startlingly pure singing and virtually celestial blend. But if you fall under the spell of this outstanding a capella quartet, the presentdisc will become extraneous because you'll want to own the complete recordingsfrom which it's drawn...
--Sarah  Bryan Miller,  Amazon.com 

A Portrait of Anonymous 4 Program Notes

"The group's exquisite and pure voices and blend create an atmosphere of angelic echoes." -- New Age Voice

The scene: St. Michael’s, a small, handsome, hundred-year-old churchon Manhattan’s Upper West Side, late on a May afternoon, warm sunlight pouring through seven Tiffany-designed stained-glass windows. The fourmembers of Anonymous 4 are rehearsing for a performance later in the week.The music that afternoon—serene, elegant, sometimes punctuated by unexpected dissonance—seems to float, incense made audible, swirling like an angelic visitation around the solitary, ecstatic listener. 

The members of the group, Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer,and Johanna Maria Rose, first came together in 1986, bringing with thema variety of skills and training, including medieval musicology, baroque flute and recorder, modern trumpet and historic brass instruments, Renaissance and baroque vocal and choral music, traditional folk song, languages (both extinct and extant), and acting. From the beginning, Anonymous 4 has been a resident ensemble at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. 

Anonymous 4 was named as a musicological pun—the original Anonymous4 is a label given to a thirteenth-century treatise on music and to its author, an unnamed English cleric who studied at the Cathedral of Notre-Damein Paris in the late thirteenth century. One of many anonymous medieval treatises on music, this unique document preserves the names of the great composers Léonin and Pérotin, and describes the musical life at Notre-Dame in the early part of the thirteenth century. 

The group seems to focus primarily on music from the eleventh through the  mid-fourteenth centuries. Why do you restrict yourselves to this time period? “We sing a great deal of chant, which was the mainstay of almost every sung church service. Of course, much of the chant that we sing existed before the eleventh century, but it wasn’t until around then that the pitches began to be clearly indicated in manuscript sources. Our polyphonic repertory is defined and confined by the range of vocal parts, which up to the mid-fourteenth century were approximately equal. The over all pitch range became increasingly wider during the fourteenth century, until in the middle to late fifteenth century we find true treble and bass parts. 

“We focus mainly on sacred music, since this is the bulk of the music that has survived in manuscript. Ironically, even the French secular motets we sing (in our Love’s Illusion program) were probably written by clerics for their own entertainment.”  Who was the sacred music actually written for? Who would have sung it? “Much of the chant and some of the polyphony would have been sung by groups of monks, in their monasteries, or by groups of nuns, in their convents, as part of their worship. Some of the most complex chant and the more virtuosic polyphony (such as the works of Léonin and Pérotin) would have been sung in the public cathedrals by highly trained male singers, who were required to take clerical orders in order to achieve their positions.” 

Dealing with a historical period that survives mostly in manuscript sources, how does a specialist ensemble manage to pull together new repertory? 

“Certain repertories have been published in good scholarly editions,so we use them; there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Even when working with the best editions, however, we do tend to do a certain amount of rhythmic‘fixing,’ within stylistic bounds. When we are working from manuscript sources, what we have to do varies with each new venture. In our Codex Calixtinus program, Miracles of Sant’Iago, which Susan transcribed, only pitches were clearly notated. Our rhythmic interpretation had to be worked out from our own background of stylistic awareness. 

“Most transcribers work alone. But Susan has the great advantage of working almost daily with three other musicians who’ve been immersed together in the medieval sacred repertory for ten years. This way we can try things out continually as she goes along, and decide on the spot what will workand what won’t. 

“We find new material in a number of ways. We are familiar with many medieval manuscripts and repertories that we want to explore, and these form the sources for many of our programs. We have also been introduced to some unusual repertories by scholars with whom we are in contact. But sometimes we discover a new idea through sheer dumb luck. Take, for example,our new Hungarian Christmas program. Hildegard of Bingen was the guiding spirit there. While Susan was digging out some editions of Hildegard’s music at the Columbia University Library, another book fell on her foot,a book of Hungarian medieval music that had gotten stuck to the Hildegard volume. It turned out to be a real treasure, and led to our recording "A Star in the East.” 

What is it that you love best about what you do? 

“One of the most exciting things for us is the creation of a new program. Each one is a major undertaking, requiring about a year for musical and literary research, creation of a program framework or structure, selection of the particular pieces which create a  perfect overall shape, not to mention rehearsal! From the start, our goal has been to create thematically unified programs, each based on a single concept. Sometimes the theme revolves around a particular real or legendary figure; sometimes it focuses on a particular manuscript; sometimes it loosely recreates a liturgical service.And within each program, we look for musical variety and continuity, as well as for texts which illustrate the central theme. Because we work so intensively together to develop and shape each program, each of us ends up with a strong feeling of commitment to our final creation. 

“Our other greatest joy is singing the music within the setting we’ve found for it. It feels as though, during each seventy-five-minute performance,we enter another world of our own making. Our purpose is to come to a common musical intent, by going through the painstaking yet mysterious process of blending our very different voices, personalities, and responses to the musical pieces, texts, and phrases we sing. Whenever we reach this kind of ensemble consciousness, we are reminded of our reason for being Anonymous 4.” 

-- Anonymous 4 in conversation with Alan Rich 

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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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