Medieval Chant and Polyphony for the AscensionPurchase 1000: A Mass for the End of Time at:
"Remember all of the year-2000 nervousness in the latter part of
1999? That was nothing. As the year 1000 approached, people all over the
Christian world were convinced that the Apocalypse--as depicted in the biblical
Book of Revelation--and the end of the world were at hand. In one of the
more interesting musical program ideas to be inspired by the turn of the
calendrical odometer, Anonymous 4 revisits the original "millennium madness"
with a disc of chant from around the year 1000--specifically, a Mass for
the Feast of the Ascension, one of the few occasions on which the liturgy
included readings from the Book of Revelation. This is the oldest written
Western music to have survived, and it's difficult even to decipher (the
original notation has no staff lines or clear indications of rhythm), let
alone perform. Yet, the challenges involved seem to have done these ladies
good: not only is their performance both assured and confident, but one can
hear new facets in their vocal sound--a sound that, however beautiful it
might be, some listeners find monotonous.(One new facet is Jacqueline Horner,
the quartet's newest member, for whom this is the first recording.) The singers
experiment with interpretation of ornaments that are indicated in the manuscript
sources (there's a fascinating little trill that sounds rather like a cooing
dove); in some of the chants, they add an additional line in accordance with
the principles of improvising polyphony that were laid out in 10th- and 11th-century
treatises. The entire program seems thoroughly considered, as well as immaculately
executed. If you count on the consistently pure, silky tone and meditative
quality that has made Anonymous 4 world-famous, you'll definitely find it
here; if you've gotten bored with them, you might find this disc a fascinating
--Matthew Westphal, Amazon.com
"On their latest release, the women of the vocal quartet Anonymous 4 employ a vocal blend of stunning purity to detail the air of turgid apprehension that surrounded the end of the first millennium, when many Europeans thought the world might end.
The release's 14 selections are pulled from the Ordinary and Proper chants of the Catholic Mass, some with added tropes. (A trope is an addition or an enhancement to an original plainchant melody. They were first introduced in the eighth century.) The Mass text is pulled from a variety of first millennial sources, such as the Winchester Troper, with help from a trio of expert early music musicologists.
The chaste vocal styling of Anonymous 4 delightfully underscores the text of the opening plainchant processional hymn, "Judicii signum" (RealAudio excerpt), which is squarely focused on the destruction of the world and the judgment of the wicked and the virtuous. In fact, the text is one of the most fascinating aspects of this release, not only for its scholarly research but also for its conveyance of the general societal madness that enveloped Europe at the dawn of the second millennium.
The real treats here are the polyphonic excerpts, one being the "Alleluia II." In these hauntingly beautiful pieces, the women of the quartet blend their voices with uncanny accuracy, their mannered tambours reaching near heavenly heights.
Another point of interest is the Lection, or reading, from the 21st chapter of the Apocalypse of St. John. Whereas the original church leaders demanded that the entire reading be recited on a single tone â?? due to the importance of the text â?? in this setting, the ensemble uses two tones, moving in parallel motion, so as not to diminish the text's importance with abundant polyphony.
1000: A Mass for the End of Time is a fantastic and interesting
Mass, performed with precision and supported by extensive scholarly research."
-- John Demma Van Hagen, Sonicnet.com
"Anonymous 4 provide chaste polyphonic embellishments and their trademark immaculate vocalism, encompassing the celestial beauty of the radiant 'Dominus in Sina' and penitential awe of 'Regnantem sempiterna.' Documentation, recording quality and overall presentation are consistent with harmonia mundi's customary level of excellence." -- M. Lignana Rosenberg, OPERA NEWS / October 2000
"I have been a huge fan of Anonymous 4, four women singing a capella early music, ever since the first time I experienced thier unbelievablepurity of sound, ethereal elegance and musical perfection. I like to saythat listening to Anonymous 4 is a little like a soak in a virtual hot tub.Their latest is a collection of music from the turn of the last millenium, atime of great turmoil and anxiety. If we thought Y2K was stressful, imaginethe people of the dark ages dealing with what had been predicted to be theend of the world, the year 1000. This CD is a collection of medievel chantand polyphony used in the Catholic Mass at a time of tremendous upheaval.Travel to a distant time and place and never leave your living room withthis new CD from the wonderful Anonymous 4." Dianne Nicolini,Middays on KDFC
"If you think the world went wild with millennium madness in 1999, try to imagine 999. It was a time when the Christian world was preoccupied with the Apocalypse and the Final Judgement. It was also a time of much creative activity, when the construction of great cathedrals began, Roman plainchant was revitalized and the creation of staff lines and solfeggio (the assigning of syllables to tones for teaching purposes) allowed for music to be written more easily disseminated.
With this as historical context, the excellent a cappella quartet Anonymous 4 has constructed a Mass for Ascension Day, a Catholic feast with ties to the Apocalypse. The quartet's members -- Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Johanna Maria Rose and the its newest member, Jacqueline Horner (this is her first recording with the ensemble) -- have done their homework, and it shows. As the detailed liner notes explain, the chants are among the oldest surviving notated music. The program is based on the Ordinary and Proper chants of the Ascension Mass found in 1,000-year-old French manuscripts, with newly written music and texts. Some are adorned with polyphony and drone, following rules of improvisation the group found in theoretical treatises of the time.
If all this sounds technical, understanding the Mass' inner workings does add to the enjoyment of the performance, which, as we've come to expect from these women, is stellar. Anonymous 4's now legendary silky blending of voices is evident throughout. "Mass for the End of Time" is a hauntingly beautiful journey back in time. " --Ira Rosenblum, The New York Times
"No doubt this disc will accompany all of the other
releases by this phenomenal quartet--phenomenal in every sense of the word--among
the classics of programming, exemplary vocalism, and minimalist production
techniques. While in some areas of music consistency is neither a virtue nor
a key to commercial survival, in the case of Anonymous 4, its absolute devotion
to a particular repertoire -- medieval chant and polyphony -- and vocal style
-- the purest, most natural, unadorned unity of sound--has made it arguably
the most successful and popular early music group ever. No one who knows
this ensemble's work during the past 10 years will be the slightest bit disappointed
by this beautifully conceived and executed program -- complete with processional
hymn, Ordinary and Proper chants (many with tropes, or musical/textual extensions),
and with added improvised polyphony where appropriate. The music is entirely
solemn and serious in tone--no dancing chants here--which is consistent with
the mass' functional aspect, but the perfectly joined unisons and vibrant
open intervals create a sense of life and presence that transcends all physical
standards of measurement. Whether the true millennium is this year or next--and
whether the Last Judgment comes sooner or later--just make sure you hear
this disc before it's too late."
--David Vernier, Classicstoday.com (Disc of the Month)
"..the spicily coloured performances by the Anonymous 4 are seductive and moving. Their grasp of the soul within this flowing, simple music is engaging." -- Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman, 2 October 2000"Dread of an impending Last Judgment was rife at the turn of the first millennium, stoked by the fear and confusion inherent to the Dark Ages. A longing for deliverance can be discerned in the era's chant, which vocal quartet Anonymous 4 have tapped for "A Mass For The End Of Time," centering on the Ascension mass from medieval France and Britain. Despite the material's apocalyptic subtext-and the rather frightening cover art-Anonymous 4 evinces the same serene, bell-like sound that has made the group a perennial presence on Billboard's Top Classical Albums chart. (And the quartet hasn't missed a beat with the entry of a new member, as Jacqueline Horner joins Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, and Johanna Maria Rose.) Such singing and imaginative programming-plus first-class production and packaging-mean Anonymous 4 can look forward to another hit album as surely as the doom-saying originators of this music faced another dawn."
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. . . . And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. . . . And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
–The Apocalypse of John the Divine
It was a time of dread and hope, collapse and renewal, of violent anarchy and the elusive promise of worldwide peace. As the first millennium approached, the alliances of Charlemagne’s ninth-century empire broke apart at the seams, and Europe was plunged into a nightmarish cycle of deadly feuds, invasion and war.
Slowly, painfully, a new European order began to emerge from the rubble. Once-pagan warrior kings looked upon Christianity as a politically unifying and civilizing force. The Church, under the brilliant leadership of Pope Sylvester II (formerly the scholar-monk Gerbert of Aurillac) began to turn this spiritual authority into political power. Great cathedrals, the first monumental architecture in the west since the collapse of the Roman Empire five hundred years before, began to appear. There occurred as well a burst of intense creative activity in European Christian liturgy and its music. The traditional Roman plainchant repertory was vigorously renewed and greatly enlarged; new developments in the science of music, including staff line notation and solfeggio, allowed the new creations to be quickly learned, written down and disseminated throughout Europe.
Much as the fear of nuclear annihilation was an ever-present theme in the second half of the twentieth century, so too did fear and anticipation of the Last Judgment and end of the world influence the late-tenth-century Christian world view. Although many simple folk were unaware of the exact year and its significance, laymen and clerics alike (themselves unaware that the “official” calendar was a few years off in dating Jesus’s birth) debated the exact hour and day of “the end.” Would it be on New Year’s Eve 999 or New Year’s Day 1000, or Easter, or Ascension Day, or Christmas; or would the end actually come in 1033 – a thousand years after the death and resurrection of Jesus? In his Apocalypse, John the Divine had seen the devil being chained and sealed for a thousand years, then let loose for “a little season.” Was the terror and uncertainty of the tenth century a sign of Satan’s return? Would an antichrist rise up, to be defeated in anticipation of the Last Judgment? Who would be saved, who damned, and what horrors awaited the earth?
In the Christian liturgy, the Last Judgment is most strongly conjured up in the liturgies of the Advent season, the Requiem mass, and the feast of Jesus’s Ascension, celebrated forty days after Easter. His imminent return, in the glorious manner in which he departed (Acts 1:9–11), had been expected by the earliest Christians; as centuries passed this expectation was transferred to the first millennium. Our program is based on the Ordinary and Proper chants of the Ascension mass, most with added tropes — newly written text and music added to make them more solemn or festive — drawing on related Ascension themes, including the Last Judgment. Most of these works are found in manuscripts of c. 1000 originating in Aquitaine, in southwestern France (many of them associated with the Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges). Two of them, the Gloria: Prudentia prudentium and the Alleluia: Ascendens cristus, are from the Winchester Troper, an important source from Britain, c. 1000, containing some of the very earliest written polyphony for liturgical use. The troped portions of the Aquitanian chants would almost certainly have been adorned with polyphony, created by the singers according to certain rules of improvisation that are preserved for us in theoretical treatises of the time. We have constructed polyphonic lines, based on examples from the Winchester Troper and on contemporary theoretical writings, with an occasional drone or ison to enhance the texture.
The Propers of the mass (Introit, Alleluia, Prose with Sequence,
Offertory and Communion) are those items specific to the feast at hand. With
the exception of the Alleluias, all here are enlarged with Ascension tropes.
Most notable of these is the extensive introductory dialog to the Introit:
Viri galilei, Quem creditis super astra ascendisse. It is a rich, self-contained
work in itself, modeled on the widely popular Easter Introit trope Quem queritis,
which is generally seen as the precursor of liturgical drama. Like the Quem
queritis, Quem creditis exists in more than one version; we have chosen the
melody associated with the Aquitanian abbey of St. Martial in Limoges. In
this work one can easily hear how the Aquitanian plainchant style differs
from the earlier, more subtly refined Gregorian style, most recognizably
in its vigorous, outgoing melody, with gesture and emphasis enhancing a strong
tonal center. The second of the two Alleluias, Ascendens cristus, is set
with an organal line in the Winchester Troper. The prose, or prose with sequence,
its origins related to the practice of troping, was a relatively new addition
to the medieval mass, with Frankish composers of the ninth and tenth
centuries adding great numbers of them for specific saints and feasts, large
and small, to the liturgical stock. The Ascension Prose and sequence: Rex
omnipotens, with its introductory trope Salvator mundi te ascendente, is
one of the finest of these. After each double versicle of the prose, an untexted
“sequence” of pitches follows, to which would most probably have
been added an improvised polyphonic or organal line. We also sing the extensive
trope, Elevatus est rex fortis, to the
Offertory: Viri galilei, with an added organal line.
The items of the Ordinary of the mass are those that (usually) remain the same regardless of the occasion. But in the age of troping, they could be made “proper” to the day with added texts. The Gloria is expanded with the Ascension trope Prudentia prudentium, and the Kyrie: Celestis terrestrisque, although its text is not specific to the Ascension, is designated for that feast in its manuscript source, written in the little town of Apt, where a fine, anonymous musician in an artistic backwater created new liturgical works of his (or her) own inspiration. The brief but artful Sanctus: Ante seculum and Agnus: Omnipotens eterne are intended for general use on high feast days, and we have added organal lines to their tropes.
The processional hymn Judicii signum enjoyed a long life in medieval liturgy, and is based on the prophecies of one of the early medieval Christian Sibyls. After the mass chants, we sing a Lection from the Apocalypse of Saint John, which, along with the sibyllic oracles, was the Middle Ages’ primary source for information about the coming Armageddon. Regnantem sempiterna is a perfect, gem-like prosa of the ninth-century West-Frankish school, and the hymn Cives celestis patrie, with which we end the program, describes the foundation jewels (and their mystical meanings) of the new Jerusalem — the perfect city that will replace the earth at the end of time.
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain,
and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem. . . . And the foundations
of the wall of that city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.
. . . And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one
pearl; and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
. . . And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall
be no night there.
–Apocalypse, chapter 21
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Discography:   Three Decades of Anonymous 4 1865 Marie et Marion love fail The Drop That Contained the Sea Secret Voices
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