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Heavenly Voices

Heavenly Voices

Ref: CDG1181

12 tracks 60 min
Click here to preview trk 1

Glorious Choral Music

Music for angels and saints from the glorious English choral tradition. A rich sound, a fine acoustic, and beautiful, expressive music from the sixteenth century lifts the spirits and soars above the arches and aisles to heaven above! Perfect for relaxation and meditation during a quiet moment of the day.

Price    9.99

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Heavenly Voices
Glorious Choral Music

Music for angels and saints from the glorious English choral tradition. A rich sound, a fine acoustic, and beautiful, expressive music from the sixteenth century lifts the spirits and soars above the arches and aisles to heaven above! Perfect for relaxation and meditation during a quiet moment of the day.

1 Ave Maria William Cornysh (d. 1502)
2 Eterne laudis lilium Robert Fayrfax (d. 1521)
3 Nobilis, humilis Anonymous
4 Gloria laus Anonymous
5 Kyrie Orbis factor Sarum Plainchant
6 Glorificamus John Redford (d. 1547)
7 Sanctus Henry V
8 Agnus Dei Anonymous (early 15th cent.)
9 Nesciens mater Walter Lambe (d. after 1504)
10 Mater Christi John Taverner (d. 1545)
11Felix namque Thomas Preston (d. after 1559)
12 Ave cuius conceptio Nicholas Ludford (d. 1557)

Magdala, directed by David Skinner
The Oxford Girls' Choir, directed by Richard Vendome (tracks 3 & 4)
Richard Vendome, psaltery (track 3)
Martin Souter, organ (tracks 6 & 11)

P & C 2004 Classical Communications Ltd
Image: The Concert of Angels - fresco detail Gaudenzio Ferrari (1474/80-1546)/Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Saronno, Italy/The Bridgeman Art Library
Programme notes by Martin Souter, with thanks to David Skinner
Made in Great Britain

Like the architecture of the great English cathedrals, this music soars to the heavens and lifts the spirits. A theme of sainthood threads through the programme and music for a Medieval or Renaissance mass provides a serene context for a series of extravagantly crafted motets by the greatest English composers of the age. The programme of this album falls into three sections. Four motets dedicated to saints are followed by a series of movements which make up a mass, and finally, by four more works devoted to the Virgin. All of the music is English, and much of it is connected directly with Saints, either through the texts that are set, or through the dedications of the works to prominent figures of the period of composition.

The English of the first half of the second millennium, or at least those connected with the church, were, it seems, particularly musical, at least until the reformation of the church brought about by Henry VIII in the 1530s and 1540s. Henry was responsible for shutting down many of the country's most lavish musical foundations, which had often been the influential and wealthy churches and monasteries holding a dominant position in English society at that time. Many of them fostered and developed extensive musical performances and significant amounts of musical composition, for use in religious services. Surprisingly, though, despite this large amount of musical activity, the majority of surviving musical sources contemporary with this very fruitful and extended musical period amounts to only a small collection of manuscript choir-books and part-books. If they were assembled in one place today, they all could easily rest on a single shelf of no more than three or four feet in length. The music on this album is taken for the most part from this small but significant collection.

The Old Hall manuscript (London, British Library, Add. Ms 57950), for example, was prepared for the chapel of Henry V's brother, Thomas Duke of Clarence (d. 22 March 1421). Compositions in the manuscript attributed to 'Roy Henry' have been variously been linked with all three early fifteenth-century kings of that name, although earlier attributions to Henry VI or Henry IV have been ruled out in favour of Henry V. The Old Hall manuscript is certainly the most important collection of English sacred music from the end of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Much of the music is for three voices, such as Henry V's chordal 'Sanctus' (track 7), but the musical styles can also be somewhat complex with much florid writing. One of the most beautiful and 'modern' compositions in Old Hall is the four-part anonymous setting of the 'Agnus Dei' (track 8), which seems stylistically to look forward to the mid-fifteenth century.

William Cornysh and Walter Lambe were among the most famous musicians of their day. Cornysh was based at Westminster Abbey for much of his career. 'Ave Maria' (track 1) is a fine setting of the famous prayer to the Virgin Mary. Walter Lambe was a singing-man at Arundel College in 1476, and later took up the post of Instructor of the Choristers at St George's, Windsor, where he remained (with brief sojourns to Arundel) for the rest of his life. 'Nesciens mater' (track 9) is another hymn to the Virgin: 'The Virgin Mother, who knew not a man, bore the Saviour of the world.'

'Eterne laudis lilium' (track 2) stands among Robert Fayrfax's most accomplished works, and, unusually for the period, the circumstances surrounding it origins can be traced with some certainty. On 28 March 1502 Elizabeth of York, Queen to Henry VII, paid the considerable sum of 20s to Fayrfax 'for setting an Anthem of oure lady and Saint Elizabeth', now generally believed to be 'Eterne laudis'. The text, which traces the female line of Christ's genealogy, contains a number of tributes to Elizabeth, while the first letter of each line spells out the phrase ELISABETH REGINA ANGLIE.

'Mater Christi sanctissima' (track 10), by John Taverner, organist at Cardinal College (now Christ Church), Oxford in the late 1520s, is a work dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. It is a good example of the new compositional techniques of which he was a leading pioneer in the first two decades of the sixteenth century.

In contrast to Taverner's advanced style of composition, Nicholas Ludford, who was employed for much of his adult career at the royal free chapel of St Stephen (later to become Parliament House) in the Palace of Westminster, was more traditional. In 'Ave cuius conceptio' (track 12), rich, sonorous textures play a prominent role. 'Ave cuius' can be divided into five sections, featuring either the full choir or a smaller 'semi-chorus'. These sections reflect a text which celebrates the Five Corporal Joys of the Blessed Virgin (her Conception, Nativity, Annunciation, Purification, and Assumption).

'Nobilis, humilis' (track 3) is the song of St Magnus. This lovely anonymous setting for voices is accompanied by the psaltery. This small instrument, which can be similar in appearance to a small harp, often appears in the religious art of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. ' Gloria laus' (track 4) is an ancient medieval work, by the ninth-century bishop, Saint Theodulph of Orleans. The text is often translated as 'All glory, laud and honour', a well-known hymn for Palm Sunday. 'Kyrie orbis factor' (track 5) was sung on Sundays throughout the church's year. This version of the plainchant hymn is taken from the Sarum Rite, which was widely used in Southern England until the middle of the sixteenth century.

The programme also contains two remarkable organ works. Redford's 'Glorificamus' (track 6) is taken from the Mulliner Book, another lucky survival: a manuscript of keyboard works dating from the 1560s, but containing, in part, much earlier music. 'Glorificamus' is a setting of part of the text of the 'Gloria' from the mass. 'Felix namque' (track 11) is a setting for organ of words dedicated once more to the Virgin Mary. The source for this piece is another remarkable manuscript (London, British Library, Add. Ms 29996), a further invaluable survival from the early sixteenth century.

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