In the mediaeval church, Masses for the Blessed Virgin Mary were sung or said daily or on Saturdays (which was dedicated to the Virgin) in the Lady Chapels of cathedrals and the larger parish churches. Most of the music that survives from the C13 is devoted to the Virgin, and the content of the Mass would vary according to the season of the year.
In putting together the collection of chants, motets and songs for last night's Ladymass, part of the Harmony and Humanity Series at Greyfriars Kirk, Anonymous 4 were following in this tradition. Their performing it in Greyfriars' Kirk enabled them to exploit the kind of acoustic that a mediaeval abbey choir would have known and loved.
Anonymous 4's singing was heavenly, mellow, unadorned, and wholly in tune and in harmony with itself. The group sustained it for the full fifty-minute performance, with one voice after another taking a break while the others continued with pieces in fewer parts.
Plainchant was interspersed by words from the Ordinary of the Mass and polyphonic motets and songs, mostly in Latin but two in English (Edi Beo, Thu Hevene Quene and Jesu Criste Milde Moder), the words all set out in the extensive and informative Harmony and Humanity series printed programme. However, the programmes were expensive for those attending only one concert, economical only for those committed to the series. Many members of the audience chose not to buy them, and were thus at a disadvantage.
Beautiful though the performance was, this was not an easy concert to listen to, except by specialists in pre-Renaissance music. The whole sequence of works was sung, without any spoken or instrumental interludes, and most pieces sounded similar to those that came before and after them. A few, it is true, were sung at a quicker pace, and the Gloria and Conductus (Salve Mater Salvatoris) especially moved along at a sprightly pace. The audience heard each piece with silent attention but, by the end of the concert, restless relief between pieces was audible.
We were glad of the opportunity to hear these rare pieces, gloriously sung in a thoughtful and apt sequence, but were grateful that it kept to schedule.
Concert Date 21 August 2007
Music Transcribed and reconstructed from original manuscript sources by Ernest Sanders
Words Transcribed and translated from original sources by Ernest
Sanders and Susan Hellauer, with one translation from The English