Monday, July 24, 2006

Anonymous no longer

Compositions by anonymous composers have an important place in music history. Recently Tonus Peregrinus' recording of the anonymous Mass Of Tournai and St Luke Passion has given me great pleasure. These are the two earliest extant polyphonic settings of the Mass and Passion. Both settings are written in three parts, the 14th-century Mass of Tournai was found in a manuscript from Tournai Cathedral (left) in what is now Belgium, while the source of the English St Luke Passion is an early 15th-century 'Windsor' manuscript. The works are sung by the excellent young ensemble Tonus Peregrinus directed by Antony Pitts, and the CD is unmissable at budget price on Naxos.

The Anonymous 4 (right) are another favourite. Their CD la belle marie features conductus and chansons in praise of the Virgin Mary from 13th-century France, and all the compositions are anonymous with the exception of Perotin's sublime Beata Viscera. Anomymous 4 are an American ensemble of four female voices, and their repertoire ranges from the medieval to contemporary composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies, John Tavener, Steve Reich, and Richard Einhorn. Some may find their tone too burnished for medieval repertoire, and they certainly present a different interpretation to the hairshirt approach of groups such as Marcel Pérès' Ensemble Organum. Tonus Peregrinus steer a middle course, and it is rewarding to compare Rebecca Hickey's solo performance of Perotin's Beata Viscera on their Notre Dame School CD with Anonymous 4's ensemble version. But in the final analysis no one knows how this music was originally performed, so all interpreations are equally valid. A particular mention is due for the superb sound on la bel marie which was recorded in the Christian Brothers Retreat and Conference Centre, Napa, California. Anonymous 4 record for Harmonia Mundi USA, which means that la bele marie, and their other releases, are available at particularly low prices from Amazon marketplace reseller Caiman USA.

Although anonymous musical contributions are important historically I am afraid they no longer have a place in the comments On An Overgrown Path. Spam and unwanted comments have not been a serious problem here due to the use of that maddening word verification feature. But increasingly a few anonymous readers have been posting strong comments while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. So, in common with many other blogs, On An Overgrown Path now no longer accepts anonymous comments. Registration for comments is simple, takes a minute, and can of course use a webname if required. All the other rules remain the same. Comments of any persuasion very welcome as long as they are not offensive, legally actionable, off-message, or gratuitously promoting an unrelated blog/website. Anyone who is unhappy with this please remember it is the publisher of the blog (i.e. me) who is legally responsible, not the writer of the comments.

Here are the last ever anonymous words On An Overgrown Path:

Servant and Master am I:
Servant of the dead
And master of the living.
Through my spirit the immortals speak the message
That make the world weep and laugh,
And wonder and worship.
For I am the instrument of God:
I am music.
-Anonymous


Image credits: Tournai Cathedral - Trabel.com, Anonymous 4 Christian Steiner via their web site. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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