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November 9, 2011

Anonymous 4 Retrace The Steps Of Their 14th-Century Sisters


In their liner notes for their newest release, one of the four women in the a cappella group Anonymous 4, Susan Hellauer, says that they are following in the footsteps of "much-older sisters." How much older? 800 years.

All the music on Secret Voices comes from the Codex Las Huelgas, an anthology of 13th- and early 14th-century polyphony and song that was compiled at a convent in northern Spain, the Cistercian Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas in Burgos. The manuscript was rediscovered in 1904, and in recent years has proved a very rich vein of material for early music performers.

While the Cistercian code emphasizes a life of ora et labora – "prayer and work" – and discourages music, the existence of this manuscript proves that these nuns enjoyed marvelous and difficult vocal music. While it's assumed by most scholars that the nuns of this abbey sang the glorious music found in the Codex Las Huelgas themselves, some claim the nuns hired a male choir to sing for them. However, one of the selections Anonymous 4 includes here appears to refute that notion rather bluntly: "Sing out these and other such things,/you cloistered virgins,/ golden nuns,/you are fitted for this/because you were born to cultivate polyphony." Listen.

Posted by acapnews at November 9, 2011 12:00 AM


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