Saturday, September 3, 2016

CD of the Month: The Lily and the Lamb

Traditionally, September is dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the Catholic Culture website explains:

The month of September (Overview - Calendar) is dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Devotion to the sorrows of the Virgin Mary dates from the twelfth century, when it made its appearance in monastic circles under the influence of St. Anselm and St. Bernard. The Cistercians and then the Servites undertook to propagate it. It became widespread in the fourteenth and especially the fifteenth centuries, particularly in the Rhineland and Flanders, where Confraternities of the Sorrowful Mother sprang up. It was in this context that the first liturgical formularies in her honor were composed. A provincial council of Mainz in 1423 made use of these in establishing a "Feast of the Sorrows of Mary" in reparation for Hussite profanations of her images.

In 1494 the feast appeared in Bruges, where the Precious Blood of Christ was venerated; later on it made its way into France. It did not, however, become widespread in France before Benedict XIII included it in the Roman Calendar in 1727 and assigned it to the Friday before Palm Sunday.

We started the month on Thursday by listening to Anonymous 4's 1995 release, The Lily & The Lamb: chant & polyphony from medieval England. As the group describes the music on their website:

This program consists of medieval English chant, polyphony and poetry from the thirteenth through early fifteenth centuries and is built around three thirteenth century British (sic) versions of the sequence describing Mary’s experiences at the foot of the cross. The first setting, Stabat iuxta Christi crucem, a monophonic Latin work from the Irish Dublin Troper, tells the story simply and movingly, in the voice of a narrator, The second, Stond wel, moder, under roode, is based on the original Latin work, but is much longer and more elaborate. The English text of this work is written as a dialogue between Mary and her dying son. The third work, Jesu Cristes milde moder, also in English, is the most elaborate of the three settings. Melodically unrelated to the others, this version is polyphonic, set for two hypnotically intertwining voices. Its story is told in the voice of a narrator, and, like many of the works on this program, it is quite graphic in its depiction of the scene at Calvary.

You might note that the CD cover illustration is a detail from Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece, constructed and designed for a hospital run by the Brothers of St. Anthony for lepers and those suffering from other skin diseases, including St. Anthony's Fire (Ergotism). More about this fantastic piece of art here

And more about the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in this article I wrote for OSV's The Catholic Answer Magazine a few years ago. I clarify the different statuses of the Feast of Our Lord and the memorial of Our Lady:

Each September the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on Sept. 14, and the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows follows on Sept. 15.

The pairing of these celebrations, even in their different levels on the liturgical and sanctoral calendars, properly guides us in our levels of devotion and love of our Savior and Our Lady. He is our Divine Redeemer, to be worshiped and adored; she is His first disciple and our example. Both of these celebrations have a long history and are worthy of meditation.

Anonymous 4 has stopped touring and Harmonia Mundi will release a final CD of "greatest hits" later this month: Thirty Years of Anonymous 4:

The ladies of the chart-topping vocal quartet Anonymous 4, famed for their 'unearthly' vocal blend and purity of sound, have triumphed in concert on three continents; their listeners have bought nearly two million copies of the group’s recordings for harmonia mundi. This retrospective collection includes highlights from their 25-year collaboration with harmonia mundi, with repertoire ranging from 12th-Century ecstatic chant to American roots.

What a perfect cover!

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