Words of the Angel

Trio Mediaeval

Debut of an exceptional female trio from Norway singing music from the Messe de Tournai, plus motets and songs, as well as a collection of Laude, and the contemporary piece by Ivan Moody that gives the album its title. Formed in Oslo in 1997, the Trio Mediaeval studied intensively with the Hilliard Ensemble and shares the English group’s sense of adventurousness and equal interest in early and new music. Their recording was produced by Hilliard singer John Potter.

Featured Artists Recorded

December 1999, Evangelische Kirche Peter und Paul, Gönningen

  • 1Alma mater / Ante thorum
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 2Ave donna santissima
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 3Salve mater misericordie
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • La Messe de Tournai
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 4Kyrie01:46
  • 5Gloria06:48
  • 6Lauda novella
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 7Benedicta es celorum
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 8Mater Christi nobilis
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 9De spineto nata rosa
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 10Salve virgo virginum
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • La Messe de Tournai
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 11Credo05:37
  • 12Stella maris
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 13Venite a laudare
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 14In excelsis gloria
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • La Messe de Tournai
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 15Sanctus03:15
  • 16O ceteris preambulis
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • La Messe de Tournai
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 17Agnus Dei02:12
  • 18Oi me lasso
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 19Words Of The Angel
    (Traditional, Ivan Moody)
  • La Messe de Tournai
    (Traditional, Anonymous)
  • 20Ite missa est02:06
Gramophone, Editor’s Choice
Stereophile, Recording of the Month
Recommandé par Repertoire
Crescendo, Ausgezeichnet
Neue Musikzeitung, Tip
The disc is spellbinding. All three singers have beautiful voices - pure but not blanched, immaculate in intonation - and they sound as though they have studied not only the function of this music but its context with care. They also sound as though they love it deeply: the melodious, already Italianate simplicity of the monodies, the fluid, sometimes joyously florid grace of the English pieces, and the two quite distinct worlds occupied by the Mass. It is a compilation, its sections dating from two periods, and the singers make this quite clear. There are effective hints of drama to the programming, too: the grave Tournai "Agnus Dei" followed by a moving pietà, the Virgin grieving at the foot of the cross in subdued monody. It is a tribute to Moody's piece, a Resurrection motet with vivid effects of dazzling light, that it can follow these without anticlimax. An exceptional coupling finely and atmospherically recorded; even those normally resistant to "early music" should try it.
Michael Oliver, International Record Review
Trio Mediaeval was founded four years ago in Oslo, and this is their first recording. Their voices are clear, firm and highly attractive. The three women can sing so alike that in the rondellus passages of "Salve mater misericordie" it is almost impossible to tell which voice is on top, so magically do they match colour and the slightest details of articulation. But they can also sound quite different from one another in the "Messe de Tournai", where the three voices have clearly different structural functions. Their intonation is also astonishingly pure. ... The "Messe de Tournai" forms the backbone of the disc, the six movements separated as they would be in a celebration of the mass, but filling the gaps with two other early repertories: monophonic Italian "laude" from the Cortona manuscript, and English sacred polyphony from around 1300, including some astonishing pieces from the recently discovered Berkeley Castle fragment. Ivan Moody's "Words of the Angel", written specially for Trio Mediaeval and making superb use of their voices, adds a nice touch of something slightly different before the end.
David Fallows, Gramophone
Trio Mediaeval, a group of three female singers, was formed in Oslo in 1997, and this is its first disc for ECM. They're quite a catch. ... The music ranges wide, from England, France and, appealingly, Norway, and comes in many styles. The programme is centred around the 14th-century "Mass of Tournai", interleaved with motets and songs. All this is done with a freshness as though this ancient music were written this year. There is also a contemporary piece - Ivan Moody's "Words of the Angel" - beautifully conceived, and in this poised, pure performance, truly ethereal.
Stephen Pettitt, Classic FM Magazine
This is a magnificent disc, exquisitely recorded with no artificial ambience, and not to be missed.
Robert Levine, Stereophile
Selten hat mich eine Debütplatte so überzeugt wie diese. Das beginnt mit der klugen Entscheidung, die mittelalterliche Messe zwar nicht wie die Sätze einer Sinfonie pausenlos aufeinander folgen zu lassen, aber dennoch der Versuchung zur Rekonstruktion einer vollständigen Messfeier zu widerstehen. Das Trio Mediaeval bettet die mehrstimmigen Messsätze vielmehr ein zwischen Marienmotetten und Sequenzen englischen Ursprungs aus dem 14. Jh. und einstimmigen italienischen Laude aus dem 13. Jh. Auf diese Weise hebt sich die dreistimmige Polyphonie ab und weist doch immer auf ihre Herkunft aus der einstimmigen Gregorianik hin. Im Konstrast zu diesem planeren Gesang wirkt die Mehrstimmigkeit umso festlicher und prunkvoller, was sie im kirchlichen Alltag ja auch war. Die drei jungen Norwegerinnen bestechen durch eine staunenswerte Perfektion sowohl im Zusammenklang der Messsätze wie in den solistischen Stücken. Ihre Stimmen erklingen mit einer Klarheit und Leichtigkeit jenseits aller Schwere und aller pseudoreligiösen Bedeutung, ohne darum die rituelle Herkunft dieser Musik zu verleugnen.
Uwe Schweikert, Neue Musikzeitung
Frauenstimmen in der Kirche' Undenkbar in früheren Zeiten. Die norwegischen Sängerinnen des Trio Mediaeval jedoch beweisen, dass die Musik des Mittelalters keinesfalls eine Männerdomäne ist. Ihre CD Words Of An Angel führt in die Klangwelt geistlicher Musik des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts. Engelsgleich wird hier musiziert, voll Transparenz und bestechend klarer Stimmführung.
Dagmar Zurek, Financial Times Deutschland
Drei junge Sängerinnen aus Norwegen machen sich auf ins 14. Jahrhundert, zu frühen polyphonen Stücken und vor allem zu jener ältesten erhaltenen mehrstimmigen "Messe de Tournai", deren Autor oder Autoren anonym geblieben sind. Dass Frauen diese Stücke singen, ist historisch zwar wenig belegt, aber was tuts, wenns mit solcher Klarheit und Ruhe geschieht wie hier beim Trio Mediaeval' Pseudoarchaisch geben sich die drei eh nicht, sondern wohltuend unprätentiös.
Thomas Meyer, Tages-Anzeiger
Als vor Jahren das US-amerikanische Damen-Quartett Anonymus 4 sich mit mittelalterlicher Musik einließ, war das eine Sensation, auch wenn die traditionell hohe Tessitur dieser Musik gerade für Frauen ideal ist. Jetzt gibt es in dem Trio Mediaeval ein Nachfolgerinnen-Ensemble aus Norwegen - charakteristischer, herb-kantiger im Klang und noch selbstverständlicher im Umgang mit den nur schwer zu Leben erweckbaren Quellen als ihre amerikanischen Schwestern .... Ein hinreißendes Trio.
Reinhard Brembeck, Süddeutsche Zeitung

"A most impressive new group. Their clear and unforced voices, with superb control of intonation and blend of tone, combine with an obvious musical intelligence, as evidenced by their ability to shape a musical line and give structure to a piece. Others have tried to reinterpret the medieval repertoire for soprano voices, but none as successfully as this young group." - Early Music Review

"Words of the Angel" is the debut album of an exceptional trio from Norway. The recording, made at the Evangelische Kirche, Gönningen, was produced by Hilliard Ensemble singer John Potter , who has monitored the Trio Mediaeval's development almost from the group's inception.

The Trio was formed in Oslo in 1997 and its musical direction was confirmed by intensive study with The Hilliard Ensemble at the Hilliard Summer Festival in Cambridge. John Potter recalls that "they already had that creative energy and an instinctive distinctive blend when they came to our annual summer school in 1998. This blossomed still further in subsequent visits over the next two years. Their repertoire also broadened during this period, adding a considerable amount of contemporary music to the medieval and Norwegian music that they performed with such elan. Medieval music has traditionally been the preserve of men, and the two-edged sword of authenticity hasn't made it easy for women's groups to make this music their own. The Trio's answer is to sing the music as though it is music of the present. The intense clarity and life that that they bring to it goes a long way to make up for the accident of history which forbade their sex from singing it first time around."

Through The Hilliard Ensemble , the Trio Mediaeval have come into contact with contemporary composers including Joan Metcalf, Paul Robinson, Markus Ludwig and Ivan Moody, whose "Words of the Angel" they first performed in 1998. Moody's is the sole contemporary piece on the recording, a jewel now re-set in the neighbourhood of the Messe de Tournai. Comprised of polyphonic mass movements from a 14th century manuscript, the Messe is interspersed, on this recording, with motets and songs from the same period, including several pieces from English manuscripts. Also included on the recording is monophonic music from a collection of Laude surviving in a thirteenth century manuscript from Cortona.

As Potter notes: "None of this music would have been sung by women. Medieval manuscripts show that women were just as likely as men to be singing secular music, but the unremitting hostility of the papacy to women in positions of power ensured that female religious houses could rarely support significant musical establishments. So the sound world that we enter here is an imaginary one, based on the question 'what if ...'"                                                                                           
'For most lovers of early music, the immediate frame of reference - a small female ensemble specializing in mediaeval music - will be Anonymous Four, a widely traveled and widely recorded quartet, based in New York. Anonymous Four announced recently that it will disband at the end of next season, after 17 years of invaluable activity. So the emergence of Trio Mediaeval, here in its debut album is doubly welcome. Like Anonymous Four, Trio Mediaeval will find itself, in fact it already has, singing many pieces that would not historically have been sung by women. But so many aspects in the presentation of really early music come down to conjecture or educated guesses in the first place, that no performance can be regarded as anything more than a rough approximation of what might have been heard when the music was new. The most one can do is to perform the music so stylishly and persuasively as to disarm purists, as Anonymous Four has done so often and as Trio Medieval does in this collection, which consists mostly of anonymous music in praise of the Virgin from the 14th century. A vaguely unifying factor runs throughout the disc: one of earliest surviving manuscripts of the Roman Catholic mass, found in Tournai, Belgium - probably a compilation from different times and places. In addition, there is a new work thrown into the mix, the title track Words of the Angel, by Ivan Moody, an English composer born in 1964.'

James Oestreich, The New York Times on the Web.

Mr Oestreich's generally positive review took issue with the absence of text translations in the CD booklet: 'Unless you remember your high school Latin better than I do and unless you can grapple with bits of archaic French and Italian, you will have to puzzle out whatever meanings you can from words resembling their English counterparts. A spokeswoman for the label holds out hope that English translations may soon appear on its website. Still there is no reason not to experience the album's sheer musical pleasures in the meantime. '

We asked John Potter, the album's co-producer and himself a noted singer - for many years a member of the Hilliard Ensemble and currently leader of the Dowland Project - to address the issue of text and meaning in early music. He sent us the following remarks:

'As the person responsible for the lack of translations on this and several other ECM records, I would like to contribute a sentence or two of explanation: It's a very complicated question which I hope to return to at length in future liner notes for ECM recordings (which I hope also won't have translations beyond some brief words of explanation...).

But briefly: after years of wrestling with the problem I feel that literal translations are at best misleading, and at worst restrict the creative listening process by appearing to channel listeners' attention into meanings that are no longer there. There is never a simple semantic correlation between composer/poet, performer and listener: the 'meaning' changes at every stage in the creation of the piece. Giving a translation (...into how many languages') inevitably gives the impression that the texts are what the pieces are about. The texts are what the pieces were about - perhaps (even in the 14th century nobody would have been able to make sense of more than one text sung simultaneously). More precisely, the pieces were about the contexts in which they were sung. All that has gone: the music is re-contextualised for CD and concert performance, and the meanings that the singers are trying to communicate now are a long way from what most texts originally meant. The transmission process (if that's what it is) is completed by the listener, and this is potentially the most creative stage of the whole business: poet and composer have done their stuff, the performers have added new layers, and the listeners then take the experience into their own heads, where it is personal to them and no one else. The texts are there for people to translate themselves if they wish.'
"A most impressive new group. Their clear and unforced voices, with superb control of intonation and blend of tone, combine with an obvious musical intelligence, as evidenced by their ability to shape a musical line and give structure to a piece.
Others have tried to reinterpret the medieval repertoire for soprano voices, but none as successfully as this young group."
- Early Music Review

Words Of The Angel ist das erste Album eines außergewöhnlichen Gesangstrios aus Norwegen. Das Trio wurde 1997 in Oslo von Linn Andrea Fuglseth gegründet. Mit den anderen beiden Sängerinnen begann sie Werke des Mittelalters zu singen, und schon wenig später besuchten sie die Sommerschule des Hilliard Summer Festival in Cambridge. Der Hilliard-Tenor John Potter, Produzent der vorliegenden Aufnahme, erinnert sich: „Schon damals besaß das Ensemble eine besondere Kreativität und ein charakteristisches Klangbild, das sich bei den wiederholten Besuchen in den beiden folgenden Jahren noch weiter herausbildete.

Auch sein Repertoire erweiterte sich in dieser Zeit: Zu der mittelalterlichen und norwegischen Musik, die das Trio mit außergewöhnlichem Elan vortrug, kamen beachtlich viele zeitgenössische Kompositionen hinzu. Mittelalterliche Musik ist traditionell eine Männerdomäne, und das zweischneidige Schwert der Authentizität hat es Frauen erschwert, sich diese Musik zu eigen zu machen. Dieses Dilemma löst die Formation, indem sie die Musik singt, als handelte es sich um zeitgenössische Werke. Die intensive Klarheit und Lebendigkeit, mit der das Trio musiziert, entschädigen für das Versehen der Geschichte, die den Frauen eine Teilnahme an der ersten Aufführung verweigerte. Da diese Musik nicht von Frauen gesungen wurde, ist die Klangwelt, die wir mit dieser Aufnahme beschreiten, eine imaginäre, basierend auf der Frage: ‚Was wäre wenn...‘“.

Das zentrale Stück des Albums ist die Messe von Tournai, eine im 19. Jahrhundert wiedergefundene, als vollständiger Zyklus erhaltene Messe aus dem frühen 14. Jahrhundert. Heute geht man davon aus, dass die Messe nicht von einer Person komponiert wurde, sondern eine Sammlung verschiedener bereits vorliegender Messteile ist, die zu einem vollständigen Zyklus zusammengestellt wurden. Dazu John Potter im Textheft: „Aufgrund ihrer Stilistik scheinen das Kyrie, das Sanctus und das Agnus Dei den drei anderen Sätzen zeitlich voranzugehen; sie wurden wahrscheinlich im späten 13. Jahrhundert komponiert. Das Gloria, das Credo und das Ite missa est zeigen die freieren Rhythmen und die entwickeltere Dreiklangsharmonik der Ars nova.“

Die einzelnen Teile der Messe, bei der es sich nicht um eine einheitliche Komposition handelt (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei und Ite Missa est), werden auf dem Album nicht nacheinander angeordnet, sondern von verschiedenen Sequenzen, Motetten und einstimmigen Laude unterbrochen. Obwohl an den Charakter des Gottesdienstes angelehnt, treten die Stücke aber auch in ihrer Unterschiedlichkeit und in ihrem Sammlungscharakter hervor. Unter den anderen Stücken auf diesem Album sind besonders drei aus England hervorzuheben, die wahrscheinlich nur überliefert wurden, weil sie auf der Rückseite eines Finanzdokumentes standen, welches mehr wegen seiner fiskalischen Bedeutung als wegen der Musik aufbewahrt wurden.

Die verschiedenen Laude auf dem Album werden einmal von den drei Sängerinnen unisono, aber auch je eine von den Sängerinnen einzeln gesungen: „es gibt dem Hörer die Möglichkeit, die Stimmen einzeln zu hören, und sie später in den verschiedenen Stücken wiederzuerkennen.“ (Linn).

In der Sommerschule des Hilliard Ensembles ist das Trio erstmals mit Komponisten der Gegenwart zusammengetroffen. Ivan Moody fragte sie schon, nachdem er sie das erste Mal bei einem Konzert des Festivals in Cambridge gehört hatte, ob er ein Stück für sie schreiben dürfe. Diese auf einer griechisch-orthodoxen Textvorlage beruhende Komposition ist die erste, die jemals für die Gruppe geschrieben wurde, und das einzige zeitgenössische Stück auf der CD. Seitdem haben viele Komponisten aus verschiedenen Ländern für die Gruppe geschrieben, so dass Musik der Gegenwart heute neben der mittelalterlichen und der norwegischen Musik einen gewichtigen Teil des Repertoires des Trio ausmacht.