October 9, 2010

Perotin: The Hilliard Ensemble

Wow. I don't know what took me so long to find the style of music called polyphony but this is the second album in a month that has absolutely floored me in terms of multi-layered vocals. This music is simply mesmerizing in its depth and beauty. The last album I reviewed containing polyphony was Utopia Truimphans and it was Renaissance Polyphony (1400-1600) but this album is considered Medieval Polyphony (500-1400) or in the 1100-1200 range. Its old. The music on this album is in excess of 800 years old. It is vocals with no musical accompaniment although you'd swear someone was playing something in the background like a hurdy gurdy or some other medieval instrument but I guess that was just my imagination playing games with me. It is from a composer called Pérotin (circa 1200). He was a European composer, believed to be French, who lived around the end of the twelfth and beginning of the 13th century. He was one of very few composers of his day whose name has been preserved, and can be associated to compositions.

When speaking of polyphony and Perotin, John of Salisbury (1120–1180) Bishop of Chartres once wrote:
"When you hear the soft harmonies of the various singers, some taking high and others low parts, some singing in advance, some following in the rear, others with pauses and interludes, you would think yourself listening to a concert of sirens rather than men, and wonder at the powers of voices … whatever is most tuneful among birds, could not equal. Such is the facility of running up and down the scale; so wonderful the shortening or multiplying of notes, the repetition of the phrases, or their emphatic utterance: the treble and shrill notes are so mingled with tenor and bass, that the ears lost their power of judging. When this goes to excess it is more fitted to excite lust than devotion; but if it is kept in the limits of moderation, it drives away care from the soul and the solicitudes of life, confers joy and peace and exultation in God, and transports the soul to the society of angels"
My only complaint is that the disk is a tad short at 56 minutes. It mostly makes up for the lack of music by the quality of music as it is crisp and clear. Sometimes these polyphonies can be quite muddled and distorted. Thankfully this one is not.

Rating 98/100

Here is a sample of one of the better tracks on this disc

Viderunt Omnes


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