A Worcester Ladymass

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Worcester Ladymass is a CD of polyphonic vocal music taken from the series of 13th century manuscripts known as the 'Worcester Fragments'. The programme has also been performed worldwide.

The impetus for this project came from Trio Mediaeval, a Scandinavian ensemble of three women's voices. They asked me to create a programme of medieval music for them and gave me free rein to make decisions about repertoire. I had always wanted to make as coherent as possible a set of editions of music from these manuscripts since an examination of them had formed a major part of my doctoral work, and was overjoyed at the prospect of creating a programme and new editions of the music.

Looking at the surviving repertoire from the Worcester Fragments, it is difficult to piece together anything which makes liturgical sense, since the manuscripts themselves survive in such fragmentary form. Hanging some 17 pieces loosely on the peg of the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was the most coherent programme it was possible to create. I took the liberty of 'replacing' any non-sung Mass items (such as epistle, post-communion, etc) with songs of the genre known as 'conductus', in order to give as much sung material as possible.

Since the fragments preserve music from quite a wide chronological period (quite possibly about 50 years), there was inherent variety in the pieces available for choice. The Trio decided to juxtapose the medieval songs with new compositions by Gavin Bryars.

Most of the pieces already existed in a modern edition by Ernest H. Sanders, one of the 20th century's great medievalists. His edition is 'scholarly': it gives what there is, and doesn't necessarily seek to provide singers with the appropriate supplementary material for a performance. Moreover, 13th century notation requires extensive editorial intervention to make sense; Sanders himself notes in his edition that the notation does not always justify some of the editorial decisions he made. My edition differed from Sanders's in the matter of rhythmic and pitch decisions, and where there was material missing from the manuscript (because worms had eaten it, or someone had torn the page away), I made different decisions about how to 'complete' the pieces. The lattitude inherent in interpreting medieval notation of this period means that there are many possibilities for editorial decision: as another great medievalist, Richard Crocker, said: 'May a thousand ossia bloom!'.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherECM records
Media of outputCD
Size1 hour
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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