Welcome to the Orlando Consort’s recordings page. Below are thirty-second samples from each of our recordings which, as well as giving you the flavour of the repertoire, also trace a history of medieval music. They are thus in chronological order rather than the order in which the albums were recorded. Click on the tracks to play them and on the album covers to take you to the relevant record company websites where you can purchase them. A few of the recordings are no longer commercially available though you may be able to track them down on EBay and you can still download the tracks from iTunes and other such providers.
The Orlando Consort has developed an understanding of over six hundred years of music that we could scarcely have envisaged when we took our first tentative steps in 1988. Twenty-one years later, we can look back over twenty-one recordings and more than five hundred concerts and discover a musical development and an appreciation of medieval music that derives from performing this vast and complex repertoire.
This brief selection offers a history of medieval music. There are many ways to write such a history dependent, in the first instance, on the materials at hand. Given that there are still key repertoires that we have yet to record the selection is inevitably limited. Nevertheless, this collection presents a valid picture of medieval music that offers us certain identifications with the past, most notably a sort of imaginary communion with the original performers who were, more often than not, also the original composers.
Nowhere is the overlap between composer and performer more evident than in improvised music. The earliest western European polyphony, from the ninth to twelfth centuries, emerged from various traditions all based on the addition of extra parts to extant plainchant (organum). These approaches continued to be the staple diet of the medieval period, but it is only in the earliest traditions that the music is notated. Alleluia v. Dies Sancificatus from the Winchester Troper is from the earliest collection of organum, and Mater Dei is an example of 12th. century Aquitanian repertory, so-called florid organum, where the top line decorates an existing tune to simple but haunting effect. With the Notre Dame School we first encounter the notation of rhythm, the renowned modal system (6/8, or compound time in our current notation). Benedicta – Virgo Dei genitrix lays two rhythmically incisive florid parts over extended plainchant notes sung by the ‘tenor’ part (the part that ‘holds’ the plainchant). A choir of men and boys perform the plainsong, much as they would have done in the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in the 13th century. Parallel musical styles were being developed across the Channel in England and the Sanctus is from the collection of music known as the Worcester Fragments, material discovered in the bindings of later books in the library at Winchester Cathedral.
Philippe de Vitry a cleric ‘learned in all the mathematical disciplines’, is the chief representative, together with Guillaume de Machaut, of the fourteenth century school of ars nova (a reaction to the ars antiqua of Notre Dame school). De Vitry’s Vos quid admiramini, bears all the hallmarks of the new style; contrasting texted parts informed by mathematical design built over a plainsong laid out in extended notes. For all the intellectual rigour that one can trace in its construction, this motet nevertheless sounds strikingly fresh and tellingly musical.
Although the main patron and collector of music at this time was undoubtedly the Church, music was an essential part of court life. Machaut’s De toutes flours demonstrates a distinctively rich harmonic language and is a fine example of the traditional obsessions of courtly love. Antonio Zachara’s Sumite, karrisimi shows just how ornate and rhythmically convoluted the style known as ars subtilior could become, with its contrasting meters and leaping contratenor lines. This is music that could be appreciated on the page as much as in sound and showed great faith in the talent of the singers called upon to realise it.
In England, at the time of de Vitry, a very different concept of harmony was in place that favoured thirds and sixths rather than the more austere fifths and fourths favoured by the French. The aforementioned Sanctus, again based on plainchant, fulfils the most common medieval demand of music for ‘sweetness’. This innovative harmonic system led to one of the most influential musical compositional styles of the fifteenth century, a consonant, rich approach described by one contemporary commentator as the ‘contenance angloise’. Its greatest exponent was John Dunstaple, though his Gloria in canon shows him reaching back to earlier musical forms and re-working them in a new way. John Plummer’s Anna mater is very much a singer’s piece, the imitation between the parts setting up a friendly rivalry that makes music like this extremely satisfying to sing.
It was the Franco-Flemish school of composers who took up the challenge laid down by their English counterparts to refine and develop the most famous music of the fifteenth century. From the grandly ceremonial (Guillaume Dufay’s Ecclesiae Militantis) through the intimate (Antoine Busnois’ Ja que line s’i attende) to the Mass (Johannes Ockeghem’s De Plus en plus ) and motet (Loyset Compère’s Ave Maria ) the principles of imitation, consonance, and attention to text apply. Just as noticeable to us, as singers, is that this music was written by composer/singers with an understanding of the voice. Indeed, all these composers worked as singers at one time in their life: Dufay a chorister at Cambrai; Josquin Desprez at one time in the papal chapel at Rome. Compositions were expected of them as part of their employment even if their primary role was as a performer or administrator of some kind.
When Josquin honours Ockeghem in his exquisite Nymphes des bois Jean Molinet’s poem calls on Josquin himself, Pierre de la Rue (Pirchon), Antoine Brumel and Compère to acknowledge the debt owed to the previous generation. Employment for these composers was often sought in Italy so travel was a constant requirement. Music in the medieval period was always an international art, and the spread of manuscripts at the very beginning of the sixteenth century now meant that all Europeans – such as Francisco de Peñalosa and his countrymen in Spain - could develop their own national style built on the framework of the Franco-Flemish school (Versa est in luctum). Moving well into the C.16th, we feature music by Domnique Phinot, Ecce tu pulcher, typically lustrous polyphony representative of the Franco-Flemish school, effortless, consonant and all the more rich for exploiting five voices. Trinkt und Singt shows us in lighter style, this in many ways a party piece inviting everyone to enjoy themselves.
It’s easy to perform medieval music with a solemn face, even the more upbeat numbers, in part due to the fact that it’s the last music that one meets despite its chronological claim to be the first. Few other than university music specialists would know who Dufay was, Machaut even fewer. It’s through our presentation – programming, notes, address to audience – that we endeavour to provide our listeners with a way in to this fascinating, diverse and rewarding repertoire, but there is another way: crossover. It’s no mistake that, of our twenty-one disks, exactly one seventh are collaborations with contemporary musicians, nor that we have a disk which interweaves the medieval with modern compositions, a strategy we frequently employ in concert.
Extempore and Extempore II are collaborations with jazz musicians in the form of composing ensemble, Perfect Houseplants. The first disk explored music from the C.11th to C.13th and Dudley Phillips’ Preceding represents only one approach. Extempore II was the greater challenge, a reconstruction of a festive mass from the C.15th using the L’Homme Arme theme as the uniting motif for the ordinary (represented here by Mark Lockheart’s Glory Be, his version of the Gloria) and taking for the Propers the plainchant for the Feast of St Michael and All Angels.
Scattered Rhymes by Tarik O’Regan, like Gavin Bryars Ave Regina Celorum which also features on this album together, was commissioned for the ensemble. It was written for four solo voices and for choir and here that latter role was taken by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The piece is in many ways a response to Machaut’s famous Messe de Nostre Dame, the wheel brought full circle.
Mantra is our most recent crossover project, a celebration of the first crossover when the Portuguese missionaries took their music to Goa and invited the local musicians to join in. Again it is the original music to which we return, but here it is refracted through a prism of contemporary British Asian musicians and our own response to the sound world which they inhabit.