Benjamin Bagby / Hanna Marti / Norbert Rodenkirchen / Sequentia

Boethius: Songs of Consolation - Metra from 11th-century Canterbury

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Recordings by the early music group Sequentia are not as numerous as they once were, but they continue to break new ground. The medieval settings of texts by the late Roman philosopher and leader Boethius are performed here for the first time in about a thousand years. The texts are from the work known as The Consolation of Philosophy, written as he sat on death row in Pavia in 523 and 524 after his arrest on charges of treason against the Ostrogothic Kingdom that ruled Italy. Boethius' writings fall into two categories, prosae (prose) and metra (verse), the latter of which pertains to the texts here. Thus the music does not consist of stretches of philosophical prose but of sentiments of a more lyrical nature, and this appealed to the refined monastic singers of the later medieval era. Sample Si quantas rapidis ("As many grains of sand as the ocean whirls when roused by the surging winds ...") for an idea. There has always been evidence that Boethius' writings were sung in 11th century England, but the preserved notation consisted of neumes that showed the melodies' shapes but not their pitches. The recent breakthrough was the discovery of medieval songs that were associated with the meters of Boethius' poetry, thus enabling an imaginative reconstruction of what these songs themselves might have sounded like. The realizations are straightforward, with voice and harp from Benjamin Bagby and Hanna Marti, and early flute from Norbert Rodenkirchen, and the great strength of Sequentia's music-making since the group's founding is fully in evidence here: music a millennium or more distant in time seems immediate and involving. A fascinating release.

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