Anonymous 4

Legends of St. Nicholas: Medieval Chant & Polyphony

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Here in 21st century America, we think of St. Nicholas as a generally sympathetic character -- you know, a "right jolly old elf." In medieval France, there was a legend concerning St. Nicholas that cast him in a somewhat different light. It seems that in the 11th century, the liturgy of St. Nicholas (which included some plainchant tunes that remain familiar Christmas melodies today, such as "Intonent Hodie" and "Exultemus et Letemur") became popular in churches throughout Europe, but the Prior of one particular monastery in France would not allow the newfangled music to be sung in his chapel, despite the entreaties of his monks. So St. Nicholas appeared to him in the middle of the night, dragged him out of bed by the hair, and beat the living crap out of him while teaching him every hymn, responsory, and conductus in the cycle. The next morning, the Prior announced his change of heart, and the St. Nicholas liturgy was sung regularly in his monastery from that day forward. The music itself is quite gentle and lovely, as the a cappella female vocal quartet Anonymous 4 demonstrates handily on this lovely disc. The pieces of the liturgy are mainly monodic plainchant, but there are some eerily lovely pieces of early polyphony here as well, and the members of the group include their own melodic readings of early St. Nicholas legends in the program as well. The vocals and blends are exquisite, as always, and the Mont La Salle Chapel in Napa, California provides a beautifully reverberant acoustic. Very highly recommended.

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