Notes and Editorial Reviews
Atmospheric and appropriate and gentle and reflective.
The beautiful booklet cover for this disc of Gregorian chant is a portion of the painting known as
The Mystic Lamb by Jan van Eyck, painted about 1430. I have been to Ghent twice especially to see this huge canvas. It always takes the breath away. We see a huge gathering of young female saints, like St. Barbara with her emblem of a tower and St. Agnes with hers of a martyr’s palm. She died in 304 and is the inspiration behind the CD.
A further layer of inspiration is a recent book by Margaret Viser called ‘The Geometry of Love’. The words of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose lie behind the gist of Viser’s book that the virgin martyrs “died
twice … for their purity and for what they believed” (Ambrose) and that “Virginity is really purity of spirit” (Augustine). Even so, female martyrdom continues to this day. The fascinating booklet notes by Jacques Janssen remind us that “Women are frequently victims of violence and sexual crimes especially in war times” and that rape is more common than we are prepared to admit. It’s made worse by many never wanting to speak of the experience. So that is what lies behind this disc and the radio program that began the process in 2004. Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus prepared this for KRO Radio as a musical exploration of Viser’s book.
So how does the chant map out?
A plan is given in the booklet which I won’t copy out here but you should know immediately that in the middle section of the CD short chants are set to break up some quite distressing readings. There’s the biblical story of the rape of Tamar by her brother Amnon in 2 Samuel. There is a harrowing reminiscence of a Rwandan woman who is gang raped by soldiers. There is Esther whose baby, born out of wedlock, is taken away from her by nuns in Dublin. This happened as recently as 1999 the Nuns having agreed to give her permanent refuge. These are interspersed with chants from the psalms. The last is followed by ‘A Voice is heard in Rama of lamenting and bitter mourning Rachael weeping for her children with none to comfort her’ (Psalm 79) and ‘Vindicate me O God and plead my cause against the ungodly’ (Psalm 43). There is also the chanting of the story of the martyrdom of St. Agnes from the writings of Ambrose. Her rape and death are regarded as a special fate which led her to celestial glory “Agnes overcame the gender of her body and the undefiled enclosure of flesh, prevailed over flesh’.
There are two readings from the ‘Holy Text of Naeeda Aurangzeb’ split by the
Ave Verum Corpus chant followed by ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ by Marthe Link. In this she declares, after her violation, that “I want to allow the pain of knowing” and she proclaims that she will soon “let go her bitterment”. This is followed by a hymn to St. Agnes “The blessed Agnes stood in the midst of the fire and stretched forth her hands unto the Lord” and asked for forgiveness although she had done nothing wrong. The point of much of this writing is that many women after rape feel that they have been partially, at least, responsible - to bare the suffering alone, painfully and silently..
After the Magnificat, which is the prayer of praise by the Virgin Mary, a Litany follows. In fact it is Part 2 of the same one that opened the disc “From all oppression/Lord, save your people/From exploitation and poverty… From false accusation…from physical abuse…from sexual exploitation … For fairer treatment … from forced marriages … Good Lord deliver us.”
The sources of the chants from Solesmes’ own
Antiphonal and their
Liber Hymnarius are given and I certainly approve of these. The chanting by Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus is atmospheric and appropriate and gentle and reflective. The readings by Catherina van Maanen are clear and thoughtful. For anyone affected by rape, as we have been within our family. For those who would like a spiritual if somewhat harrowing experience which may help anyone who is a victim in any way, then this unique CD may well be worth investing in.
-- Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International
THE MARTYRED VIRGINS
Stan Hollaardt, dir; Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus
BRILLIANT 94314 (72:31
Text and Translation)
This is the most disturbing chant record I have ever heard. (But read on.) The chant selections are interleaved with readings (two in Latin, the rest in English) illustrating the subtitle of the disc,
A Gregorian Memorial to Female Victims of Violence
. The classic examples are the virgin martyrs of old, the subject of a study by the anthropologist Margaret Visser. She argues from the example of history that these victims of persecution were honored by the Church for a purity of spirit that was not likely preserved intact during their sufferings. Some of the chants are taken from the feast of St. Agnes, the prototypical Roman virgin-martyr, and include
Vox in Rama
(on the Holy Innocents killed by order of Herod after the birth of Christ). The two Latin readings are from the sermon of St. Ambrose on virgins, and the other readings range from the Old Testament story of Tamar to varied contemporary accounts of abused women. The most original part of the program, which was created for a KRO (Dutch Catholic radio) broadcast, is a litany that begins and ends the story. The saints invoked in the first half are virgin martyrs, and the petitions that follow in the other half list crimes against women that beg to be banished.
Hollaardt has made five earlier chant CDs, detailed on chantdiscography.com (search: stan). The programming of these discs shows the same originality that the present disc does, and his interpretations are worthy of the semiological approach. Some of the chants are sung from the most recent editions, the
(29:5 and 32:2), the
of 1983, and the recent liturgy of the hours and psalter. This program is an unusual way of making a political statement, and an unusually effective one at that. If the theme intrigues you, don’t miss it. It may move you mightily.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
Works on This Recording
Litany: Part 1 by Anonymous
Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus
Litany: Part 2 by Anonymous
Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus
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