In Mulieribus | A December Feast

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A December Feast

by In Mulieribus

A December Feast is a selection of carols and motets not only for Christmas but for the less known feasts throughout the month of December. In Mulieribus is a female vocal ensemble with a focus on the works written primarily before 1750.
Genre: Classical: Early Music
Release Date: 

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1. O regem coeli
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5:15 $0.99
2. Verbum patris umanatur
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1:52 $0.99
3. There is no rose of such virtue
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4:51 $0.99
4. Angelus ad virginem
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2:41 $0.99
5. The Fader of heven
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1:49 $0.99
6. Ther is no rose of swych vertu
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3:39 $0.99
7. Ave Maria
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2:07 $0.99
8. Tota pulchra es
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2:20 $0.99
9. Ave Maria
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3:50 $0.99
10. Generosa Iesse plantula
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3:46 $0.99
11. Personent hodie
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2:44 $0.99
12. Coventry carol
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2:45 $0.99
13. Sederunt principes
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13:29 $0.99
14. Psallat chorus/Eximie/Aptatur
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1:04 $0.99
15. Nicholai presulis
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2:05 $0.99
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Jubilant celebration, lavish festivities, and countless religious and
cultural traditions have historically marked the dark month of December.
Civilizations as far back as prehistoric times were impelled to commemorate
the turning point of the year, often in eager anticipation of lengthening
days ahead and a return toward the life-giving seasons of spring and
summer. Ancient Rome’s celebration of Saturnalia, the hugely popular
week-long winter solstice festival beginning December 17, and Dies
Natalis Invicti Solis, the December 25th birthday of various sun gods,
provided a convenient backdrop for the eventual transference of these
pagan holidays to the birth date of Christ. The fourth century decision to
celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on December 25 was thus more a
result of practical than historical considerations, yet, needless to say, no other
feast day in the calendar year has inspired more works of greater significance
or beauty throughout Western music than Christmas. From this immense
repertoire, we have chosen both ancient compositions and ancient texts set by
modern composers.
Composer John Vergin writes of his piece, “The inspiration for
There Is No Rose of Such Virtue is the lovely medieval lyric itself. The refrain,
it its simplicity and recurrence, is a meditation. With each verse the
music gradually expands, as the image of the rose - symbol for Mary -
steadily unfurls from its contained state (embodying, amazingly the
essence of all) to a full-blossoming anthem of angels. The music pauses,
falls back to the refrain; then with freshened awareness contemplates the
mystery of change, and continues on.”
Just a few weeks before Christmas, the Feast of the Immaculate
Conception on December 8 celebrates Mary’s conception without sin
and recalls the cult of the Virgin that was of particular importance
between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. It has the honor of being a
holy day of obligation for Catholics and is the only specifically Marian
feast found in December. The oft-set Ave Maria has served as the offertory
antiphon for this feast’s Mass since the eighth century, while Tota pulchra
es is the amalgamation of five antiphons taken from the feast’s Liturgy of
Vespers. In contrast, the lilting Generosa Iesse plantula from fourteenth
century England features a non-liturgical text that gracefully depicts the
Virgin Mary’s purity and “unblemished” state.
Celebrated on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents
was established in the fifth century to commemorate all the male
children slaughtered by the order of King Herod in his attempt to kill the
child Jesus. The haunting Coventry Carol was composed for the final scene
of a sixteenth century mystery play, “The Pageant of the Shearman and
Tailors.” Attempting to hush their children to sleep in hopes of eluding
Herod’s soldiers, the mothers’ lullabies are sung in vain as soldiers burst
in and tragically slay the infants. Also written for the same feast but
exuding a completely contrasting mood is Personent hodie, presented here
in an arrangement by Craig Kingsbury, who preserves the joyfully
triumphant character of the hymn tune.
The early Christian custom of commemorating the deaths of
martyrs as their birth into heaven eventually led to the organization of
the liturgical year whereby nearly every day of the calendar was designated a
feast day of a particular saint. December 26, the day after Christmas honors
Saint Stephen, one of the first deacons of the early Church and the
protomartyr of Christianity. The feast of Saint Stephen actually predates the
feast of Christmas and was celebrated as a major holy day for centuries as
evidenced by Pérotin’s monumental work: Sederunt principes. Easily one of the
greatest pieces ever written for this feast and representative of the earliest
extant pieces set for four voices, it was the Gradual sung for Mass on Saint
Stephen’s Day in 1199 at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This exceptional
example of quadruplum organum or four voice organa features the
Gregorian chant melody in the bottom voice while the upper three parts
elaborately interweave rhythmically charged melodic material back and
forth, often crossing one another in imitation and inversion. The result is a
mesmerizing texture rich with vitality and breathtaking to hear.
The Feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6 marks the beginning
of the Christmas season in several European cultures. The many medieval
liturgical dramas and polyphonic motets composed in honor of Saint Nicholas
attest to the popularity of this fourth century Bishop of Myra during the
Middle Ages. Legendary tales surrounding his gift-bearing reputation and
association with children served as the source for the nineteenth century
evolution and development of modern day Santa Claus. The two final selections
on our program display the ever-cheerful sentiments inspired by this
revered saint, and those that characterize the joyful Christmas season in the
otherwise bleak month of December. Anna Song


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