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Graduel d'Alienor de Bretagne /Ensemble Organum * Peres
Anonymous, Gradual of Alienor de Bretagne Anonymous, Italian Anonymous
Graduel d'Alienor de Bretagne /Ensemble Organum * Peres
Genres: Special Interest, Classical


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Stained Glass Ceiling
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 08/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There was no glass ceiling, such as Hillary Clinton spoke of so thrillingly at the DNC, limiting upward gender mobility for women in 13th C European civil society, simply because the idea of gender equality would have made not an iota to sense to people then. Women became monarchs and feudal rulers often enough; the glass ceiling of the Middle Ages was one of noble birth. Otherwise, men and women lived in such different spheres of thought and deed that competition between them was absurd. In the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, however, the same stained glass ceiling existed then as now; women could never be priests, perform the mass, take confessions, or rise to the ranks of bishops, cardinals, or Pope. Still, in the special area of monasticism, women could achieve economic and political power far above that of 99% of their male contemporaries. At the large and wealthy abbey Fontevraud, in the Loire Valley, there were both men and women in orders, yet the endowment provided that the supreme head of spiritual and temporal affairs would always be a woman, an abbess. One such abbess was Alienor de Bretagne, Eleanor of Britanny.

Eleanor was born in England in 1275, the niece of Edward I and daughter of Jean II, Duke of Britanny. At age 8, she entered the convent of Amesbury, associated with Fontevraud where her grandmother Eleanor of Provence had preceded her. In 1291, Eleanor moved to Fontevraud, and in 1304 she became abbess, a position she held until her death in 1342. In short, she was a mover-and-shaker in her world.

This recording by Ensemble Organum aspires to authentically perform liturgical plainchant and polyphony from a single exquisitely illuminated manuscript, a unique graduel, owned by Abbess Eleanor, in which the music is notated in complex detail of pitch and rhythm in so-called 'square' note. Fortunately, historical authenticity is tacitly subservient to musicality; the chant choir is restricted to nine voices of improbable beauty, and rehearsal time has not be scanted. The result is the most splendid album of women's chant in the catalogue, rivaled only by similar efforts from Ensemble Sequentia.

Some of this Fonteveraud music is choral monophonic chant. Some is in the more evolved style of unmeasured improvisatory chant sung over a drone pitch, or a series of exceedingly long notes sung as vowels. And some is yet more evolved, using two and three part harmonic counter-voices, based no doubt on improvisatory practices of "troping" pre-existing chant or chanson material. These early examples of polyphony are remarkably free and fresh; the singers toss off plangent dissonances that later Renaissance composers would be too proper to employ. The last six notes of the Sequence "Res est admirabilis" are a cadence figure of five straight dissonant seconds resolving to an open fifth. Gone in a flash, not to be heard again until the 20th C!

Closed at the time of the French Revolution, Abbey Fontevraud has been restored and stands today as one of the touristic glories of France. I put this CD on my iPod recently and walked through the cloisters and gardens. It was a sublime experience, one I wish for everybody."
Well worth listening too
kswaterman | 04/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This was given to me many years ago and I can say that although I am not a huge fan of any particular style of music, I find this to be very easy to listen to and soothing to the ear. I can't recommend this if you have never heard this kind of music before as I have no real idea what to call this type of music, but when ever I stumble upon this I never fail to feel relaxed and in good spirits after listening to it."