Monday, June 17

Anonymous 4 appeal revealed


Anonymous 4 appeal revealed

By John Mangum

Everyone wants to try and uncover the secret behind Anonymous
4.

What about this vocal group could possibly account for their
rise to success? Perhaps the unique sound of four female voices
singing repertoire traditionally assigned to men intrigues
audiences.

Maybe the repertoire itself appeals to concert-goers. The
Anonymous 4 perform music written during the 12th, 13th and 14th
centuries, and medieval music gains new followers every day.

Talking with one of the group’s sopranos, Johanna Rose, one
understands why this is so, at least from the performer’s
standpoint. "We, as a group, focus on music from the 12th to the
14th century," Rose says. "It’s very satisfying to sing."

Audiences seem to find the quartet satisfying to listen to as
well. Because many are unfamiliar with the chants and polyphonic
pieces the group specializes in performing, they have to produce a
convincing sound.

Rose believes that this sound comes from the blend of four
female voices. Polyphony, which simply means "many sounds," can
sometimes sound dense and muddy.

Only the highest quality of singing can separate the strands of
a polyphonic work and create a lucid product. "I think that some
people feel that they can hear the individual lines a little more
clearly," Rose says.

Sopranos Ruth Cunningham and Marsha Gensky and alto Susan
Hellauer join Rose in two programs at the Westwood Methodist Church
Feb. 4-5. The first, titled "An English Ladymass" features 13th and
14th century songs praising and honoring the Virgin Mary.

Rose describes the program in more specific terms, revealing the
extent to which the performance will illuminate medieval musical
life. "You’ll hear a couple of chants which are mostly from the
Dublin Troper, which is an Irish manuscript," says Rose.

"There will also be mass ordinaries. Those are set
polyphonically," she continues, "and along with the mass movements
will be a mass proper. There will also be some devotional songs
praising the Virgin Mary."

The dominance of music associated with the medieval church
service affirms the importance of religion in the middle ages.
Courtly love was almost as essential, perhaps even more so for the
people who actually hung out at court.

Anonymous 4′s second program, called "Love’s Illusion,"
appropriately explores this other aspect of the age of faith. Rose
explains that even though the texts may be provocative (in 13th
century terms), monks or priests probably wrote them anyway.

"The texts are courtly love lyrics. They might have been written
in clerical circles.

"There are a couple of different elements within the works, one
of which is popular or troubadour songs incorporated into these
polyphonic or polytextural quartets," Rose says.

Rose describes them as polytextural because usually the popular
tune interweaves with others to form a satisfying whole. "They’re
kind of intellectual," explains Rose, "like a puzzle. But they’re
also very beautiful."

There, perhaps, is the key to the mystery. The group
successfully balances the intellectual and the beautiful which
grapple with equal strength in medieval music. The result can be
exhilarating.

MUSIC: Anonymous 4 at Westwood Methodist Church. Feb. 4 at 8
p.m. and Feb. 5 at 4 p.m. Presented by UCLA Center for the
Performing Arts. For more info call (310) 825-2101.

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