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David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2009

How much input did female singers and composers make to music of the Middle Ages? Bo Holten argues the case that it was probably more than we think. Certainly we are increasingly aware that many nunneries were not the impoverished places once depicted, and that music, probably at a very sophisticated level, was part of their lives. Here, with the help of recent research, Holten goes one stage further in suggesting that women singers would exist in the more affluent households, daughters not having to work enjoying the luxury of studying music. Whether or not any of this is true, it cannot detract from our enjoyment of a disc divided between the sacred music, that would have been heard in Paris’s Notre-Dame, and the secular songs of ‘Trouvères’, the folk singers of northern France. It is argued that the words and sentiments of those songs would hardly have attracted male composers, so that female hands were probably at work.  Most of the sacred scores come from the 13th century composer, Megister Perotinus, who at Notre-Dame would have had highly paid male singers of outstanding quality and well able to sing, what, at that time, would have been music of much complexity. Whether this music was known in nunneries is conjecture. The eight female voices come from the Copenhagen-based mixed vocal group, Musica Ficta, and sound more at ease in the secular works, though the reverberation of the church acoustic does tend to blur the vocal interplay of Perotinus. So a lot of speculation, but this oft haunting music is typical of discs that have enjoyed considerable popularity.

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