This compilation of Gregorian chant from the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz debuted at #1 on the Billboard Classical chart. It will be featured in a special two-part show to kick off Millennium's 2008/2009 season.
>> click here for a Q & A with early music expert Father Jerome F. Weber >>
Robert Aubry Davis reviews Chant: Music for the Soul for The Bob Edwards Show:
The A & R guy for Universal Classics and Jazz in London was playing Halo one day…you know, that best-selling video game with the weird pseudo-Gregorian Chant soundtrack. “What we need here,” Universal’s Tom Lewis thought, “is a fresh new group singing this stuff”…so, he advertises in European papers for groups to submit videos—kind of like the early rounds of American Idol.
Someone gets wind of this competition and sends an e mail to a Father Karl Wallner at an old Cistercian monastery nestled in the Vienna Woods. On the last day of this contest, Fr. Karl gets a video stuck on YouTube, which Tom Lewis sees, and (according to Lewis) these monks “made, quite simply, the most beautiful sound of all entries received.”
Flash forward to today, where the recordings by these monks is on the Top 10 charts in Europe for all music; and even before it was released, became the No. 1 classical disc in America today (a week or so after young conducting sensation Gustavo Dudamel achieved the same feat)—no, that’s no mistake—that is on downloads alone, and while this is the first time this technological series of events has happened, it surely will not be the last time.
Now chant aficionados were bracing for the worse…in the past, pastiches of odd and end recordings pasted together in a helter-skelter manner were passed off as the real thing—the original recording Chant, which featured bits and pieces of recordings made over many years, famously had browned-robed Franciscans on the cover…the Monks at Silos whose recordings those were, happened to be (like most monks who record) Benedictines—and Benedictines wear black.
Other recordings passed off to catch the chant craze have been inexpensive reissues of very old discs. And young secular groups have sprung up, who have explored many different branches of the repertoire.
So—the big question: Is this recording any good? As you will face the inevitable headlines: “The New Vienna Choir Boys;” “Vienna’s Newest Boy Band;” and try to get the idea that the Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz is a name of a best-selling group, rest easy, one and all.
Against all odds and expectations, this is a superb effort by any measure. Spotlessly recorded in that Holy Cross monastery founded in 1133, the arches of their Romanesque church reverberate with devotion, passion, and yes, spirit. The Cistercians had founded their order in Burgundy in 1098 at Citeaux (thus their name) to be more simple and austere than the Benedictines from which they sprung: Plain food, undecorated churches, unadorned habits, and even a simplification of chant, which they reformed in 1190.
Tom Lewis picked up on something here—their choice of repertoire was haunting and spare. No Christmas here, no Easter…we hear their Requiem mass (without a Dies irae, which was a staple for Berlioz and Verdi—written too late for the Cistercians)…but they added the lovely little Pie Jesu, which in latter years became a kind of hit for the likes of Gabriel Faure and Andrew Lloyd Webber in their Requiems.
And we hear the Cistercian Compline service for the first time ever on disc…the late evening service sung after Vespers, including the Nunc dimitis or Canticle of Simeon which is part of every English Evensong.
Like other singing orders, these monks have actually added young men to their monastery—28 in the last five years—and when you hear these sounds that seem to call across a millennium into the hungry hearts of today, maybe, just maybe, we get a glimmer of why this is so.
--Robert Aubry Davis for The Bob Edwards Show (July 1, 2008)