Secret Voices

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Program: #11-46   Air Date: Nov 07, 2011

NOTE: All of the music on this program comes from the new recording by Anonymous 4, Secret Voices: Music from Las Huelgas, c. 1300.

The recording is on Harmonia Mundi and is CD HMU 807510.

The 13th century nuns at Las Huelgas had been forbidden to sing polyphony--but as the latest from Anonymous 4 reveals this virtuosic multi-voice repertoire.

Anonymous 4's newest program is a return to the heart of their favorite century, and to a repertoire that proved to one and all that medieval women could, and did, sing the most complex polyphony in the Gothic era.

This varied repertoire of 13th-century polyphony and sacred Latin song was collected for a convent of noble and aristocratic women, who were clearly used to having their own way. In spite of a rule forbidding the singing of polyphony by the women of their order, these sophisticated ladies sang the most beautiful, advanced and demanding music from all over Europe in the 13th century.

There are elegant French motets here, like the Benedicamus domino setting Claustrum pudicicie/Virgo viget/FLOS FILIUS, the original text of which describes pastoral love in the springtime; and the hybrid 4-voice conductus-motet O Maria virgo/O Maria maris stella/[IN VERITATE]. There are virtuoso conductus, like Ave maris stella and Mater patris et filia, with unpredictable rhythms and lively hockets. A playful Benedicamus domino à 3 is written in rondellus fashion -- like a catch or round -- typical of 13th-century British polyphony. There are also heartfelt laments, like the monophonic song O monialis conscio, a planctus written on the death of a beloved member of the sisterhood; and elegant duos with intertwining lines, like the sequences Verbum bonum et suave and In virgulto gracie.

We also get a glimpse into the musical dedication of the convent in a unique "solfeggio" exercise, Fa Fa Mi / Ut Re Mi, for the sister's music lessons, where they practiced singing their hexachords under the watchful ear of the music mistress.

The repertoire of the Codex Las Huelgas manuscript provides the proof that Anonymous 4, far from singing "men's music," are following in the footsteps of their much-older sisters who had no difficulty (except from their male monastic superiors) in finding and performing the most virtuosic, avant-garde polyphonic music of their time. It's time now for Anonymous 4 to bring them to life again.


  • Virgines egregie
  • Ave maris stella
  • Claustrum pudicicie / Virgo viget / FLOS FILIUS


  • Fa fa mi / Ut re mi
  • O maria virgo / O maria maris stella / [IN VERITATE
  • Benedicamus domino: cum cantico


  • Salve porta / Salve salus / Salve sancta parens
  • Kyrie: Rex virginum amator
  • Gloria: Spiritus et alme
  • Verbum bonum et suave
  • Salve virgo regia / Ave gloriosa mater / [DOMINO]
  • Sanctus & Benedictus
  • Gaude virgo nobilis / Verbum caro factum / ET VERITATE
  • Agnus dei: Gloriosa spes reorum
  • O monialis conscio
  • Benedicamus domino: Belial vocatur


  • In virgulto gracie
  • Ave regina celorum / Alma redemptoris mater / [ALMA]
  • Benedicamus domino à 3 (rondellus)


  • Si vocatus ad nupcias
  • Mater patris et filia
  • Benedicamus domino à 2
  • Omnium in te christe

CD Info

CD HMU 807510