Boethius: Songs of Consolation

Boethius: Songs of Consolation
Metra from 11th-century Canterbury
Sequentia - Benjamin Bagby
Glossa 922518

Although the original verses date to the 500s, i.e. far prior to most other music in this project, the main source for the current interpretation is from the 1000s — so only somewhat earlier than the largest early layer of repertory here. Indeed, full-fledged "medieval music" is often taken to begin with the 12th century, from which there are many sources, including crucial early documents around the troubadours & the French two-voice polyphony. (Of course, there are many volumes of plainchant sources from this era as well, and they should be seen as framing most any act of cross-referencing.) So whereas it's tempting to think of these as songs from the 500s, and the poems did arise then, it's probably more accurate to think of this music as from the 1000s. (Who knows how similar it might or might not have been, after 500 years.... As far as music from the 1000s, recall that the original "millennium" had only recent passed....)

More to the point, though, this is incredible music, generally in a monophony & simple accompaniment style. Bagby is in great form, the relatively new Hanna Marti is superb as well (playing Lady Philosophy), and Rodenkirchen brings his own history of pursuing early instrumental melodies & improvisation. (Sequentia has been using improvised accompaniment in their performances for decades.) It draws one in, and should perhaps be compared most closely to troubadour songs (of which, mind you, per the opening remarks, we mostly know only the latest layer of repertory). The sometimes dramatic & rhetorical qualities of the text emerge, making for a dynamic performance & album.

Sound is also excellent, with a commanding presence, and indeed a rich — although perhaps stark — palette of period timbres. In any case, I was surprised by how engaging I found this album to be. It's very effective. I guess all that hard work really did pay off.... I would have never expected to be so taken with such a project....

To medieval secular list

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 9 July 2018