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4 May, 2022

The Mystic Rose

With just two weeks to go until we give the first performance of The Mystic Rose, we asked Helen and James to preview the new programme.

“We’re greatly looking forward to unveiling our new programme The Mystic Rose, whose debut performance launches our season as the first ever Ensemble-in-residence at the University Church, Oxford. It’s fantastic that this programme is finally coming to fruition, a mere three years after we initially sat down to start planning it in 2019! It presents a selection of wonderful pieces inspired by the Renaissance cult of devotion to the Virgin Mary. There’s a really rich seam of fantastic repertoire to choose from – composers of the Renaissance were clearly greatly inspired by texts and festivals dedicated to Mary.

Detail from ‘Virgin of the Rose Garden’ by the Master of the St Lucy Legend, c.1475

“We decided to structure the programme around the four seasonal antiphons addressed to Mary that were traditionally sung at Compline – Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Caelorum, Regina Caeli and Salve Regina. These texts tell the story of Mary (and the whole Christian faith) through the church year, and the settings of these texts, performed at the end of the service, were often the musical highpoint of the liturgy. We have chosen settings of the antiphons from four different European regions, to reflect to reflect the spread of this form of devotion in the sixteenth century, and each one is programmed alongside other Marian works from the same musical tradition. We finish the programme with Robert White’s spectacular setting of the Magnificat, familiar to long-term Stile fans from our English Christmas programme, which we have loved revisiting.

“It is hard to pick favourites from such a wonderful selection of music, but one of the pieces we have most enjoyed exploring is the epic Salve Regina by William Cornysh, full of complex solo-voice verses and thrilling chorus sections. It comes from the famous Eton Choirbook, a collection of huge pre-Reformation motets composed at the end of the 15th century. By contrast, the latest work in the programme – Stabat Mater by Claudio Monteverdi – places us firmly in the world of the Baroque. It was originally written as an Italian madrigal Era l’anima mia, and re-texted into this sacred version during Monteverdi’s lifetime.

“After the first performance in Oxford on 18th May we’ll be singing the same programme for our Finnish debut in Helsinki on the 22nd May. We were originally due to be there in January, and were looking forward to experiencing a Scandinavian winter, but that trip was yet another Covid cancellation (hopefully the last!). We’re so pleased that a new date has been found and looking forward to ticking another country off the list.

It would be wonderful to see as many of you as possible in Oxford on 18th May at the University Church — a particularly appropriate venue since the church is dedicated to Mary the Virgin! Tickets are available here.

University Church, Oxford. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

 

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