Aurora Performs Early Music at Chrysler Museum

      Continuing a series of programs over the last several years, tenor Jay Taylor and harpist Elisa Dickon, performing as Aurora, gave a recital titled "For the Love of God: Music of the Middle Ages" on Sunday, June 19, 2005 in the Medieval Gallery of the Chrysler Museum of Art, surrounded by carved and painted wooden statues of saints. The selections were drawn primarily from twelfth through fourteenth century European sacred music, most often attributed to Anonymous. The chatty, conversational introductions to the pieces were very helpful in understanding the music. From the dim reaches of history little written music has come down to us and what has still leaves many questions of how it was to be performed. Jay Taylor opened with an a cappella Sanctus and followed it with Alma Redemptoris Mater with a text based on The Prioress Tale and Angelus ad Virginem based on the Miller's Tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, accompanied by harp. The fresh immediacy of the musical setting was most vivid.

      In her spoken introduction to a solo harp arrangement of Alma Redemptoris Mater by Carol Lloyd Wood we learned from Ms. Dickon that the Medieval upper classes found harp music appealing. There were court harpists and itinerate harpists but little of the music was written down. "Just as it was 800 years ago we harpists are still roaming the highway with our harps."

      In the third set there were three secular songs by known composers and we were furnished with text sheets. In the text of Poz a saber mi ven et cres by Raimbaut d'Orange (fl. 1150-1173) the singer reflects on his role as poet who proclaims good weather and the happiness it brings as the world "is decked in green."

      In Guillebert de Berneville's (13th century) Haute chose a en amor the message seems to be the best choice is love, the allegiance being to the idea of love, not to any particular lover. Two pieces followed by Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377) of Rheims, France, the major composer of his day and among the first to compose polyphonic settings of poetry. His Gais et Jolis speaks of the joy of anticipation of seeing the beloved soon again and Rondeau for harp and recorder where Mr. Taylor demonstrated his skill on that instrument.

      After intermission we were treated to a selection of English ballads, some of which were characterized as "nasty, brutish and long." It is not a contradiction in Medieval art to combine religious works with stories of seduction, rape, revenge, suicide and murder, as we saw in this program. We heard Edi Be Thu, Glenkindie, Maid in the moor lay and King Orfeo, all by unknown composers. The audience enthusiastically responded to Mr. Taylor's dramatic powers of expression in these pieces.

      There were several problems with the logistics of the concert beyond the performers' control that limited our enjoyment of what they worked so hard to present. The museum staff had prepared for a much smaller audience; this has happened before at Aurora recitals. In conversation with museum officials the week following the recital we discussed staff training in courtesy and planning for future programs. We are hopeful that the museum will follow through to correct those problems for future concerts. Since Mr. Taylor and Ms. Dickon spent a year developing and rehearsing this lovely program and then bringing it to performance level, it is a shame that so few of us heard it. I hope that a church with a good acoustic space will host a repeat performance of the recital.

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