On their fifth ECM New Series album, Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossum present a reconstruction of a 13th century votive Mass to the Virgin Mary, based on manuscripts and fragments originating in an English Benedictine Abbey. As Nicky Losseff, the trio’s medieval music editor, explains in the liner notes, “complex polyphonic music was important to the monks who lived at the Abbey of St Mary's, Worcester. Polyphony gave life to the otherwise ‘plain’ song of the liturgy. At Worcester, an unusual number of single leaves and fragments have survived. Through them, we have been left more than 100 songs, in many different musical styles: polyphony to adorn the movements of the Mass; the freely-composed, intricately-interweaving voices of motets; the stricter, declamatory tones of the conductus. All in all, it testifies to a thriving musical community. “
Singing this music today is more than ‘interpretation’, as Anna Maria Friman emphasizes: “There is a lot of guesswork and individual intuition in medieval music performances. We feel that performing this music gives us freedom to let our imagination and ideas flow, as though we are creating contemporary music.” The trio lays no claim to historical “authenticity” here: “It is impossible to know what this music would have sounded like in the middle ages and therefore impossible to recreate a mediaeval vocal sound.” This can be a creative bonus: “We have chosen to use the lack of original information to form our performance in the present.” In the case of the “Ladymass”, this has sometimes necessitated the bridging of fragments with new music. Noting that the Worcester Mass lacked a Credo and a Benedicamus Domino, the singers invited Gavin Bryars, a supporter of the group since its earliest days, to compose the appropriate settings.
Bryars proposed that his pieces be inserted into the “Ladymass” in such a way as to “maintain the same ethos, without any sense of incongruity”, despite the fact that his compositions would sound audibly different from the surrounding sections. The old and the new, literally and conceptually, intermingle in the work of this vocal ensemble.