Thursday, May 7, 2009

In review--Song of Songs

Stile Antico
Song of Songs
Harmonia Mundi

It's hard for many folks to imagine the Bible as literary text, much less containing erotic passages. It's even harder for some religious people, mystics excluded, to conceive of any sensuality coming from the Big Book. Yet, The Song of Songs, composed by King Solomon, reads as erotic text for some, and for others, as Marian text.

During the European Renaissance, several esteemed composers, set this erotic poem to polyphonic church music. The list of composers included, Palestrina, Gombert, Clemens, Victoria and others. The emerging English Early Music choir, Stile Antico performs work of many of these composers' interpretation of The Song of Songs.

As I'm writing this review, I'm suffering from a migraine, not to mention, stress from having to re-type this blog entry. In the past, I was able to heal migraines while listening to renaissance polyphony. I'm hoping I will achieve the same results listening to this recording. Suffice to say, I'm having some trouble focusing on the screen at the moment.

I'm pleased that this recording arrived in the mail because I have been searching for music set this famous poem for some time. I've never been a fan of the Bible, having been forced to read it as a teenager. But a few years ago when I was researching Christian saints and Mary Magdalene for a novel I was writing, I encountered The Song of Songs. I wondered why I never encountered the poem as a child. I'm sure I am not alone in this line of thought.

The Song of Songs is a love song that King Solomon composed for his beloved, a young Israelian woman. It predates troubadour songs by hundreds of years. It also mirrors Sufi poetry by the likes of Rumi and Persian poets. Similar to Persian poetry, the text of The Song of Songs, can be interpreted as romantic or sacred love.

It starts off with, "I am a flower of the field and a lily in the valley; as a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters: a garden fountain and a well of living water, flowing streams from Lebanon."

Stile Antico give a lovely performance of this collection or renaissance polyphony. The choir's repertoire proves quite challenging and offers a sensual listening experience. I'm reminded of the Seattle-based Tudor Choir, which also covered work by Jacob Clemens. Here you have an equal blend of male and female vocals, mostly covering the high lofty end.

This impressive recording provides Early Music listening pleasure, and possibly a cure for a headache, if I could only get away from this laptop. The verdict is still out on that one. Stile Antico has recorded two other albums with Harmonia Mundi, certainly worth checking out.

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