REVIEWS: diversions ddv24122 The Rosslyn Motet
AND: "Rosslyn Chapel - The Music of the Cubes" - book by T. J. Mitchell
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW: (CD)
Believers will find it fascinating. The more sceptical might use it to accompany readings of The Da Vinci Code. There’s no doubt about it, though: the music is gravely beautiful in its relative simplicity, and credibly ‘ancient’. It is performed by an accomplished, pure-toned quartet of singers (soprano, contralto, countertenor and bass), sometimes in solos, sometimes in unison, and sometimes in uncomplicated polyphony. The singing is supported by an improbable consort of lute, violin, tin whistle and bagpipes.
The second work on this very short CD is an original composition by Thomas J. Mitchell, although also inspired by architecture: in this case, a labyrinth of blue and white stones set in the floor of Chartres Cathedral. Here, the booklet note is more mysterious about how Mitchell got from A to Z. I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy the music, and indeed, it is both sober and appealing. The a cappella ensemble is larger here: eight voices, with countertenor Tim Wayne-Wright contributing to the final song, ‘To Persephone’. The Chartres Singers do not have the polish of the group in The Roslyn Motet: pitch, tuning and blend are less secure, but the music’s modest impact is not spoiled.
Despite ‘church’ recording venues, the performances do not disappear in a sea of echoes, Especially in the latter work, the microphones seem to have been very close to the singers. This passes what might be called a ‘blindfold test’: I enjoyed the music even before I knew what was behind it. Ultimately that matters more than cubes and labyrinths.
CLASSIC FM MAGAZINE: (book)
CADUCEUS: (CD and book)
The Mitchells undertook their own cymatic experiments by sprinkling sand onto a Chladni plate and vibrating it with different frequencies. They found that the shapes created by certain notes matched the cubes on the ceiling. They also discovered what they call ‘The Stave Angel’, which appeared to be playing a stringed instrument with three fingers pointing to the notes B,C and A. They realised this was not an instrument but a stave, the staff on which musical notes are written. The three notes the angel is pointing to are the building blocks of the composition, accounting for 70 percent of the entire cube sequence. Stuart feels that he and his father are ambassadors of this beautiful piece of music that has been poised literally above the heads of people as the walk through the Lady Chapel.
Stuart told me that the time signature for the piece was also given by the cubes on the arches, The piece is in 6/8, moving to 4/4 as it comes to closure. This was also a common practice of the music written during the period when Rosslyn was built. Finding the rhythmic structure was equally important, as rhythm is the organizing principle in music; without it the cubes would just be a series of notes.
Having devoted 15 years of his life to research the mysterious cubes, Thomas Mitchell finally deciphered them through his knowledge of medieval music, cadences, Renaissance instruments and Pythagorean tuning, along with cymatic images and their associated frequencies. The Rosslyn Motet is reminiscent of Renaissance music, particularly that of one of the most famous 15th century composers, Guillame Dufay, whose music provided insight into the harmonic accompaniment of the Middle Ages.
While the book contains important information, including the diatonic musical scale, how the Fibonacci series spawns the Golden Mean ration, and the comma of Pythagoras, it is not as fully realized as the music, which literally shines from the recording. Beginning simply with the sound of the lute, a counter-tenor takes up a melody that is to recur throughout, a simple but stirring melody in the key of A minor. Exquisitely arranged with richly ornamented harmonies by Stuart Mitchell for a small chamber choir of soprano, alto, counter-tenor and tenor, the music is a healing balm to body, mind and soul. On listening, one enters a slower time.
‘The way people listen to music in the 15th century was different than how we listen today’ Stuart told me. ‘ Music is a far deeper thing than most people realize. It’s an important avenue for healing and spiritual growth’.
The instrumentation in medieval instruments – the lute, violin, bagpipes and tin whistle – is used sparingly, often as an interlude or to introduce new sections, just as the angel musicians on the pillars at Rosslyn appear at the beginning of the arched cubes. This is music to listen to again and again, music that resonates within the chambers of the body as it resounds through the holy chapel at Rosslyn where it was recorded. At times the music, especially when played on the instruments and bagpipes, sounds like a folk tune. The voices of the Tallis Chamber Choir add a liturgical element and the piece unfolds like a sacred tapestry. The sung text is one devoted not to Christ nor to Mary but to John the Baptist, the desert dweller. Thomas Mitchell believed a text was meant to accompany the melody when he found a singing angel holding an open book. He searched for a text and found one written in 800AD that relates to the foundation of early music notation. The text was a perfect match for the music. It speaks of loosening fettered tongues to ‘give voice to the voiceless’. This sung prayer requests the intercession of St. John to expel all:
‘stony hardness from our hearts,
As I listened to the music I thought again of the Holy Grail, which is sought by the Knights of the Round Table to heal the wounded Fisher King who dwells in the wasteland. This music has arrived at a time when we are in the wasteland, a poverty of consciousness brought about by our addiction to technology. Most of us live in a trance induced by the frequencies of electricity, computers and cell phones. As Mitchell points out in his book, sound pollution is a reality that we need to take more seriously. Perhaps The Rosslyn Motet is a hymn, a plea that asks us the question, so central to the Grail myth, ‘What ails thee?’
Included on the CD is Songs of the Chartres Labyrinth, sung by the Chartres Singers. The piece was inspired by both the famous labyrinth and a cymatics image created when an F sharp was played on a native American flute, forming what looks like a very similar labyrinth in the sand. The music revolves around this note and the accompanying liner information suggests ‘as if creating its own melodic labyrinth to allow the listener to wander through different keys and harmony and then back to the centre.’
Is the Rosslyn Motet following the true score that the builders intended when they carved the cubes? Perhaps only the Green Man smiling in the centre of the Lady Chapel knows for sure. But if it is not, it is a piece of music worthy of the quest and one that I hope will awaken interest in the transformative power of music to heal and open us all to new understanding of how we listen to the harmonic tapestries of life within and around us.