Celebrating 25 Years of Championing Music

Marianne Lipanovich on April 9, 2012

Stanford Memorial Church is the Bay Area venue for the 25th anniversary celebration tour of the a capella quartet Anonymous 4, presented by Stanford Lively Arts. For those who know of this renowned group, it’s a chance to hear pieces from their recordings and performances throught the past 25 years. For others, it’s a chance to hear why these women have played such an important role in the revival of medieval music. For everyone, it promises to be an evening of joyous music that literally spans the centuries, especially in the Memorial Church, which is known for it’s very “live” acoustics.

Anonymous 4
Anonymous 4

The group began when four young women met to explore medieval chant. All had their own interests and musical pursuits, but it was obvious to all of them from the first reading that they had something special when singing this music together. Their first CD, An English Ladymass, was released in 1993 and immediately played a major role in renewing interest in medieval music. Since then, they have released 21 CDs, including their latest in 2011, with the rather unwieldy title of Secret Voices: Chant and Polyphony from the Las Huelgas Codex, c.1300.

The group has changed somewhat, as Johanna Maria Rose, who first proposed the idea of exploring this music, is no longer singing with the group. She still remains involved, however, and the overall approach to all their music continues to be that of a group of four, with no leader, exploring all the possibilities of the music they are singing. As they point out on their website, medieval scores don’t indicate things like dynamics, tempo, and expression, so they work with their own natural voices and a consensus within the group. They admit that this takes much longer, as it may take a while to try out all ideas and come to a consensus, but in the end, everyone feels like they own a part of the music. This sense of ownership also comes through when they sing.

Though they’re known for their championship medieval music, and especially that they are women singing polyphonic music that was traditionally thought of as music for male voices, their recordings and concerts also include music from the Renaissance and explorations of British and American folk music to work with contemporary composers. In fact, the four current members of the group, original cofounders Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky (who currently lives in Menlo Park and has been teaching at Stanford), and Susan Hellauer, along with Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, will be singing across the different genres, including a newly commissioned piece from Pulitzer-prize winning composer (and Stanford grad) David Lang. What holds it all together is their pure, clear voices, musicianship, and deep love of the music they are singing.

But don’t wait for a CD or a YouTube video, hear it for yourself.