“Passionate Young Urban Males” is the title of one part of the program, and “Eros and Ambition” of another. What could these themes have to do with this citadel of religion? A great deal, as you’ll realize after hearing Sequentia’s music. Notre Dame became as splendid as it is because the island on which it rests was, the members of Sequentia explain, “an autonomous mini-state, with its own laws and enforcement, free from the secular power wielded by the French king residing nearby...with aristocratic churchmen called canons, managing their vast estates and political intrigues from comfortable dwellings within the close.” These powerful figures not only built a great cathedral; they created music that was very much of its time and place.
The texts of the genre called conductus, from which much of the program is drawn, might comment on corruption and on the vanities of the world. And musically inclined clerics explored new polyphonic sounds from which the monumental style associated with Notre Dame eventually grew. The Island Sanctuary was, in short, an artistic hotbed, and Sequentia brings it alive.
[Originally published in January, 2011.]