Full Well She Sang, women’s music from the Middle Ages & Renaissance / The Toronto Consort


Full Well She Sang was originally released in 1993 and reissued in September of 2013 on the Canadian Marquis label. The Toronto Consort performs here with nine musicians, most of whom double as singers and instrumentalists, playing recorders, lutes, bowed string and percussion instruments. Subtitled Women's Music from the Middle Ages & Renaissance the program is arranged in four distinct sections; from the Middle Ages is In Cloister and At Court followed by two sections of Renaissance music, Courtly and Popular Traditions and Italian Virtuosity. Songs and pieces for small vocal ensembles make up much of the program, interspersed with instrumental interludes. It's a concert of ever changing textures and colors that keeps the seventy-three minute listening experience interesting and enjoyable.

Sourced from extant manuscripts, paintings, documents and inference, Full Well She Sang seeks to relate the changing place of women in music and in society. Religious homes for cloistered sisters of the Middle ages were centers for the teaching of music and other arts. We have examples here of music from anonymous sources as well as by Hildegard of Bingen, abbess of Rupertsberg abbey from 1147 until 1179. From outside the nunneries come songs about romantic love and other ways of the heart with verses that are clearly from a woman's perspective. The two sections of Renaissance music exhibit the rise of polyphony with pieces by Robert Johnson, Claudin de Sermisy and Jacob van Eyck. It was during this time that music gained an important place in a young girl's education, leading to the appearance in the late Renaissance of professional woman performers and composers, including Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini and Madalena Casulana, all of whom are represented on this recording.

The Toronto Consort was formed in 1972, during the pioneering years of early music performance practice, a movement which would quickly pervade concert halls and recording studios. Counting Paul O'Dette, Colin Tilney, Julianne Baird and The King's Noyse among its many musical collaborators, the Consort enjoys a highly respected reputation around the world. In Full Well She Sang, these splendid minstrels provide a very pleasant listening experience, and an interesting perspective on a time in music history many of us all too rarely explore.

A much expanded Toronto Consort is in rehearsal below playing music of Praetorius, also from the late Renaissance