Musicus Online Museum
Congaudent angelorum is built on one of the most popular sequence melodies of the medieval period. (For an alternative texted setting of this melody, see Ecce iam votiva). Its text was probably written by Notker Balbulus, a ninth-century monk who helped to develop the texted sequence. Both text and melody demonstrated considerable staying power, with polyphonic settings surviving into the sixteenth century.
Typically, Congaudent angelorum was sung for the Feast of the Assumption (15 August), which commemorates Mary’s assumption into Heaven. However, a thirteenth-century source describes a unique realization of this sequence at Metz Cathedral (northeast France)for the celebrations of the Finding of the Relics of St. Stephen, patron saint of that church. All the religious communities of the city came together to participate in a special ceremonial Mass for that feast, and performance instructions for the mass state that the nuns should sing the text of Congaudent angelorum, and the male canons and monks should repeat the melody but without text. The performance here follows that prescription.
The mixing of women and men’s voices in the same liturgy is remarkable; it was usually prohibited at this time. The sequence text itself may have provided some justification for this unusual practice: men and women alike are instructed to follow the examples of Mary’s chastity, “emulating the heavenly beings in chastity.” Furthermore, the text is filled with references to the joining of voices – both heavenly and earthly – in praise of the Virgin Mary.