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Anonymous 4: Almost Ready to Retire Their Angelic Vocal Chords

The a cappella quartet Anonymous 4 has been singing mostly medieval music together for more than a quarter of a century.

It's been said that when you hear the vocal group Anonymous 4 perform, you're listening to the music of angels or something that can't possibly come from our world. In a word, unearthly. Unfortunately, that sound won't be around much longer, as the group has decided to retire their angelic vocal cords with the 2015-2016 season.  


Here's the scoop in a nutshell: four women got together for a music-reading session one afternoon in the spring of 1986; they wanted to hear what medieval chant and polyphony would sound like when sung by female voices. Twenty-five years later, Anonymous 4 has performed for sold-out audiences on major concert series and at festivals throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and has made 19 recordings, selling over two million copies.  

The name of the group is a pun on the name used to refer to an anonymous English music theorist of the late-13th century, Anonymous IV, who is the principal source on the two famous composers of the Notre Dame school, Léonin and Pérotin.

The founding members were Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Johanna Rose. Some shuffling of members occurred with Cunningham leaving the group in 1998, to be replaced by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek.  Ten years later, in 2008, Cunningham returned to replace Rose.

As guests of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Anonymous 4 will perform at the Church of the Holy Trinity, 1904 Walnut Street, Center City Philadelphia, Friday December 12th at 8 pm. The program will be taken from their 1993 holiday CD, On Yoolis Night.

We last spoke with Anonymous 4 in 2005, on the occasion of the CD release of The Origin of Fire: Music of Hildegard von Bingen.  This week, we'll catch up with the group's Marsha Genensky to find out what they've been up to since then.  We'll also hear music from their latest CD, Marie et Marion, 1993's On Yoolis Night, and what's to be their last CD as they retire, 1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War, to be released early next year.

Crossover, with Jill Pasternak, airs Saturday morning at 11:30 am on WRTI-FM, with an encore Friday evening at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2.  Both airings are available on the All-Classical stream at wrti.org.

It's his parents' fault. For Joe's sixth birthday, they gave him a transistor radio. All of a sudden, their dreams of having a doctor or lawyer (or even a fry cook) in the family went down the tubes.