Hilkka-Liisa Vuori
hilkka-liisa.vuori [et]
p. 0407016534

Johanna Korhonen

Vox Silentii ry
c/o Vuori
Suopuronniitty 7b
02920 ESPOO
Suomi Finland

Vox Silentii and Bridgettine Chants

Birgitta Birgersdotter (1303 — 1373) of Sweden was a visionary and the founder of a monastic order. She was canonized in 1391 and declared Patron Saint of Europe in 1999.  Birgitta’s spiritual visions, or Revelaciones, were widely known, and about 700 of them were recorded. In one of these visions, Birgitta was instructed by Christ to found a monastic house mainly for women in honour of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The first Brigittine house was inaugurated in Vadstena, Sweden, in 1384. The second Swedish Brigittine house was chartered in Vallis Gracie(Valley of Mercy), or Naantali, in 1438 — Finland being part of the Kingdom of Sweden at the time. Brigittine houses included both a monastery and a convent. Birgitta is reported to have had a rich and varied life. She was of noble birth, a mother of eight children and a socially active figure who turned to her religious calling after being widowed in her forties. Birgitta’s visions had no regard for social status. The message was clear: penitence is essential for everyone. The Brigittine order had two aspects: meditative or contemplative prayer, on the one hand, and active work on the other. The balance between prayer and work was evident in Birgitta’s own life, which was both meditative and ascetic, and highly practical and extrovert. She herself said that there was no conflict between a person’s internal and external life.

The songs on our two cd´s ( Cantus sororum and Videte miraculum), are taken from the daily prayers of the Birgittine sisters. The songs are known as Cantus Sororum, i.e. the ‘songs of the sisters’. Birgitta wanted the sisters in her order to praise God by using a liturgy created especially for them. The liturgy proceeded in weekly cycles i.e. the same songs and texts were repeated on the same weekdays from one week to the next. The sorority lived week by week and through Mary’s eyes, studied the life of Christ and the life of Mary, the history of Christ’s sufferings and the salvation history from the time the World was created.

Birgitta outlined Cantus sororum between 1360 and 1370 together with her confessor, Petrus Olaf of Skänninge (d. 1378). Birgitta reported the words of the angel in Swedish, and Petrus translated them into Latin and wrote most of the texts of the offices based on the visions. Petrus also composed some of the music. Cantus sororum sings the praises of the Virgin Mary from various points of view. Each day of the week has its own theme. Sunday is for celebrating the Holy Trinity and the merit of the Virgin Mary. On Monday, angelic choirs rejoice in the Mother of God. On Tuesday, the focus is on patriarchs and prophets who foretold the birth of Mary. On Wednesday, the people rejoice in the immaculate conception and birth of Mary. On Thursday, the theme is the Virgin who gives birth to the Son, Saviour of the world. Friday is for grieving with the Mother of God for her Son’s suffering and death. Saturday commemorates Mary’s ascension.  

Ten of the songs featured on these CD´s are great responsories, which are the most meditative within the whole cycle. They are sung in the early hours of the morning. The antiphons are like little beads, which are sung together with the psalms. There are also hymns; the stanzaic and end-rhyme structure of modern day hymns are based on such hymns. Learning about the songs of St. Birgitta has been a rewarding experience for us. We were delighted by the songs’ richness in nuance and melodiousness. We have tried to sing in a way characteristic to folk songs. We have approached St. Birgitta’s songs in the spirit of prayer songs. The medieval term cantus (song) means the incorporation of a sung melody and text, a seamless entity in which the melody carries the prayer. This is the way in which we have also wanted St. Birgitta’s songs to be interpreted. A woman’s perspective is evident throughout. The history of Christ’s sufferings as experienced by his mother is reflected in the melodies (for example Rogatus Deus rumpere). Mary’s example gives comfort and support to women of today.

The songs were sung in Naantali Church, Finland, the very same place in which they were sung by the Armonlaakso (Valley of Grace) sisters all those centuries ago. It is enchanting to think the church must have sounded almost exactly the same as it did in the 15th century. We hope some of this experience comes through to our listeners in Heikki Savolainen’s recording. Using Birgitta’s words, we hope that we can share the experience of prayer in which “the sun and moon and the stars with all the other planets, and all the heavens with their courses and moving spheres, sound… with the sweetest note and with sundry voices.”  


Cantus Sororum (Proprius 2001)

1. Ave Maria (Hail Mary, full of grace) 2.Rosa rorans bonitatem (O rose exuding goodness) 3. Benedicta sis tu (Blessed be thou, Mary, source of beauty) 4.Sicut spinarum vicinitas (As the proximity of thorns does not degrade ) 5. Multe tribulaciones (The tribulations of the just are manifold) 6. Benedicamus pro nativitate (Let us bless the Son ) 7. Maria summe trinitatis (O Mary, seat of the most high Trinity) 8. Magnificetur rex celestis (Magnified be the King ) 9. Stirps Iesse virgam (The root of Jesse ) 10. Errorum pleno tenebris (To the world, full of error, / a light emerges ) 11. Vidit virgo in facie (The Virgin saw on the face of her Son ) 12. Tremor terre petrarum (The earthquake, splitting rock and darkening sun ) 13. Salve regina (Hail, Queen of mercy, our life)


Videte miraculum (Proprius 2003)

1. Summe Trinitati (Sunday matins, responsory) 2. Te sanctum Dominum (Monday matins, responsory) 3. Benedicta terra (Monday matins, responsory)4. Eva mater (Tuesday matins, responsory)5. Veni creator Spiritus (Tuesday prime, hymn)6. Benedictus sis tu (Tuesday lauds, antiphon)7. Corrige Virgo (Wednesday matins, antiphon) 8. Videte miraculum (Thursday matins, responsory)9. Perenniter sit benedicta (Friday matins, responsory) 10. Rogatus Deus rumpere (Friday lauds, hymn) 11. O Virgo (Friday lauds, antiphon) 12. Beata es, Virgo Maria(Saturday matins, responsory) 13. Gaudendum nobis est (Saturday compline, antiphon)


Per omnia humilis


Birgitta instructed her sisters to sing per omnia humilis (in all humility). Humility and submission were desirable in the attitude and voice production of the singers. In order to please God, the sisters were to sing purius et simplicius (as purely and simply as possible). ‘Pure’ meant focusing all thought on the holy text and singing it boldly and with determination. The singers were to sing with full heart and ardent desire, yet with humility. Birgitta also required her sisters to sing in full voice, but not loudly, boisterously or in a ‘flood of sound’ so as to show off vocal prowess. On the other hand, the singing was not to be lax, eak, frivolous or self-serving. The services dedicated to the Virgin Mary were conducted solemniter (solemnly) — in a festive voice and with wax candles and incense. The singing had to be uniform and executed with consensus and harmony. This was particularly important in reciting the psalmody. The sisters were, in general, instructed to sing somewhat slower than the monks.

The Brigittine church, with its long echo, was an excellent setting for reciting and prayer chants. Birgitta had issued explicit instructions on the construction of churches, based on her views of the requirements of the liturgy. The mandatory proportions of the church (width two times the height of the vault; length two times the width) and sound-reflecting materials seem to favour the resonance of a standing wave. The services to the Virgin Mary were sung after the ‘major offices’ sung by the brothers. Birgitta was well aware that this was a new thing: the usual practice was to sing the services to the virgin Mary before the major offices and in a modest fashion. Birgitta considered that her practice was the appropriate way for the sisters to honour the Mother of God.


Vox Silentii vocal ensemble


In the beginning was, and is, the voice. Our joint exploration of the secrets of the human voice began in Helsinki in the early 1990s. We had, each in our own way, ended up seeking a ‘different voice’: delicate singing focusing on listening, and a voice to touch one’s inner self. We met through the teaching of Professor Iegor Reznikoff of France, and in 1992 we founded the vocal ensemble known as Vox Silentii (The sound of silence).

We do not give concerts in the conventional sense. Our repertoire is liturgical music, and therefore a prayer in voice and song. The songs of the Brigittine sisters on these discs originally served as music in their divine offices.

The silence included in our name refers not only to silence as the starting point for all music but to the silence of the heart — a space for listening, a prayer. The space — the church — is crucial for our singing. The church in fact acts like a fourth singer, whose sound completes the whole. These songs were recorded in Naantali’s medieval church, built to the specifications of St Birgitta. It was completed in 1462 after two decades of work. This is the church in which the songs were originally sung by the nuns of Vallis gratiae (Valley of Mercy, in Swedish Nådens dal, hence Nådendal and in Finnish Naantali). Perceptive listeners will observe sounds that we do not actually sing. The high and clear flutelike overtones are a natural component of the human voice that can be highlighted in singing. The acoustic of the church reinforces the upper partials and makes them audible. The scales we use are also based on the overtone series. We aim to sing in modes based on natural tuning, which is slightly different from what we know as major and minor today. All fifths and seconds are slightly sharper than in the modern well-tempered tuning. The thirds and fourths vary according to the mode, giving each its particular colour; these intervals are in reference to the fundamental of the mode. The songs on this disc are in modes based on D, E and G. We have striven to observe the singing instructions given by St Birgitta (see above), but we have deliberately flaunted them in some of the songs: although Birgitta specifically forbade polyphonic singing, preferring the ‘old-fashioned’ monophony, we use a drone (a fixed bottom note) on occasion to underline the simple beauty of the melody.



These texts are written based on the texts in our cd-booklets Cantus sororum and Videte miraculum.