Hymns of Kassiani – history’s first woman composer

Pop quiz: who’s the earliest female composer you can think of? Chances are, it’s Hildegarde von Bingen. Although her star has risen from obscurity, she’s not the earliest, or perhaps, the most important. That honor belongs to Kassiani, or Kassia (c.810-c.865).

Kassia’s career had some significant differences with Hildegard von Bingen, who was born two centuries later. Von Bingen’s music and poetry were mostly unknown until her rediscovery in modern times. Kassia’s hymns became part of the Greek Orthodox liturgy during her lifetime. And remain so today.

Kassia composed about fifty hymns. Her most popular hymn retains her attribution. Many others that are still widely used have been misattributed or simply credited to anonymous sources.

The Cappella Romana hopes to restore Kassia’s reputation — and her work — by recording all of her music. And by providing scholarly documentation to accompany it.

This first volume features ten of Kassia’s hymns, including her “hit,” Lord, the woman of many sins (sung during Holy Week). Also included are works for Christmas and Lent, expressing a variety of emotions.

Also included is a 32-page booklet with a detailed history of Kassia, a facsimile of a medieval manuscript, and, of course, both the original Greek text with English translations.

The Cappella Romana are specialists in Byzantine chant, and this album is a stunner. The release is an SACD hybrid multichannel recording. If possible, opt for the physical disc rather than the digital download for this one.

The release has both 2-channel and 5.0 surround formats, with 192k/24bit resolution. Hearing this recording in surround made me feel like I was standing in the Hagia Sofia when these hymns were new.

I am so looking forward to the next installment.

Kassia: Hymns of Kassiani
Cappella Romana; Alexander Lingas, director
Cappella Records CR422

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