Broadly speaking, the term “occult” can be applied to any phenomenon which is in some way opaque or hidden from view. Anything that has been made difficult to comprehend, from an eclipsed planet to an allegorical image, may properly be defined as having been “occulted”. Alchemy, the Cabbala, numerology, and magic are occult arts because of the secrecy that surrounds them, and because of the deliberate obfuscation with which they
are described. The songs heard here treat these subjects with varying degrees of seriousness.
The Newberry Consort is one of Chicago's leading early music organizations, building its reputation from its home at the Newberry Library. Founded in Chicago in 1887, the library is a privately funded research library (though it is open to the public) devoted to the humanities. Its first complete collection acquired was the music library of Count Pio Resse of Venice, which contained one of the two known copies of the first edition of Peri's Euridice, the first opera performed in public. The Library now has over 300,000 items, including the complete library of the late musicologist Howard Mayer Brown. In 1982, Dr. Brown had suggested a series of early music concerts and nominated Mary Springfels as musician-in-residence to run the program. Over the next four years, she organized some well received programs. In 1986, she formed the Newberry Consort from musicians who had appeared in the series. These include a three-member core group and a number of other regular guest artists.
Springfels is a viola da gambist who has performed widely throughout the United States. Drew Minter, a countertenor, is a founding member of the Consort and has appeared in concert throughout the world and on recordings. The other core member is Donald Douglass, a specialist in early violins living in Massachusetts who has researched and developed a distinct style and sound for Renaissance violin music, and is also the founder and director of the Renaissance violin band called The King's Noyse. The Consort remains the ensemble-in-residence at the Newberry Library and now also holds the same position at Northwestern University. It gives four or five subscriptions series a year, with concerts taking place at the Library, at Lutkin Hall on the Northwestern University campus in nearby Evanston, and in Oak Park. Concerts generally include multiple works grouped around topics or themes intended to educate the public about a school, era, style, or other issue. Members of the Consort arrange the music themselves from original manuscripts whenever possible. Its outreach programs include consulting with the Chicago Opera Theater on early operas. It also performs at early music festivals and historical conferences throughout the U.S. and occasionally in Europe. It records for the Harmonia Mundi label and regularly participates in Harmonia, a nationally syndicated radio program. Among its recording projects is a three-disc project in memory of Dr. Howard Mayer Brown and drawing on his library materials now in the Library.
The second of that series, A Candle in the Dark, was released internationally in autumn, 2000.