Reaching across Time

By Lee, Louise | Strings, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Reaching across Time


Lee, Louise, Strings


Jordi Savall uses early music and history to nurture cultural awareness

aordi Savall has made his name primarily as a viola da gamba player, conductor, and composer. But increasingly, listeners should be regarding Savall as a history buff eager to engage early-music enthusiasts in learning more about specific historical eras as well as listening to, as he has put it, "the music of the history."

Savall's lifelong passion for history has in recent years led him to an ambitious undertaking: producing a series of book-and-CD sets, each concentrating on a particular historical event or period. In each book, Savall includes illustrations, photographs, historical timelines, as well as essays and commentaries written by himself and other historians and translated into multiple languages. On the accompanying CDs, Savall and a wide range of friends and colleagues from across Europe present the musical voice of the time.

"I've always been interested in history, both ancient and modern," Savall says, during a vidéoconférence from his home office in Bellaterra, Spain. "The worst that a human being can do is to lose his memory. When we lose our memory, we lose our humanity. We can evolve more as humans if we have more capacity to understand more of our past. There's no future without memory.

"It's a curiosity of mine, to put together music related to history and the literary sources. We can have another perspective of the important moments of history through the music," Savall adds. "On the recordings, we show the emotion of the moment through the music. You live it. You listen and your heart is touched by it. Music captures the emotion."

Savail's historical interests are varied. His 2007 release of Chrístophorus Columbus: Lost Paradises surveys the age of the explorer and presents a wide range of Moorish and Sephardic music and music of the Americas. Jerusalem: City of Two Peaces - Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace, released in 2009, explores the history of the city through recitations of primary texts and performances of music reflecting Jewish, Arab, and Christian culture and traditions. Borgia Dynasty: Church and Power in the Renaissance, also released in 2009, details the music and history of Renaissance Rome and the ruthless Spanish family that ruled it.

This year, Savall released Joan of Arc: Battles and Jails, issued on his own Alia Vox label and distributed by Harmonía Mundi, to mark the 600th anniversary of the birth of "the Maid of Orleans." The project aims to highlight the history of the young woman born in 1412 in eastern France who, claiming guidance from saints and angels, led French troops in the Siege of Orleans against English occupiers and paved the way for the crowning of Charles VII. Later captured and imprisoned by the English and charged with insubordination, witchcraft, and heresy, she was burned at the stake at age 19.

The Catholic Church pronounced Joan of Arc innocent in 1456 and in 1920, she was canonized - the first step toward sainthood.

The printed book for Savall's project includes essays, texts, and photos of paintings and other art from the early 15th century to illustrate the key events in Joan of Arc's life and the long conflict between the French and the English for control of the French throne during the Hundred Years' War. On the two accompanying discs, Savall and members of his ensembles Hesperion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya perform music by composers Guillaume Dufay, Josquin Desprez, and Johannes Vincenet, among others. The recordings also include music composed in 1993 by Savall himself for two films about Joan of Arc: Jeanne la Pucelle: Les batailles and Jeanne la Pucelle: Les prisons, directed by Jacques Rivette.

Also included on the discs are recitations of primary texts of the period, including a record of the trial of Joan of Arc, read by French actress Louise Moaty. "It gives you a very objective vision of this time," Savall says. …

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