I don’t remember exactly when was the first time I’ve heard Savall but I have a memory of his version of Greensleeves seen on Mezzo TV station. I just couldn’t change the station, my finger blocked on the remote and I gazed as the music was going faster and faster. And the instruments… never seen them before. The head of the viola da gamba had actually a graved figure in the wood (see last picture of this article). I thought those instruments could be seen only in museums. But someone was indeed playing them. Since then I’ve started looking for more information about Jordi Savall.
In this article we will talk about a music that is very old and yet so full of youth and very joyful. When you will hear it for the first time a slight warm feeling will surround you and a tendancy to bow before the audience will be required. Because this is the music that was played at the King’s Yards and not only, hundreds of years ago. And yet, there are still people who perform this type of music even in the present days.
One of these people is Jordi Savall. The viola da gamba player, conducter and composer was born in Spain in 1941 and from my point of view is the most proeminent figure of the early music. He is responsable for bringing back to stage instruments from the medieval and renaissance periods and maintaining the historical accuracy of the music performed in that time. Savall began music studies at the age of 6 and graduated the Barcelona Conservatory of Music.
After finishing his studies at the Conservatory he began his training in ancient music with the Ars Musicae ensemble and studying furthermore in Switzerland. In 1974 he formed along side his wife, the soprano Montserrat Figueras, the Hesperion XX group. It was formed with musicians from different countries and became in short time the promoter of medieval, renaissance and baroque music all over the world.
The fidelity of the interpretation was remarcable and with the return to Spain from Switzerland he founded Capella Reial de Catalunya in order to reach also the aspect of early vocal music. With that, all aspects of ancient music could be covered and the repertoire included also baroque and classic music. Since the 1970’s Jordi Savall has carried out an intense activity as a concert performer and conducter, won many awards, made more that 100 recordings of which you can see on his site one of the latest albums ISTAMBUL. DIMITRIE CANTEMIR. “The Book of the Science Music” and the Sephardic and Armenian musical traditions.
We all know who was Dimitrie Cantemir from our history books. But few know that the Prince of Moldavia lived in forced exile in Istanbul where he learned and composed music. He is actually known to be the first composer of the well “acclaimed” manea music. So, I am sorry to dissapoint you but today gypsies did not invent this music and it certainly did not sound like the one they “perform” today. Anyway, we have to agree that the turkish traditional music left a mark in the traditional romanian music. It is in our roots and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Moreover, if you listen to Savalls recordings of the oriental music you will recognize musical motives from romanian fiddlers songs.
Istanbul was an important religious and cultural crossroad in the time when Dimitrie Cantemir arrived there at the age of 20. Many europeans were attracted to this place and artists as well. Cantemir quickly became a famous singer and composer. He used to play to an instrument called tanbur which was a type of lute. As a composer he was recognized with his Kitab-i ilm-i musiki (The Book of the Science of Music) which was dedicated to Sultan Ahmed III and this work is also the starting point of Jordi Savall’s latest album project.
Jordi Savalls devoted spirit in revelating this lost music was truly appreciated in 2007 when alongside Hesperion XXI and Capella Reial de Catalunya concerted in Bucharest at the Romanian Atheneum during the George Enescu Festival. Two incredible late-evening concerts made the audience burst in applause and astonishment.
Two concerts were not enough to satisfy the audience but we were able to better understand and appreciate this music. Beethoven may be played on a daily bases and we all heard at some point in our life something from that composer, but what happend before that should interest us as well. It is very interesting to discover how complex was the music composition in some places long before Mozart was even born.
And the interpretation was different to. Take Montserrat Figureas for example. First time you hear her voice you’ll think something is wrong. Her voice timbre is so unique and is something you haven’t heard before. She has not the usual post-Romantic school education but the studied and educated voice that reveales a technique that is able to replicate the singing of the trubadurs and medieval music. It is a totally different vocal experience and whoever witnessed those concerts can consider himself lucky because is not everyday that you meet someone who is so dedicated in adopting a certain type of vocal singing. She began studying these techniques since 1966 and in 1968 pursued her education at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Musikakedemie. Through her singing we can make ourself an ideea of the vocal singing before 1800.
You all know that expression: “It runs in the family”. Well, Jordi Savall’s family is no exception to that. In the first evening we were able to hear Arianna Savall playing the harp. She is an angelic appearance, right out of fairy tales, enchanting with the simple plucking of the harp’s chords. She was born in Switzerland in 1972 and began studying the harp at the age of ten. When she returned to Barcelona she began also to study voice at the Conservatory of Terrassa. We could hear her vocal skills in the second evening along side Capella Reial.
The Capella Reial de Catalunya was formed by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras, in order to maintain the vocal cultural identity of the Hispanic golden age music, historically accurate and performed by hispanic and latin voices. After 13 years of research and interpretation in the field of early music this chapel was born, after the model of the royal chapels performing both religious and secular music. Together with the Hesperion XXI achieve a larger repertoire and its name is displayed at major music festivals around the world.
Hesperion XX was a common desire in rediscovering the music before the 1800. The ensemble was formed in 1974 by Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith. Since then, a lot of early music repertoire was presented again after hundreds of years to the public. At the beginning of the new millennium, Hesperion XX changed it’s name into Hesperion XXI and performed furthermore at the main international music festivals.
Another member of the Savall’s family is Ferran Savall, born in 1979. It is common to pursue a music carrier while living in an environment where music is an every day life. Ferran began studying guitar at the age of 15 at the Escola Luthier. It is not only early music that intrests Ferran Savall. He is inspired also by world music, soul and black music and adopting also the modern music in his compositions. In 2002 he performed in a vocal group led by Bobby McFerrin at the Victoria Jazz Festival.
All these informations were extracted from the official site where you can find more interesting and larger informations regarding the artists and their repertoire. Also Wikipedia is at hand. Again, the site provides audio samples which is great. I love these sites were you can hear the artistis music while reading about them. Especially for us, because it is rather difficult if not impossible to find an original CD in our music stores. But maybe if more people show interest in this music, the demand will be greater.
Personally, I was delighted to hear them performing live. For two nights I’ve travelled back in time and I was amazed how beautiful the music was. I mean, you start thinking about the lifes of the people who composed this music. How they’ve lived and what triggered them in writing such incredible songs.
One thing that fascinates me at these ensembles is the percussion. Pedro Estevan is mainly responsable for this area and is someone you can’t miss. Not only by looks but also because this music would not sound at its best without the rhythm. I am a huge fan of world percussion instruments (I got myself a tar a month ago) and maybe that’s why I am such a big fun of these musical groups. If you will search YouTube for videos you will easily find Pedro Estevan after his long beard and also for his green drum. It has that profound low sound that emphasizes the music in the right way.
I was able to assist to their rehearsals (most of the pictures are from the rehearsals, because I wanted to enjoy as much as I could the concerts). At some point the rehearsal stopped and everybody left the room and I was like a child at the Christmas tree, because I could see from close the instruments. It’s always an emotional thing to get close in real life to things that you’ve seen only on tv, or maybe just heard them on the radio. Well, the green drum is real, I can assure you of that. Actually all the instruments are real 🙂
The members of the vocal ensemble were very inspiring to any singer. Great vocal technique combined with the ease of singing and great sense of humour. It’s not enough to have a great voice, you really got to have a great personality otherwise the audience will get bored at some point. So, making people laugh while performing assures you a great mood among spectators. Now, this is not a stand up show, but the music written back then was indeed funny and meant to entertain the audience. And Capella Reial de Catalunya did that without any problems.
Below, some pictures of me and my girlfriend alongside Pedro Estevan, Montserrat Figueras and of course Jordi Savall. And I also have to thank Magda for letting me get close and discover that all the people of whom I wrote above are so modest and greet you with great respect. Was a great opportunity and I really hope it will not be the last. I’m still chasing their concert callendar to see when they get close again to Romania.
I know is hard to make people listen to something they are not used to, but it takes only one try and after that there’s no turning point. You will get inloved with this music and you will always search it when you feel worse, just because is a great medicine against depression and maybe because will change also the way we look at the world. Did people had that much fun hundreds of years ago? Well, the music sure sound like it!