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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "Mes livres-musique sont construits contre l’oubli"

by Genica Baczinski

Jordi Savall Composes His Musical-And-Textual Works Against Oblivion

Translated Tuesday 25 September 2012, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Reviving the Charm of History ... Curious and insatiable, Jordi Savall devotes his energy to bringing to light and reviving musical domains that are little known. He thus conjures an Atlantis of vanished melodies and rhythms. Jacques Rivette enlisted the talented composer for his film Jeanne la Pucelle. Jordi Savall rediscovered the bass viol and made the instrument quite popular together with the works of Sainte Colombe thanks to Alain Corneau’s film Tous les matins du monde (All the world’s mornings). He lives in Barcelona where he studied the cello and met soprano Montserrat Fiigueras. They shared the same passions, love included. In homage to his recently deceased wife, Jordi Savall produced a double CD and these concerts are dedicated to her. [1]

HUMA: How did music impose itself on you?

JORDI SAVALL: Music ran in the family. My mother sang popular songs, lullabies, she had a beautiful voice. My father was a soldier in the Republican army. After the Spanish civil war he was banned from Valencia. He was considered as a red ; anti-communist repression at the time was very hard. I was born in that context, in one of Spain’s most violent periods. But for all this, music never vanished from my existence. I loved rock ’n’ roll and Elvis Presley in particular. One day I met my fate: I had set up a band with my friends and one night I went to the music Academy where I saw and heard a cello and it then appeared to me I must be a cello player. I first bought scores and then I learned. I was fifteen, a rather late age for learning to play such a difficult instrument. It was sheer madness to buy that instrument. For in 1956 the social conservatism in Spain, you will understand, made it difficult to escape the destinies we had been assigned.

HUMA: Why did you choose baroque music?

JORDI SAVALL: At the Academy I was offered to play in an ensemble and Montserrat Figueras was in it. I remember that one day she congratulated me in her sweet voice. We were friends, at least musical partners then. Our love story started in Paris later on. Paris has played an important and decisive role in my life. I was in love and I discovered Couperin’s manuscripts, those of Marin Marais… In 1965 the viola da gamba entered my life. Once more people took me for a madman. One should always find something in life for which one is gifted, something that moves one deeply. The first time I played the cello I nearly threw up : the sound was so thick, I was deeply impressed. The gestures I made seemed to flow from and expand my being. I had never experienced that sensation. The difficulty in that case turns into a freedom. In the 1960s my keen desire to play the viola da gamba exposed me to great risks, like embracing and devoting myself to a great adventure. In a sense, I found a form of modernity that ran against the grain of the epoch.

HUMA: How does one pass from being an interpreter to being a conductor?

JORDI SAVALL: Conducting comes to you naturally. I played the viol with my ensemble and I occasionally used what can be called a gestural code, but there comes a stage where the complexity is such that one has to choose: either play or conduct. The conductor’s profession developed quite late in the history of music. All conductors must start as players, they must all know the violinist’s technique, they must all know his language so to speak.

HUMA: How do you select and devise the subjects of your musical and textual works?

JORDI SAVALL: In 2005 we published the first of these books on the anniversary of the publication of Don Quixote, then we went on celebrating history through events and anniversaries, as we did for Christopher Columbus. For Jerusalem it was slightly different: the idea was to build a book on the three monotheistic religions and Montserrat and I selected the town of Jerusalem that unites them. This year’s composition is Jeanne la Pucelle; it comes out as the sixth centenary of her birth is about to be celebrated. We designed it so that Joan could express herself. We decided to foreground the narratives of the cross-questionings and trial. It is important that people should learn or discover the different stages of her story for that great figure has all too often been distorted, exploited, made to serve ideologies. Originally, Joan is a being of great purity and great spiritual force; hers is the incredible story of an eighteen-year-old girl who makes her way through a country at war. We might say that Joan’s life lasts two years: one year on the battlefields, and one year in prison. One of our aims is to present her as a war prisoner, somehow one of the first political hostages. I want to highlight the victim of history that she was. How many people do you think know the circumstances of that war and the importance of the treaty of Troyes? There lies the divide, and those lost pages of history cannot be summed up in a few pictures.

HUMA: Where do you stand relatively to contemporary music?

JORDI SAVALL: There is no such thing as “ancient” music; there are more or less recent compositions and I prefer to use the word “modern” rather than “contemporary”. Music itself is contemporary. So there are museums for musical instruments but you can’t have a museum for music. Music in that respect is like theatre, it’s a unique and ephemeral moment. The difference is that you can read a play while a score remains abstract, even to a musician. When I was younger, I took a great interest in modern music and I have always been in close contact with composers. Unfortunately, in today’s world, ensembles like mine arouse little interest. There is a real barrier, we are kept at a distance. But since I met composer Arvo Pärt, I have been able to develop a connection and ask him to compose pieces, notably two lullabies for Montserrat. Our next musical-and-textual work is a reflection on peace, Pace, around three texts, one by Edgar Morin on education and another by a Moroccan writer, Fatima Mernissi, where the Sinbad and the cowboy myths are set parallel to each other in order to give two contrasted visions of the world, and this project ends with a creation by Arvo Pärt and an interview of the painter Antoni Tapies.

HUMA: Why did you set up Allia Vox with Montserrat?

JORDI SAVALL: We had been working with EMI for twenty years and the Astrée label but at one point we felt that there was something wrong. We realized that for twenty years we had been doing all the work and we were only in want of a distributor since we had produced the music of Alain Corneau’s film Tous les matins du monde (All the world’s mornings). It was the right time, we were fifty and had done a lot of work and research. We wanted to produce projects not for the commercial benefit but for the music, we did not want to concern ourselves with the question of profitability. We were the solution. A small team, five people in all, with a great working capacity. Three months after we had set up Allia Vox, the Astrée label was sold to a larger group. We had felt it coming!

[1Jordi Savall will conduct the Nations’ concert in the Pleyel Hall in Paris on October 16. His last hybrid work, Jeanne d’Arc batailles et prisons (Joan of Arc on the battlefields and in her prisons) has just come out.

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