On this edition of Harmonia we have the first part of a very special two-part interview with Jordi Savall, internationally acclaimed viola da gamba virtuoso and director of Hesperion 21, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Les Concert des Nations, and a number of other prominent early music groups. On Part one this week, our main focus will be a stunning 2 CD project that contains all the musical pieces referenced by Miguel de Cervantes in the great 17th century literary masterpiece Don Quijote de la Mancha.
Improvisations on a setting of “La Folia” from colonial era Peru are included on CD called “Altre Folie,” by Hesperion 21, directed by Jordi Savall. Mr. Savall was in our studios recently, and he discussed his project to collect music referenced in Don Quijote de la Mancha, in honor of the 400th aniversary of its original publication.
Court music of Spain, traditional romances and ballads, and dances from the New World are woven together in a recent recording by Hesperion 21 and the Capella Reial de Catalunya called “Don Quijote de la Mancha: Romances y Musicas.” It’s a double-CD, elegantly packaged with an accompanying book. The recording contains all the musical pieces that were referred to in Miguel Cervantes’ famous story of Don Quijote, published in 1605, presented with passages from Cervantes’ Castilian text narrated beautifully by Jesus Fuente, Francisco Rojas, and Josep Piera.
In one excerpt, Don Quixote has seen a group of merchants, and mistaken them for a group of thugs. He attacks with so much force that his horse, Rocinante, stumbles and pitches Don Quixote to the ground. While lying there beaten, he resorts to his usual habit of imagining a passage from some famous legend or story he has read. He remembers the romance of Baldovinos, and the moment when Baldovinos has been left wounded in the woods. Meanwhile, one of Don Quixote’s neighbors has come to his aid. Quixote, mistaking the man for Baldovino’s uncle in the romance, recites a passage from the famous ballad.
In another excerpt, Don Quixote and his faithful servant Sancho have entered the town of Toboso, where Don Quixote asks to be led to the palace of his sweetheart, Dulcinea. Cervantes begins the passage “It was midnight, or thereabouts,” which to the 1605 reader, would instantly reference the opening line of the famous romance of Conde Claros, who “at midnight or thereabouts” tosses and turns with longing for his own true love Claraniña, before galloping off to her palace. For the reader at that time, the tune of Conde Claros might well have played in their mind as they read the passage in Don Quixote.
Don Quixote is constantly reenacting stories from popular romances, all of which seem to swirl around indiscriminately his mind. In one case, he hears a peasant singing the story of the French defeat at Ronceveaux, which he takes as an evil omen. His servant Sancho reassures him, saying it wouldn’t matter, “even if the man had been singing the ballad of Calaynos,” about an unfortunate Moorish knight whose lady has refused to be his unless he brings her the heads of three high ranking French nobles. Both these romances, the Ballad of Guarinos and the Ballad of Calaynos, would have been well known to Cervantes’ original readers.
Next installment, the second half of our interview, with music by Boccherini, a meeting of East and West, and a musical collaboration by the entire Savall family.