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Matteo Ricci: Map And Music

The 44th Indianapolis Early Music Festival closes Sunday, July 24, with Matteo Ricci: His Map and Music. It's a well-traveled production that's been staged both in the United States and China, where Ricci visited during the last part of the fourteenth century.

Linda Pearse is artistic director for the production, as well as for the sackut and cornetto ensemble Sacabuche. Ann Waltner is a historian specializing in Chinese history; she co-directed the project. We spoke with Linda Pearse in the WFIU studio. Ann Waltner phoned in her comments from Hong Kong.

The Story-And That Map

Waltner filled in the historical background of the piece. "Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit missionary who went to China in 1582. Probably more than any other missionary, he succeeded in mastering the Chinese language and culture, and really became a peer of Chinese literati. He was a wonderfully gifted individual who was extremely driven with a passion for the mission activity and for China and its culture."

Waltner continued, "Ricci had a large map of the world hanging on his wall, and his Chinese friends suggested that he should redo it with Chinese names. He did, creating large panels with hundreds of place names carefully transcribed and printed. [Reproductions of these] form a dramatic backdrop to our production, focusing with words and music from both his Italian and his Chinese world: the world that he came from, and the world that he went to."

Music Of Three Worlds

"The program is multilayered, with music, text and images," said Linda Pearse. "On the musical end of things, there are three different types of music that we use. The first represents Ricci in Rome, Ricci as a Jesuit. The sacred music from Rome is by composers like Palestrina. We were kind of fascinated by the Battle of Lepanto, which occurred in 1571, coinciding with Ricci's move to Rome to study. And we found pieces by Andrea Gabrieli, a Venetian, which commemorated the battle."

"The second type of music," Pearse explained, "is Chinese music played on traditional instruments by Chinese musicians. We've been fortunate to have wonderful musicians join us for each of our performances and we've learned a lot. The third type of music is new music by Chinese composer Huang Ruo. He sets lyrics that Ricci wrote for the Chinese instruments, our baroque ensemble and vocalists. It's the finale of the program that ties together his Chinese life and his Italian life, creating something entirely new out of it."

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