We begin with a tribute to a legendary musician and leader in the field of early music, a singer whose haunting voice moved the hearts and souls of audiences, and inspired many musicians to further explore repertoire rarely heard. On November 23rd, 2011, Montserrat Figueras died in Barcelona, Spain after a year-long battle with cancer.
Figueras leaves behind her husband and musical partner of over forty years, Jordi Savall, as well as her children, Arianna and Ferran, also accomplished professional musicians in their own right. Figueras and Savall met while they were both students at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland. Along with Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith, they founded Hespèrion XX (now Hespèrion XXI). Since 1974, Hespèrion has championed music from the middle ages, renaissance, and baroque, and showcased the rich cultural heritage of Spain on an international stage. Together, Figueras and Savall also founded La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations.
A number of years ago on Harmonia, we ran a couple of programs featuring La Capella Reial’s recordings of the various medieval and renaissance versions of the Cant de la Sibil-La, or Song of the Sybil. The deep and mysterious beauty of Montserrat Figueras’s interpretations of these mystical sybilline texts drew one of the most extraordinarily strong listener responses of any Harmonia program in our 20-year run.
All of us involved with Harmonia express our condolences to all whose lives Montserrat Figueras touched. We hope that her praises will continue to be sung, that her voice will continue to touch our hearts, and that her legacy will live on in the voices of generations to come.
Overlooked composers: Zacara & Moulu
Anyone who has taken a history class knows that there’s just not enough time to cover everything: the same is true in the history of music. Some names just never come up unless you really dig for them.
One such name is Antonio Zacara da Teramo. For a while, he was confused with another composer Nicolaus Zacharie. This happened occasionally, because the spelling of names was inconsistent, and people were sometimes known by nicknames or abbreviated names.
Our Zacara da Teramo began employment at the Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Rome in 1390 and was a very prolific composer. He wrote sacred and secular vocal works, and his music appeared in manuscripts as far flung as England and Poland, although he lived most of his life in Italy.
French composer Pierre Moulu is another example of a talented composer whose name does not come up very often. Despite his employment at the French Royal Court and his supposed study with Josquin des Prez, Moulu’s music remains largely unknown.
Most would say that Moulu’s masterpiece was his “Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater,” which was written in such a way that it could be performed with or without rests. We’ll hear both versions of the “Agnus Dei” from this mass as well as the shorter version of the Kyrie, performed by the Brabant Ensemble.
Featured release: Bach: Motets BWV 225-230
In 2010, the ensemble Collegium Vocale Gent celebrated its 40th anniversary. Around the time of their establishment, they were one of the first groups to incorporate ideas of baroque performance practice into their own performances. In 2011, they re-released their recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s motets, and while they’re decision to have only two or three voices per part seemed radical at the recording’s initial release, it has since become a more common practice.