Musica Nova: Harmonie des Nations

Program: #18-28   Air Date: Jul 02, 2018

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This time, Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI in a live performance as Volume 11 of their Consort Music series.

N.B.—All of the music on this program is from the  boxed set of the latest from Jordi Savall, Musica Nova: Harmonie des Nations.  It is on the Alia VOX Label and is CD AVSA9926.
Musica Nova: Harmonie des Nations, 1500-1700
From John Sobel:  “Musica Nova.” In English: “New Music.” Imagine yourself in Europe half a millennium ago. Music, for the most part, is sung, or else played on instruments to accompany dances. But composers have now begun to use the viola da gamba (viol), a then-new family of fretted string instruments, to imitate the human voice, solo and in harmony. They’re also refashioning traditional dance music into concert pieces artistically structured for listening pleasure. It’s a whole new world.

Musica Nova: Harmonie Des Nations 1500-1700, the new recording from Jordi Savall, celebrated musician-scholar and eminence grise of the viol, offers representative pieces of what can be broadly termed the “Musica Nova” movement of the 16th and 17th centuries in Italy, France, England, Germany, Spain, and Portugal.

The album presents the development of this instrumental music through the end of the following century, beginning with a set of stately Venetian dances from the early 1500s and a ricercarefrom a body of work by Hieronimus Parabosco explicitly titled “Musica Nova.”

It also gives us Elizabethan and Jacobean consort music from John Dowland and others, in which you can hear harmonies becoming more sophisticated and interesting – even a little weird in spots – with far deeper emotional resonance. The forms are still dances, but the music was written to be listened to, even the “Scottish Dance” by William Brade, which, though 400 years old, will sound utterly familiar to anyone who has heard folk musicians playing “trad” Gaelic music today.

A set of selections from Hamburg composer Samuel Scheidt’s Ludi Musici of 1621 opens with an exceptionally beautiful “Paduan” (Pavane). It also includes an energetic “Allemande,” as well as a “Galliard Battaglia” that’s introduced by a flourish from the tambour drum and sounds as briskly militaristic as its title suggests.

Together, Savall, Philippe Pierlot, and the other gambists of Hespèrion XXI attain an ethereal synchronicity and an ambrosial tone. In the slow passages of a 1673 sonata by Giovanni Legrenzi, their flowing harmonies attain such a full sound you could almost think you’re hearing a pipe organ.

From the artistically fertile court of Louis XIV comes Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s six-movement Suite (H. 545), webbed with intricate counterpoint. Even its two sprightly Gigues seem full of rich meaning. The album closes with three late-17th-century pieces from the Iberian peninsula that express feelings ranging from the mournful to the triumphant to the simply content. Indeed the album as whole spans not only the (even then highly integrated) nations of “old Europe” but the gamut of human emotion.

The organization and valuable program notes may be somewhat academic, but the music is anything but dry. You don’t need experience with or knowledge of early music to appreciate the beauty, and the consummate expertise, of these performances. 

From Jordi Savall: 

A new instrument for a new of music


Perhaps it all goes back to one dark winter’s night of the incipient and hope-filled year of 1400, at the dawn of a century that had just begun. A century which was soon to unravel the marvellous stories and odysseys of a newly rediscovered millennial civilization, an ancient era when philosophers taught wisdom and humanity, when the music of Orpheus could tame even the most savage of beasts. In the midst of so many novelties and marvels, it is no wonder that minstrels aspired to a new, more expressive and richer sound, to create a musica nova, or a new music, that came from a single instrument combining the love song of the old vihuela de arco or bowed fiddle, the rebab or troubadour’s rebec, and the sweet sounds of the Moorish lute, with its potential for beautiful harmonies and joyful rhythms, which gave way to the vihuela de mano in the wake of the successive expulsions of the Jews in 1492 and the Moriscos in 1609.


It was the dawn of a new era of European civilization, poised to leave behind the old Middle Ages, and which, thanks to the rediscovery of Ancient Greek civilization, began to shape a new world full of ideals, hope, beauty and creativity, of discoveries and conflicts, of wisdom as well as fanaticism, but one which would nevertheless seek to put man at the centre of life.


It was at this time that a new bowed instrument was born: the viola da gambaviola d’arco or vihuela de arco, which, in honour of the new age was also called the “Renaissance viola”. Like the Renaissance lute, this new instrument had 6 strings tuned in fourths, with a major third in the middle, and also had seven frets, which divided the fifth into semitones, allowing each note to retain and project its natural resonance.

As Ian Woodfield demonstrates in his book The Early History of the Viol (Cambridge University Press 1984), it was in Valencia that this new instrument was immortalised on canvas at the end of the 15th century. The first paintings of the new instrument, dating to around 1480, can be found in the churches of Sant Feliu in Xàtiva (Valencia) and Sant Esteve in Valencia. Other representations dating from the beginning of the 16th century include the anonymous painting belonging to the Valencian or Majorcan School depicting “The Coronation of the Virgin”, which hangs in the Fine Arts Museum in Valencia, and “The Dormition of the Virgin”, also belonging to the Valencian School, which hangs in the Fine Arts Museum in Barcelona.



The other major novelty in the creation of the new instrument was that it was made to imitate the various human voices, in other words, the respective ranges of the human voice, such as soprano, alto, tenor and bass. And so the consort of viols was born, one of the fundamental instrumental ensembles of Renaissance and early Baroque chamber music of the 17th century. As with the invention of the instrument, the earliest musical creations for this new ensemble emerged from the musical activities surrounding the monarchs of the Catalano-Aragonese Crown, starting with Alfonso the Magnanimous, who established his court in Naples following his conquest of the city in 1442. There he created the first Academy of Arts, which was soon emulated at the Valencian court by Germaine of Foix, the sister of Louis XII and second wife of the Catholic Monarch Ferdinand II of Aragon (1505-1516). In 1526 she married the son of King Frederick II of Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon, Duke of Calabria (Andria, Puglia 1488-Valencia 1550). He was a key player in the Mediterranean politics of the Catalano-Aragonese Crown at the beginning of the 16th century, and Ferdinand and Germaine became viceroys of Valencia.

No less important was the contribution of the city of Venice, a veritable “Gateway to the Orient”which for more than two centuries was one of the most prolific centres of musical composition and music publishing in Europe.


In the instrumental repertory, the experiment of performing vocal songs on instruments was soon followed by the composition and publication of works specifically designed to be played on the organ, lute, viols and all kinds of “other instruments”, as can be seen from numerous scores printed during that period, particularly as mentioned in the preface to the Musica Nova collection of instrumental pieces published in 1540 at Venice, from which we have selected Hieronimus Parabosco’s beautiful Ricercare XIV on the antiphon “Da Pacem” played as a cantus firmus in the tenor voice which is also present in the other voices. Indeed, it was this piece that inspired the idea and the contents of the present recording. The “new music” of the Canzone per sonare, together with the development of new harmonic and rhythmic parameters in dance music and the contrapuntal complexities of polyphonic works (Fantasies, In nominesTientosCanzoni, etc.), found in the homogeneous ensemble of the viol consort the ideal means of producing the best “chamber” music, allowing all the voices to achieve a harmonious equilibrium without any one of them dominating the rest.

Private and social musical practice using these instruments very rapidly spread in bourgeois and court circles in the majority of European countries such as Italy, France, Flanders, Castile, Aragon and Catalonia, and especially Germany and England under Queen Elizabeth I and King James I  (until the end of the Commonwealth and the Restoration). England was the home of the most creative composers for the viol, including Christopher Tye, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, John Jenkins, William Lawes, Henry Purcell, etc., and, at the same time, it was in England that the viola da gamba and the viol consort rose to great popularity – so much so, in fact, that from the mid-16th to the mid-17th century, if a guest who was invited to lunch or dinner in certain aristocratic and bourgeois circles in Britain and could not play the viol, it might be considered a serious social failing, as after the meal guests would most likely be offered a viol and invited to play one of the parts in the consort that would invariably perform Consort Songs, dances, In Nomines or fantasies at the end of an evening’s entertainment. This “golden age” of the viol consort concluded at the end of the 17th century with the 21-year-old Henry Purcell’s fabulous Fantasias for the Viols, composed in 1680, for consorts of 4, 5, 6 and 7 viols (ALIA VOX 9859).


The present recording offers a selection of the most representative music from this repertory, a Musica Nova evoking an ideal Harmony of the Nations, which as we can see, evolved within the context of a veritable Musical Europe “avant la lettre”. It is a repertory that I began to work on more than 50 years ago with the ensemble Ars Musicæ de Barcelona under the direction of Maestro Enric Gispert, from 1966 to 1967 (recordings La Música a Catalunya del Romànic al Renaixement in 1966 and Songs of Andalusia: Music From The Middle Ages and Renaisance under the HMV (His Master’s Voice) label in 1967, with the soprano Victoria de los Ángeles, and subsequently from 1968 to 1970 at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis under the direction of my teacher Dr. August Wenzinger, and from 1971 with Michel Piguet’s ensemble Ricercar (recordings Die Instrumentalvariation in der spanischen Renaissancemusik and Praetorius–Terpsichoreunder the EMI label in 1973, Danses et musiques de la Renaissance italienne under the Erato Records label in 1975).

HESPÈRION XX: 1973-1999

With the creation of HESPÈRION XX in 1973, which occurred at the same time as I began my teaching career as professor of viola da gamba and chamber music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, marked the beginning of a fruitful new period, during which we carried out extensive research, performance and recording in this repertory, thanks to the enlargement of the new viol ensemble to include my first talented students – Christophe Coin, Pere Ros, Paolo Pandolfo, Lorenz Duftschmid, Sergi Casademunt, Imke David, Eunice Brandão and Sophie Watillon. For our major projects (such as Purcell’s Fantasias), they were joined by other specialists including Wieland Kuijken, Philippe Pierlot and Marianne Müller. Thus, every year we were able to prepare new programmes that we performed in concerts and then recorded, thanks to the unwavering interest and collaboration, from 1976, of major record international producers:

 Gerd Berg, from the musical production company EMI Electrola (Germany), with whom we recorded: Weltliche Musik im christlichen und jüdischen Spanien (1450-1550) in 1976; Canciones y Danzas de EspañaSongs and Dances from the Time of Cervantes (1547-1616) in 1977; Samuel Scheidt: Ludi Musici in 1978; El Barroco Español – Tonos humanos & Instrumental music (c.1640-1700) in 1978; Giovanni Gabrieli / Giuseppe Guami – Canzoni da sonare in 1979; Renaissance music from the Neapolitan Court, (1442) in 1984; William Brade: Consort Music in 1983 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi; Antonio de Cabezón: Spanische Instrumentalmusik zur Zeit Karl V. EMI in 1985.

Alfred Krings from the production company of WDR (West Deutsche Runfunk) with “Tonmeister” Thomas Gallia. Released by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. William Brade: Consort Music el 1983; Johann Hermann Schein: Banchetto musicale in 1986, Andreas Hammerschmidt: Vier Suiten aus “Erster Fleiss” in 1986.

Michel Bernstein, from Astrée/Auvidis, France (Louis Bricard) with Thomas Gallia (sound engineer): Musicque de Ioye (1550) in 1978; Orlando Gibbons: Fantaisies royales in 1980; John Coprario: Consort Musicke in 1980; Orlando di Lassus: Sacræ Cantiones
in 1981; Eustache du Caurroy: XXIII Fantasies in 1983; Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge in 1986; John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Teares (1604) in 1988; Christopher Tye: Lawdes Deo, Complete Consort Musicke
in 1989; Johann Rosenmüller: Sonata da Camera e Sinfonie 1654-1682 in 1989; Diego Ortiz: Recercadas del Trattado de Glosas (1535) in 1990.

Nicolas Bartholomée and Manuel Mohino for Astrée/Auvidis: John Jenkins: Consort Music in Six Parts in 1990;
 Matthew Locke: Consort of Fower Parts in 1994; Lluís del Milà: Fantasies, Pavanes & Gallardes, in 1995; Henry Purcell: Fantasias for the Viols
in 1995; Samuel Scheidt: Ludi Musici II in 1997.

Nicolas Bartholomée for Alia Vox with HESPÈRION XX from 1997: Cabanilles (1644-1712): Batalles, Tientos & Passacalles in 1997, Elizabethan Consort Music, 1558-1603 in 1998.

 HESPÈRION: XXI 2000-2018

Recordings for Alia Vox by Nicolas Bartholomée: Anthony Holborne: The teares of the Muses (1599) in 2000; William Lawes 1602-1645: Consort Sets in Five & Six Parts in 2002; Alfonso Ferrabosco, the Younger: Consort Music to the Viols in 4, 5 & 6 parts in 2003. Recordings for Alia Vox by Manuel Mohino: Lachrimæ Caravaggio in 2007, Henry Purcell: Fantasias for the Viols (1680) reissued in 2008, Ministriles Reales: Música instrumental de los Siglos de Oro – Del Renacimiento al Barroco 1450-1690 in 2009, John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seaven Tearesreissued in 2013.

Finally, after more than 50 uninterrupted years of concerts and recordings based on this fascinating repertory, we decided to bring together in this CD a selection of the finest examples of 16th and 17th century works devoted to the viol consort, as well as works which have been preserved in the version for keyboard (as in the case of those by Joan Cabanilles, Pedro de Araujo and Pedro de San Lorenzo), but which can also be played using these instruments. We wish to pay a very special tribute to all this wonderful music which has contributed to the development of an incomparably poetic and expressive musical dimension, while at the same time celebrating the extraordinary beauty and diversity of these Dances, FantasiasIn Nomines, Caprices, Ricercari, Sonatas, Consonances, Folias and Lachrimae created by the greatest masters of the Renaissance and the Baroque. At the same time, we aim to highlight a Europe of musical diversity and dialogue, where musicians were able to travel with total freedom. Spanish and Catalan musicians such as Diego Ortiz and Joan Arañés were active in Italy; Italians such as Innocenzio Alberti travelled to England; English musicians, such as John Cooper, went to Italy (Cooper changed his name to Giovanni Coperario following his time there); German musicians, among them Johann Rosenmüller, resided in Venice; English musicians, such as William Brade and John Dowland, travelled to Germany and Denmark, respectively; French musicians, including Marc-Antoine Charpentier, travelled to Italy; and Italians, such as Luigi Rossi and Jean-Baptiste Lully, pursued their careers in France. It was the best face of a Europe of culture, which enabled artists to freely exchange and share ideas and beauty, thanks to the creativity of an unfailingly inspirational and innovative art proposed and practised by its finest artists.


If at times the melancholy sound of the viol consort seems to predominate over the cheerful, rhythmic character of the dances, we should remember that it is thanks to this quality that it is able to capture the tender expressiveness of human affections, emotions which, as John Dowland reminds us, can appear to be contradictory. The great English “Orpheus” (Anglorum Orpheus) tells us in the dedication to his Lachrimæ or Seven Teares of 1604 that “Though the title doth promise tears, … yet no doubt pleasant are the teares which Musick weeps, neither are tears shed always in sorrow, but sometime also in joy and gladnesse.”

1-4. Anonimo Pavana del Re – Galliarda la Traditora – El Todescho – Saltarello 6’06
5. Hieronimus Parabosco Ricercare XIV « Da Pacem » 2’16
6. Giovanni Battista Grillo Capriccio V 2’27
7. Andrea Gabrieli Ricercar VII 2’381612 
8. John Dowland Lacrimae Pavan 3’43
9. John Dowland The King of Denmark Galliard 1’32
10. Orlando Gibbons In Nomine a 4 2’21
11. William Brade Ein Schottisch Tanz 2’53
12-15. Samuel Scheidt Paduan V – Courant Dolorosa –Allemande XVI – Galliard Battaglia XXI 13’18
16. Biagio Marini Passacaglia à 4 3’11
17. Giovanni Legrenzi Sonata sesta a 4 Viole da gamba 5’42
XIVMarc-Antoine Charpentier Concert pour quatre Violes (H.545)18-23. Prélude – Allemande – Rondeau – Gigue anglaise – Gigue française – Passecaille 21’24
24. Pedro de San Lorenzo Folia (Obra de 1er Tono, N. 10) 3’32
25. Pedro de Araujo Consonancias de 1º Tom 2’56
26. Joan Cabanilles Corrente italiana 3’16

Composer Info

Hieronimus Parabosco, Giovanni Battista, Andrea Gabrieli, John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons, William Brade , Samuel Scheidt, Biagio Marini, Giovanni Legrenzi, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Pedro de San Lorenzo, Pedro de Araujo, Joan Cabanilles

CD Info