“Echoes of Babel” : Musica Nova’s new programme
with a documentary by Yves Bénitah & Patrice Pegeault, produced by Acte Public Compagnie
The Musica Nova Ensemble presents an original program blending Early and Contemporary Music by way of Mediterranean depth of thought. Reflecting an impressive linguistic and cultural richness, the sounds of Southern Europe, of the Maghreb, of the Middle East, and those of the Byzantium are brought together in a single encounter. The work commissioned to Saed Haddad, a Jordanian-born composer, brings to light the harmonies between the polyphonies of the Middle Ages and the monodies sung by the Moroccan Anass Habib, accompanied by Aurélie Tissot’s qanun.
The myth of Babel, reflecting both fear and defiance towards the Hereafter, has generated a profound fascination in the minds of men. Surpassing one’s own limits and earthly condition, building higher and ascending spiritually, this may be the substance that all mortals share. The Gothic cathedrals of the Middle-Ages testify to this day to this incessant quest of reaching the peaks of existence, but music also yields to the desire of producing works of inordinate proportions. It is this desire that has led the people in Babel to align their forces in all their diversity. It is also the reason why they became subjects of Divine punishment, a penance which gave rise to a diversity of languages, bringing chaos and incomprehension on Earth. “Rewriting Babel” could allow us to consider the dissimilarity of languages not as a source of dissension, but as a reason to search for harmony. For lack of a tower, this program
proposes to build a musical architecture, while laying down a possibly even greater defiance.
Languages in their diversity show and preserve identity, but they may also enrich one’s voice with strange sounds, while their knowledge may amend one’s world-view. For singers, exploring languages is an everyday work, a voyage deep within the human heart, a barrier always pushed further, feeding the imaginary. Musica Nova’s instinct was to open its musical field to Mediterranean traditional sacred music. Be they Byzantine, Aramaic, Lebanese, Algerian,…these songs may recall the monophonic origins of Mediaeval polyphonies. The meeting with Moroccan singer Anass Habib has been crucial for this project, partly because of his anchorage in traditional Moroccan culture, but also due to his desire to explore all Mediterranean music regardless of religious beliefs.
The work thus created stems from a desire to build, beyond all linguistic and musical differences, an edifice respectful of diversity.
Guillaume Dufay occupies a prominent place in the musical literature of the first half of the 15th century. His wonderful polyphonies so admired today are follow from a musical tradition inherited from the Ars Nova and other various influences. The perpetual war between France and England has allowed an unprecedented musical exchange, enriching French music with soft English tones. The successive voyages Dufay made to Italy have equally influenced his work through suave ornaments.
Witness to the political events of his time, the Master of Cambrai has left behind a corpus of isorhythmic motets of great musical substance. These pluritextual motets celebrate important moments such as the meeting between Pope Eugene IV and Emperor Sigismund on April 8th 1433 (“Suppremum est mortalibus / Isti sunt due olive”), following the peace treaty that put an
end to years of conflict.
The English motets of the first half of the 15th century appear in the Italian manuscripts alongside the motets of Dufay and Binchois. They draw their inspiration from the biblical text of the Canticle of Canticles. A metaphor of divine Love, these poems evoke the carnal and spiritual relationships between two loved ones. The garden, the theater of the amorous outbreak, resembles that of Eden, where perfect harmony reigns. Fruits, plants, vines… compared to the parts of the body (“Statura tua assimilata est palmae and ubera tua botris”), symbolize the vividness of Creative Love. Yet beyond these sensual images transpires the love of the Virgin Mary, her divine beauty eloquently translated in the ornaments. These musical illuminations, called in other times «fiori musicali», remind us of the rhetorical and pictorial function of musical science.
This program brings together Guillaume Dufay’s famous
motets and some of the finest musical pages from England.