Monday 27 February 2017

In conversation with Jordi Savall

Hear Jordi Savall in action directing AAM:

Thursday 9 March, Symphony Hall, Birmingham Book now

Saturday 11 March, Barbican Hall, London Book now


Tell us about this programme of mainly French Baroque 'dance' music - what inspired you to choose these pieces? 

The programme features a selection of very typical French opera suites – some well-known and some not so well-known. They are all extremely impressive examples of dance music, very beautiful and typically baroque – although by the time of Rameau’s Boreades, he is already moving towards the later Rococo style. These are combined with some of the best known music by Handel.


 How does an 'English' piece like the Water Music complement the otherwise French theme of the programme? 

Here, Handel is composing in typical French style – the opening movement of Suite No.2 is in the manner of French Overture, with a regal dotted rhythm. The majority of the movements have French titles (Bouree, Lentement) and are in the French style (with the exception of prelude and hornpipe). Handel represented English, French and Italian influences. This combination shows how an international style had developed over time, with both unity and variety.

The last movement of the G major Water Music suite can be compared to the Matelots March in Marais’ fourth Alcione suite; it’s the same style of music, inspired by sailors and using a popular melody. Both composers took care to include tunes the people would recognise. Indeed all great composers use material from popular traditions of the moment. Even in Victoria masses, you can hear popular melodies from love songs. This way the most ‘difficult’ music is recognisable to the people.

The appeal of these pieces is in the combinations of the dances. For interpreters of the music today, we must try to find the phrasing according to the time; the dances have to be full of life so we must use lively tempi.  The original dances were always very lively. Only dances by the king were slow because they wore so many clothes in court. Rousseau said, ‘C’est autre chose dans le theatre’. In the concert hall you don’t have to follow the rules of the court!

There are several ‘problems’ with interpreting the Water Music today. The modern distribution of the music into three suites is not very convincing. There is no definitive final piece as the music can be played in any order. Also some of the movements lack musical directions so it is open to interpretation what Handel intended.


The Water Music is 300 years old this year - what do you think is the key to its enduring popularity?

The Water Music will always be fascinating because it’s a synthesis of the most beautiful forms and dances composed with counterpoint and harmonies of pure genius. That’s the miracle of art – you can’t explain why one painting expresses so much beauty and not another. So much of this music is magical; it brings us to a higher dimension. Its purity and intensity touches the soul.  Dostoyevsky said, ‘Beauty will save the world’ and he was right. Today we are too preoccupied with technology - technology is impressive but the essential thing to make us fully human is art – music helps to develop our sensibilities.

But we cannot live in a world only of beauty and privilege when the majority of people don’t have access to it. We must ensure that young people can be touched and interested in these things or else in 30 years there will be no audience in the concert halls. Art is so important in culture and education.

We are living in difficult times, it’s an age of pessimism, there’s a lot of anger against others. The principal quality of any civilisation is to remember the past and thereby create a better future. Music brings us memories of the past – it communicates the emotions of the people had who heard the music for the first time. Voltaire said, ‘Without sense there is no memory. Without memory there is no spirit’.


This will be the first time you have directed AAM - what are you looking forward to most about working with us?

It will be a great pleasure to work with AAM. I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Christopher Hogwood and the AAM back in 1978, when both AAM and my group Hesperion XXI had just been founded.  The production was music from the Armada years – AAM did Elizabethan English music and we did Spanish works from the time of Philip II. I feel very optimistic about directing AAM – they seem a very nice group and I’m sure that we will work very well together. When directing, it’s not about asserting power – the musicians give me ideas. I never impose myself, but I might try and convince them – musicians only play at their best when they are convinced. 


Hear Jordi Savall in action directing AAM:

Thursday 9 March, Symphony Hall, Birmingham Book now

Saturday 11 March, Barbican Hall, London Book now