John Eliot Gardiner: Pilgrimage to Santiago, The Monteverdi Choir

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John Eliot Gardiner - Pilgrimage to Santiago

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago ...
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Monteverdi Choir:
Isabelle Adams, Donna Deam, Julia Doyle,
Alison Hill, Kirsty Hopkins, Elin Manahan Thomas, Charlotte Mobbs, Belinda Yates.

Simon Baker, Mark Chambers, David Clegg,
William Towers, Tim Travers-Brown.

Jeremy Budd, Andrew Busher, Stephen Jeffes,
Nicolas Robertson, Paul Tindall, Adam Tunnicliffe.

Bandera de Santiago de Compostela
Bandera de Santiago de Compostela (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Julian Clarkson, Samuel Evans, James Oldfield,
Philip Tebb, Lawrence Wallington.

In the first century after Christ, Saint James 'The Great' (that is the apostle, not the writer of the eponymous Epistle) is believed to have traveled to Spain and preached there. Following his martyrdom at the hands of Herod, his remains were taken back to Compostela in Galicia. By the eleventh century a major pilgrimage route to Santiago was established on the strength of this.

Following the immense success of the year-long Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, the Monteverdi Choir set off for a shorter but very intense project along the Spanish pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The programme was entirely a cappella music from Spain's golden age, and it was performed in churches and cathedrals of outstanding beauty along the Pilgrimage route.

"It is with a great sense of anticipation that the Monteverdi Choir looks ahead to participating in the Camino de Santiago in July & August 2004 and in so doing have the opportunity to rekindle and share the experience that remains so vivid from 2000. Unlike our earlier Bach Pilgrimage, we see it as entirely possible, desirable and indeed significant that we should cover at least part of the route each day on foot. By so doing we wish to embrace fully the nature and spirit of the Camino.

From the musical point of view it seems to me important that there be a sense of structure and development to the project, so that it our journey is a musical as well as a physical and spiritual one. I believe that whilst this is not strictly a religious pilgrimage it should nonetheless identify strongly with its Christian roots. The idea of attempting to place the music in context has therefore been a source of inspiration in selecting the very best of Spanish a cappella music, to be sung in the beautiful churches along the route.

The programmes will celebrate the rich musical heritage left to us by Spanish and other European composers of the 16th & 17th centuries, also known as The Golden Age, including Victoria, Guerrero, Morales, Byrd, Tallis and L'Héritier.

This will be our 40th anniversary year, and I cannot envisage a more fitting way of celebrating this milestone than by undertaking a new musical pilgrimage, this time following the oldest and most famous of pilgrimage routes, el Camino de Santiago."

The selection of music is, of course, expert. It's as representative as any 21 items can be. The names which most people will recognize, Lassus, Victoria, Palestrina and Dufay, are supplemented by glorious compositions by Clemens Non Papa (1495-1570) and from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat and Codex Calixtinus. This is a twelfth century illuminated manuscript, an anthology compiled to offer 'background' and advice for the pilgrims. It's also a document that attests to the extent to which Spain had already become much more cosmopolitan than is often realized. Pilgrimage to Santiago celebrates the not insignificant part which the prominence of Compostela played in this. The urbanity of The Monteverdi Choir's music-making with Gardiner mirrors the urbanity of the Compostela community and shared experience. As early as the 1430s Spanish composers and musicians were traveling in turn to Rome, another important pilgrimage site of course. From there works by the likes of Lassus and Palestrina were brought back to Spain; indeed manuscripts of their music are still to be found (some badly decayed) in Cathedral libraries throughout Spain. But the cultural exchange was also with the Netherlands, France and Flanders. Hence the inclusion here of works by Dufay and Jean Mouton.