Jordi Savall and Hesprion XXI Remember The Forgotten Kingdom
THREE AUDIO FILES - ALL MUSIC If you're a fan of Jordi Savall's violÂ playing (do you remember the soundtrack from Tous les matins du monde?) and you likeÂ the idea of blending classical music with world music and you like richly researched multicultural CD booklet notes, then you must get your hands on a copy of Savall's most recent musico-historic contribution,Â The Forgotten Kingdom: The Crusade Against the Albegensians. The Tragedy of the Cathars (Alia Vox, 2009). Savall, the Spanish-born viol player whoÂ established his international reputation with a weighty discography ofÂ viol standards byÂ the likes of Francois Couperin, Marin Marais andÂ Henry Purcell,Â has more recently taken to exploring the musical results of East meeting West. With Savall and his ensemble HespÃ¨rion XXI, we have wanderedÂ with SephardicÂ Jews after their 1492 expulsion from Spain (DiÃ¡spora SefardÃ, Alia Vox, 1999); we've sat cross-legged amidst a harem ofÂ exotic instrumentsÂ - ouds, rubabs, tulaks andÂ darboukas, as well as viols -Â in music of the Islamo-Judeo-Christian world around the Mediterranean (Orient-Occident 1200-1700, Alia Vox, 2006); and we've visited Istanbul, whereÂ Turks and Armenians contributed with seeminglyÂ equal authority to the city's profoundly rich musical cultureÂ (Istanbul Dimitrie Cantemir:1673-1723, Alia Vox, 2009). WithÂ The Forgotten Kingdom, Savall and HespÃ¨rion XXIÂ bring to lightÂ the cultural richnessÂ of the area around today's southernÂ French region of Languedoc, an area once known as Occitania and even before the Middle Ages famed as a hotbed of Roman, French, Balkan, Eastern EuropeanÂ and Middle EasternÂ cultural exchange. AlongÂ with linguistic, scientificÂ and artisticÂ influences, the region alsoÂ absorbed the religious and philosophicalÂ influences of Judaism, Islam, and any number of approaches to Christianity. One of theseÂ approaches to Christianity was that of Occitania's Cathars, a sect whose distinctiveÂ theologyÂ and open disavowal of the hierarchy and some doctrines of the Catholic Church opened its members to the charge of heresy and, eventually, to Church-ordained violence. The Cathars of Occitania held that the material (read: evil)Â world was not the creation of God, who created only the spiritual (read: good) world. The world of the flesh was, in their view, the devil's handiwork - a theological point that, in its overt Scriptural defiance, set Rome's teeth on edge. The Cathars alsoÂ had differentÂ ideas about theÂ Sacraments: their belief that not water baptism but baptism by (what theyÂ likely viewed as the apostolically ordained) laying on of hands was the only way a human being (i.e. a flesh-and-blood person of the material world Satan created) could return to God's "forgotten kingdom" was another aspect of Cathar theology that flew in the face of the Catholic Church. Eventually a decades-long Crusade through most of the first half of theÂ thirteenth centuryÂ in the region all but exterminated the Cathars (or Albigensians, asÂ the Occitanian heretics came to be called) and left Occitania, once divided between the Kingdom of Aragon and the county of Toulouse, under the political control of theÂ King of France. Roughly coinciding with the Albigensian Crusade was the flourishing of the culture of Occitania's poet-musicians, the Troubadours. In The Forgotten Kingdom, Savall and HespÃ¨rion XXI perform Troubadour chronicles, as well as Cathar liturgical works,Â of the region'sÂ roughly five hundred years of Cathar history, includingÂ the development and spread of Occitanian Catharism, the events of the Albigensian Crusade, the resulting Dispaora in Italy and regions of what we now call Spain and the demise of the Eastern Cathars with the Ottoman capture of Constantinople. The result is a CD as esoteric in sound as it is solid in historical grounding, as beautiful in execution as the Albigensian Crusade was ugly in its genocidal effect. Listen to some fanfares and battle calls that, on this recording, serve as a soundtrack for the beginning of he Albigensian Crusade: [audio:kingdom_1.mp3] Here's music telling of the massacre of upwards of ten thousand people of the town of BÃ©ziers: [audio:kingdom_2.mp3] Now listen to an instrumental lament, which HespÃ¨rion XXI uses to signify the demise of Catharism in the East, after the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenthÂ century. It's haunting in its beautiful simplicity: [audio:kingdom_3.mp3] To call The Forgotten Kingdom a CD is actuallyÂ fairly inaccurate,Â since the collection'sÂ three actualÂ discs are only modestly - one could even overlook them - sleeved next to the hard front and back covers, which sandwich some 560 glossy and beautifully illuminatedÂ pages of historical annotations in seven languages, including Catalan, Castilian and - perhaps most importantly for this collection - Occitan. This isn't exactly light reading, nor, as a reminder of Catharism's historicalÂ moment and gruesome endgame,Â should it be.Â But HespÃ¨rion XXI's gorgeousÂ performances of this forgotten kingdom of musical delights seem to soften this blow. Even when you've readÂ theÂ CD notesÂ and have an outline of the fascinating and grim story of Occitania's Cathars, thanks to the music, you can hear the beautyÂ in this ancientÂ episode - a small bit ofÂ evidence, perhaps,Â that in the eternal struggle of this world, light can prevail over darkness.