Gururiyoza!

With music across the seas
Sun 26.11.23 18:15 Concert

Barfüsserkirche
Historical Museum Basel

"Red seal ship" with Japanese and Portuguese sailors, 17th century. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Gururiyoza! - With music across the seas

A

s early as the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese missionaries brought Western music to the Far East. Can we imagine the scene when Renaissance polyphony was taught in Japanese priestly seminaries and colegios, and Christian spiritual plays were performed in local vernacular languages? Due to the extreme oppression and persecution of Christians towards the end of the century, the evidence of these practices was almost erased, but enough traces have remained to revive and reconstruct them in our time.

This program presents the fascinating musical and cultural exchange between East and West, which is largely unknown to us today. Four specialized musicians, well acquainted with both Iberian and Japanese culture and music, will bring this adventurous program to the stage for the first time!

Ryosuke Sakamoto – Vihuela da mano, Vihuela d’arco, Voice; direction

Doron Schleifer – Voice

Ivo Haun – Vihuela da mano, Voice; co-direction

Joan Boronat Sanz – Renaissance organ, harpsichord, voice

European woman plays vihuela. Unknown painter of the Momoyama period (1573-1615); Yamato Bunka-kan Museum in Nara, Japan

Interview

Interview with harpsichordist and organist Joan Boronat Sanz 

TC: What music and instrument marked the beginning of your musical career in Spain? Does your ensemble playing have any family background?

JB: I cannot recall a single day of my childhood without music. In our home, rock, pop, folk, classical, and jazz music played on the vinyl/cd player or the radio during the day, and lullabies and traditional songs that my parents sang to me before bedtime. My parents are passionate music lovers. My father wrote many books on Catalan language pedagogy, including small songs and compositions that could be sung and played on the piano, guitar, or recorder. My grandmother, who had learned basic piano as a child, spent hours with me, accompanying me during my practice. I always had various musical instruments nearby, but interestingly, I have been primarily connected to keyboard instruments. There was an electronic piano in our home at an early age, and even though in Spanish schools, we all learn to play the recorder a little bit, and in the Valencia region, it is popular to receive musical education in wind/brass bands, I always conceived my relationship with music through keyboard instruments. This includes the piano, harpsichord, organ, and accordions, but never tied to a specific musical style. Sometimes I wonder to what extent that has focused or limited my musical development. This also explains my interest in “self-accompaniment” because I soon began singing Beatles songs while accompanying myself on the piano. I was an energetic and restless child, and I just wanted to run and play, not sit on a stool in front of the keys. (I believe I am still that way to some extent, and perhaps my style of playing channels that energy).

Joan Boronat ©Jacques Philippet

Interview with harpsichordist and organist Joan Boronat Sanz 

TC: What music and instrument marked the beginning of your musical career in Spain? Does your ensemble playing have any family background?

JB: I cannot recall a single day of my childhood without music. In our home, rock, pop, folk, classical, and jazz music played on the vinyl/cd player or the radio during the day, and lullabies and traditional songs that my parents sang to me before bedtime. My parents are passionate music lovers. My father wrote many books on Catalan language pedagogy, including small songs and compositions that could be sung and played on the piano, guitar, or recorder. My grandmother, who had learned basic piano as a child, spent hours with me, accompanying me during my practice. I always had various musical instruments nearby, but interestingly, I have been primarily connected to keyboard instruments. There was an electronic piano in our home at an early age, and even though in Spanish schools, we all learn to play the recorder a little bit, and in the Valencia region, it is popular to receive musical education in wind/brass bands, I always conceived my relationship with music through keyboard instruments. This includes the piano, harpsichord, organ, and accordions, but never tied to a specific musical style. Sometimes I wonder to what extent that has focused or limited my musical development. This also explains my interest in “self-accompaniment” because I soon began singing Beatles songs while accompanying myself on the piano. I was an energetic and restless child, and I just wanted to run and play, not sit on a stool in front of the keys. (I believe I am still that way to some extent, and perhaps my style of playing channels that energy).

TC: In your short biography, you mention your curiosity about the understudied influences of early Italian music on Anglo-Saxon musical traditions. Could you tell us more about it?

JB: Music is also a channel of connection to my daily experiences. I have always been fascinated by both Celtic (Scottish/Irish) music I heard in pubs and on records and by Japanese culture, as depicted in manga, anime, literature, philosophy, and traditional music.

Therefore, consciously or unconsciously, I have created projects that fall within the codes of Early Music and Historically Informed Performance that could be linked to these hobbies in one way or another. With my group, Tunelanders, I was able to access a fascinating musical repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries in Scotland, Ireland, and England. Many native musicians (McGibbon, Oswald, Gow…) and foreign musicians (Geminiani, Barsanti…) supported by a growing sense of cultural and musical nationalism and significant ethnomusicological efforts, created a vast corpus of musical editions. They transcribed traditional melodies, improvisations, and dances into a familiar format (including ornaments, basso continuo lines for the accompaniment, dynamic marks…) for performance with “imported” instruments from the continent, such as harpsichord, violin, flutes, guitar, or viola da gamba, among many others that we are now familiar with. I am fascinated by this repertoire not only for the electric joy of its rhythm and the sweet melancholy of its melodies but mainly because it offers a direct path to break the barriers between “Popular vs. Folk” and “Romantic and Modern” that performers and the audience have (unfortunately) assumed in classical music concerts for decades.

On the other hand, my friendship with Ryosuke Sakamoto and our Japanese-Spanish musical exchange opened the doors to the historical period of the Jesuit missions in Japan (16th-17th centuries). This historical chapter was entirely unknown to me until the day when Ryo and I started reading books and articles on the subject and contacting universities and archives that provided us with illuminating facsimile materials. The Jesuits of the 16th and 17th centuries saw music as one of the most powerful vehicles for cultural and spiritual transmission. It is fascinating to see, through the historical documents we have preserved, the enormous importance they attached to music in their missions in America and Japan, in the education of young Japanese seminarians, and in the decoration of religious rituals. Aware of how advanced the Japanese were culturally and ethically, the Jesuits adopted an attitude of great respect and non-imposition toward indigenous traditions, so the transmission of European music to Japanese society inevitably merged enrichingly with numerous indigenous cultural sources: melodies, religious beliefs, language, materials used for building organs (with bamboo pipes!), flutes, viols, and even theatrical practices and religious rituals.

TC: Speaking of cultural exchange, the question about your role as a composer is of great interest. Do you stay within the patterns of inspiration and interpretation of early music, or do you establish new bridges to contemporary music? What can you tell us about the ‘Retrovideospiel-Studio Cheesetea’ where you work as a composer?

JB: Following the line of my previous answer, I can affirm that music connects me to all the small acts that surround me in everyday life. As a child born in the 80s, I have always been able to observe and experience (while playing, of course!) the development of the world of video games, perhaps the most modern and innovative of the artistic disciplines in recent decades.

I find it extremely curious that many composers of video game music from the late 80s and early 90s, especially in the RPG or adventure genre, adapted works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods (especially by J.S. Bach) to the very limited technical capabilities of the sound chips of that era. These composers recognized the immense expressive power inherent in Renaissance and Baroque repertoires and their ability to accompany contemporary dramatic and narrative actions. This power can even transcend the instruments used to produce the sounds. I would dare say that, as a child, I became more familiar with Bach’s melodies through the sound chip of the Nintendo NES than by listening to organ, piano, or harpsichord records! Even today, I greatly enjoy connecting a MIDI keyboard to an 80s sound chip and experiencing the fascinating effect of playing and listening to Bach or Handel fugues through the artificially pure sound waves of synthesizers.

My best friends in Alicante, my hometown, are not musicians but computer engineers, comic illustrators or chefs. It was with them, united by our shared passion for 80s video games, that we founded the Cheesetea studio and started small home projects where I could experiment and learn to compose baroque and pop-style music to accompany the action in these games. It’s a very stimulating challenge for me. On the one hand, I behave in a somewhat “perfectionist” manner when composing, as it is a slow process for me, filled with small “life-ethical challenges” based on both “welcoming new ideas” and “being able to let go of old ideas” and make a final, immutable decision (that sounds very dramatical, I know…!). At the same time, this type of composition, influenced by the technical limitations of the musical hardware of the time, requires a specific type of creativity due to the great capacity for synthesis and prioritization of musical elements that melodies and their accompaniments must have.

TC: You have intensely studied the performance and realization of basso continuo in 16th-century Spanish musical repertoire. Could you briefly summarize the essential differences compared to the Italian conception of vocal accompaniment in the same era?

JB: In the 16th century, Spain maintained rich musical exchanges with Italy, Flanders, and many other European centers of high musical importance. Its music exudes a rich cosmopolitan character.

Information from Spanish sources may be more subtle, dispersed, and cryptic than Italian or Flemish sources. However, once collected, contextualized, and cross-referenced, it opens up a rich and enlightening dimension regarding accompaniment aesthetics and musical interpretation in general that transcends political and regional boundaries. The Spanish stylistic elements complement and resolve enigmas of the Italian style, and vice versa. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that, rather than finding differences between Italian and Spanish styles in the 16th century, I can glimpse a combined and richer performing style that we might not comprehend if we analyzed Italian and Spanish sources separately.

Improvisational skills were much more extensive than we can imagine, and the way they were combined with tradition and theory was unique. A great general example of this can be found in improvised polyphonic counterpoint, which is being intensively studied and restored by colleagues like Ivo Haun and David Mesquita. Regarding accompaniments, the passages that the vihuela (a genuine Spanish plucked string instrument) improvised as preludes-interludes-postludes in secular vocal works by Luis Milán (ca. 1500 – ca. 1561) are illuminating. This also includes transcriptions of vocal parts used by organists and harpsichordists to accompany vocal works and sequences of “chords” and rhythms for accompanying “standards” and dances (such as folias, passacaglias, romances, galliards, pavanes, etc.). I would dare to say that the “Spanish style” of accompaniment exemplifies the paradigm that “theory derives from practice.” Studying it is an excellent way to open the minds of accompanists. I often find ideas in historical sources that have emerged from my own intuition, experimentation, or imitation.

TC: To conclude, I like to ask experts in early music, both Baroque and Renaissance, about the reasons for the differing reception in the current music industry. While Baroque music, especially its vocal works, has gained great popularity on radio stations and opera houses in recent decades, the rich treasure of Renaissance music remains largely a niche territory for a small audience. What do you think are the reasons for this disparity in attraction or reception?

JB: Undoubtedly, we could open a lengthy debate about this stimulating question, and we would join many voices and opinions on the matter. So, I will choose a specific aspect: the clash between “high culture” and “popular culture,” between “classical music” and “pop music.”

We have been living this modern clash for decades, and essentially, it seems to be maintained thanks to class-based lobbies and interests. Indeed, the closer in time an artistic style is to us, the easier it seems to “understand” or “connect” with it. In that sense, Baroque music is obviously closer in time to us than Renaissance music. The figure of the heroic solo opera singer is an icon that has proven to be beneficial for contemporary Western culture, where the exaltation of the triumphant individual prevails over group efforts. Additionally, we have received more written music from the Baroque era than from the Renaissance. Considering that writing and books were precious and expensive materials during those centuries, it would make sense that we have preserved more written “cult” music than “popular” music from those periods.

The intellectual, spiritual, and emotional qualities of Renaissance music are unparalleled in the history of Western music. Renaissance music encompasses poetry, emotions, spirituality, eroticism, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and more, all at a unique level of wisdom and refinement. These qualities sometimes require a considerable mental, sensory, and spiritual effort from the listener. But at the same time, there is something in its compositional architecture that resonates with the utmost naturalness and perfection with our soul. As specialized performers, one of our main goals is to offer an interpretation of the highest aesthetic quality and professionalism when “producing the notes” with our voices or instruments. However, the dimension of “presentation” and “stage performance” also requires our efforts and attention, sometimes even more than the strict musical playing itself. We need to read more of Castiglione (1478 – 1529) and understand his desire to combine the wisdom of tradition with adaptation to the new times.

The challenge lies in combining this foundational quality with a more affordable, imaginative, and immediate approach to popular culture. We still primarily allocate ‘cultured music’ to traditional concert formats, while ‘popular music’ more easily accesses multimedia dimensions of mass consumption. The former is predominantly consumed by mature audiences, and the latter, by the younger public. In this regard, I

think there’s sometimes an excessive concern in the world of Early Music to ‘connect with the youth’ at all costs or, conversely, excessive disregard for them with a blind confidence that the concert halls will fill up regardless. My friends didn’t attend my concerts as frequently a few years ago as they do now. People’s artistic tastes evolve with time, and individuals of all ages have the right to enjoy all types of music without prejudice.

Digital platforms have devalued the income from physical record sales (and significantly altered the value of physical recordings), but they have democratized access to Early Music for anyone with an internet connection. I am absolutely certain that more young people and children than ever are listening to Renaissance music, becoming interested in attending concerts, and eventually, pursuing it as amateurs or professionals. If we understand our current reality without preconceptions, there is room for optimism and creativity.

We are witnessing how symphony orchestras increasingly perform entire concerts of film or video game music—a fascinating union of ‘the elite’s music band’ and the popular consumption tastes of a younger and economically modest population.

In 2016, Martin Scorsese released his film ‘Silence,’ which focuses precisely on the persecution endured by Jesuits and Christians in Japan during the early 17th century. The musical recreations in the film are of exquisite fidelity and draw from the same historical-musical materials and musicological work (by, for instance, Tatsuo Minagawa) that Ryosuke and I have used for the concert we are going to present.

Many people can hum or dance to ‘Greensleeves’ without knowing anything about its original context or origin. To progress in the adventure video game ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,’ it’s essential for players to memorize and play short modal melodies. In the TV series and video game ‘The Witcher,’ the main co-protagonist is a lutenist with a ‘pseudo-medieval-fantastic’ aesthetic who constantly accompanies the storyline with his tunes. Sting filled huge concert halls with his performance of John Dowland’s songs (c. 1563 – 1626), using a microphone to project his ‘pop’ vocal color instead of employing anachronistic bel canto techniques to reach all listeners. Traditional dolçaina (Valentian archaic pipe) players from the town of Morella (in the Valencia region) have incorporated melodies from the ‘Llibre Vermell de Montserrat’ (14th century) into their repertoire after several years of collaboration with the annual medieval and Renaissance music course each summer. Just last week, a friend who is a harpsichord professor described how a first-year student is learning the main melody from Harry Potter as their first piece on the harpsichord and helped him compare it to the main musical theme of the third movement of J.S. Bach’s Sonata in D major, BWV 1028 for viola da gamba and harpsichord.

Collaborations of quality and good intention yield results of quality and human enrichment. Crossing cultural boundaries and interdisciplinary approaches produces innovative, unique results with greater social impact. We need to continue learning how to collaborate with popular artistic figures and dimensions that are not typical for us. Confrontation is not constructive. We need the support and presence of the audience in our musical performances if we genuinely believe that the heritage of Early Music belongs to everyone and requires the efforts of all to restore it, keep it alive and current,

transmit it, and enhance the quality of life for all who experience it. If we confine ourselves within the confines of elitist museums, we are doomed.

Therefore, performers, educators, programmers, public/private/religious, and secular entities…, we must work together with a high degree of creativity and courage to make Renaissance music in particular and Early Music in general an everyday life quality asset.

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Column

Why I’ll be there 

By DAVID FALLOWS

This is all way out of my comfort zone since I have never been in Japan (or anywhere east of Singapore). But it remains the kind of programme that I most like. Apparently the first Christian missionaries in Japan were Portuguese, arriving in 1549. The Spanish and Italians followed soon after; but many Japanese felt there was something sinister and colonializing in their activities (and it is not hard to believe they were right). So Christian missionaries were officially banned in
1612; and serious persecution followed. All the same we can easily believe that the missionaries brought their music with them even if very little hard evidence can now be found. Quite how the concert will trace the cultural exchange of those years, we have yet to see (and hear). But we can be certain that the special mix of cultures in today’s Basel will yield something original and
exciting. And some of my very favorite pieces are in the programme, so there is much to look forward to.

2024

March

Continental Connection

The Robert Dow partbooks
Sun 24.03.24

April

Ad narragoniam

Music in the ship of fools
Sun 28.04.24 Intro 17:45 Concert 18:15

Barfüsserkirche
Historical Museum Basel

May

Jouissance vous donneray

A picture comes to life
Sun 26.05.24 18:15

Barfüsserkirche
Historical Museum Basel