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The Red Book of Montserrat


Llibre Vermell de Montserrat


Dorian 93202

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Monteserrat Monestary
Montserrat Monestary
In 1400, near the end of the middle ages, the most holy place to be in Europe was a little Benedictine Monastery at Montserrat (the serrated mountains) near Barcelona. A black statue of the Virgin Mary was reputed to have performed miracles, and her fame spread far and wide, attracting worshipers.

Imagine yourself a pilgrim to Montserrat, having travelled for weeks and finally meeting other pilgrims from all over Europe, the Middle East and north Africa. You find yourself in a melting pot of cultures from all over the known world.

The monks at Montserrat wrote a book of songs for the entertainment and instruction of the pilgrims. The words almost all refer to the Virgin, but the songs themselves were probably adaptations of popular and even bawdy songs that arrived on their doorstep, carried by the pilgrims from their homelands.

Over the ensuing centuries this book of devotional songs was progressively damaged (including by Napoleon's marauding army), repaired, and parts of it lost until all that remained by the nineteenth century was a set of ten songs bound in a red velvet cover, a symbol of devotion and piety. It became known as the Red Book of Montserrat or Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.

This is old, old music. But because of its popular origins and its wide ethnic origins, this is not your usual cup of Gregorian tea. This brew is European with Eastern and Jewish spices thrown in. It is pious and devotional but also profane, celebratory and sensuous.

Or is it? And here we have a problem. At the time the Red Book was written music notation was just being formalized, but still fairly primitive. Nobody really knows how each piece was meant to be performed. It is much more open to interpretation than any music written more recently.

And so today we have about half a dozen versions of the Red Book recorded, and thay each sound very different in both acoustics and mood.
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Phillip Pickott - Pilgrim Songs amp; Dances
Phillip Pickott - Pilgrim Songs & Dances
Pickott uses a large group of singers and instrumentalists, and the effect is like a sumptuous concert.
Jodi Savall, Hesperion XX - Llibre Vermell De Montserrat
Jodi Savall, Hesperion XX - Llibre Vermell De Montserrat
Faster paced, leaner and with a very exotic Spanish color.
Sonos - Songs & Dances of the Middle Ages
Sonos - Songs & Dances of the Middle Ages
Sonos uses just three performers, an intimate and more sedate affair, but possibly the most genuine.
Berry Hayward Consort - Llibre Vermell De Montserrat
Berry Hayward Consort - Llibre Vermell De Montserrat
My favourite but, alas, no longer available. A good balance between instrumental and vocal, spirited and haunting.

And so I feel justified in presenting this very un-authentic version by Sarband. Vladimir Ivanoff founded Ensemble Sarband in 1986, with the aim of exploring the links between European, Jewish and Islamic music.

Les Mystére des Voix Bulgares Sarband are most famous for their album Les Mystére des Voix Bulgares which explores the ethereal music of the Bulgarian women's choir and was nominated for 2 Grammys.

While treating the score with supreme respect, Ivanoff is quite liberal in his arrangement of Llibre Vermell de Montserrat. He employs many instrumentalists and a large choir to recreate the crowd of revelers at Montserrat.

This is by far the most atmospheric version of the Red Book, sanitized and modernized for twenty first century ears, but faithful the the original and beautifully done. With the exception of the Hesperion XX version, the Sarband disc is the most successful at bringing out the Eastern and Arabic influences.

From the hypnotic Stella Splendens, through the contemplative Mariam matrem, and the truly creepy song of death Ad Mortem Festinamus this is medieval music like you've never heard before.

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Track Listing

Anonymous - The Red Book of Montserrat
Llibre Vermell de Montserrat
  1. O Virgo splendens
  2. Laudemus virginem
  3. Salve virgo
  4. Splendens ceptigera
  5. Cedit frigus
  6. Polorum Regina
  7. Mariam Matrem Virginem
  8. Inperayritz de la ciutat ioyosa
  9. Stella splendens in monte
  10. Los set gotxs
  11. Ad Mortem Festinamus (fol. 26v)
  12. O Virgo splendens
  13. Cedit frigus
  14. Cuncti simus concanentes
  15. Inperayritz de la ciutat ioyosa

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