Hespèrion XXI

Basel, 1974
Ensamble

History

Hespèrion XXI

Ancient music’s most important value stems from its ability as a universal artistic language to transmit feelings, emotions and ancestral ideas that even today can enthral the contemporary listener. With a repertoire that encompasses the period between the 10th and 18th centuries, Hespèrion XXI searches continuously for new points of union between the East and West, with a clear desire for integration and for the recovery of international musical heritage, especially that of the Mediterranean basin and with links to the New World.

In 1974 Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras, together with Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith, founded the ancient music ensemble Hespèrion XX in Basel as a way of recovering and disseminating the rich and fascinating musical repertoire prior to the 19th century on the basis of historical criteria and the use of original instruments. The name Hespèrion means “an inhabitant of Hesperia”, which in ancient Greek referred to the two most westerly peninsulas in Europe: the Iberian and the Italian. It was also the name given to the planet Venus as it appeared in the west. At the turn of the 21st century Hespèrion XX became known as Hespèrion XXI.

Today Hespèrion XXI is central to the understanding of the music of the period between the Middle Ages and the Baroque. Their labours to recover works, scores, instruments and unpublished documents have a double and incalculable value. On one hand, their rigorous research provides new information and understanding about the historical knowledge of the period, and on the other hand, the exquisite performances enable people to freely enjoy the aesthetic and spiritual delicacy of the works of this period.

Right from the beginning Hespèrion XXI set out on a clearly innovative and artistic course that would lead to the establishment of a school in the field of ancient music because they conceived, and continue to conceive, ancient music as an experimental musical tool and with it they seek the maximum beauty and expressiveness in their performances. Any musician in the field of ancient music will have a commitment to the original spirit of each work and has to learn to connect with it by studying the composer, the instruments of the period, the work itself and the circumstances surrounding it. But as a craftsman in the art of music, he is also obliged to make decisions about the piece being played: a musician’s capacity to connect the past with the present and to connect culture with its dissemination depend on his skill, creativity and capacity to transmit emotions.

Hespèrion XXI’s repertoire includes, amongst others, the music of the Sephardi Jews, Castilian romances, pieces from the Spanish Golden Age, and Europa de les Nacions. Some of their most celebrated concert programmes are Les Cantigues de Santa Maria d’Alfons X El Savi, La Diàspora Sefardí, the music of Jerusalem, Istanbul, Armenia and the Folías Criollas. Thanks to the outstanding work of numerous musicians and collaborators who have worked with the ensemble over all these years Hespèrion XXI still plays a key role in the recovery and reappraisal of the musical heritage, and one that has great resonance throughout the world. The group has published more than 60 CDs and performs concerts for the whole world, appearing regularly at the great international festivals of ancient music.