The group is of variable size and personnel (though always including founder and director Jordi Savall), and this version will be of more intimate dimensions than last time, made up of Savall on rebab and lira da gamba; Montserrat Figueras on voice and cithara; Pierre Hamon on ney, gaita and flutes; and Dimitri Psonis on oud, santur and morisca. (I assume everyone knows what a “voice” and a “flute” are, but as far as the other exotic instruments, I suggest a Google search and/or attend the concert to see and hear for yourself.)
The legend of the concert is “Lux Feminae (Light of Woman) 900-1600,” and it is described as “an invocation of femininity with seven portraits of women in ancient Hesperia.” (“Hesperia,” that is, “Western Land,” was what the Greeks called Italy and the Romans called Spain. The latter usage would seem to be the appropriate one here.)
The program will include songs and instrumentals from anonymous Andalusian, Sephardic and Christian traditions; from the Codex Las Huelgas and Libre Vermell de Montserrat; and by composers Beatriz de Dia, Martin Codax and Bartomeu Càrceres.
With the amazing technological advancement of the past millennium, we can be forgiven for believing that our sensibilities have been refined at the same rate. Alas, to listen to a single song by Gilles Binchois, Giaches de Wert or Roland de Lassus is to be abruptly disillusioned of the notion that we have — at least in the past 500 years — refined our tastes at all. If anything, we have grown coarser.
Also, because our sense of the past was largely conditioned by 19th-century historians — every man Jack of them a male chauvinist — we are always stumbling over active and productive women in past ages, because we were led to believe that there weren’t any. Yet, as the name suggests, Dia was a woman, a lady songwriter, and she was not the only one. These female troubadours were known as “trobairitz,” and they flourished from about 1170 to about 1260 — at the same time, there were revered lady professors in Italian universities.
To be sure, it got ugly again for women, as Rome got insecure and clamped down on liberties across the board, but even during the darkest times, the “Light of Woman” was never completely extinguished, and you can always find them if you look. The past is never as monolithic as we have been taught.
Dia — and scholars are only fairly sure that such was her Christian name — is called in the documents only “the Countess of Diá.” Singer-songwriters like her, of noble birth, were the ones called troubadours/trobairitz. Minstrels of non-noble birth, such as Codax, were known as “jograls.” The bulk of Codax’s work, seven songs, surfaced in 1913 in Madrid. A bookseller discovered a parchment containing the seven songs wrapped around a copy of a book by Cicero. As Australian bandit Ned Kelly said, such is life.
Tickets to “Lux Feminae” are available from CAMA at 805.966.4324, or through the Lobero box office at 805.963.0761.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.