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Tired of flamenco? Tune in to medieval music from Spain
NIDHI GUPTA  8th Dec 2012

Capella de Ministrers performing in Delhi

f the mention of Spanish music ovly conjures up only images Salsa, and the sounds of Flamenco, lend an ear to the Capella de Ministrers, an ensemble dedicated, to say the least, to expanding this definition. The Spanish band was in town this week for a concert that, quite literally, transported the audience to another time.

Using a harpsichord, two types of drums, a variety of flutes, a mandolin, a guitar and vocals, the five-member ensemble specializes in re-creating medieval music which virtually vanished as great political tides swept the peninsula, and as the Roman Catholic Church gained control over lands that were previously being fought over by the Christians and the Moors.

Since its formation in 1987, it has been the band's mission to bring to the contemporary world a taste of medieval music. Director Carles Magraner said "We wanted to show the world a different Spain, one that is as much part of the story as any other. Spain's musical traditions can be dated back to the 12th century."

To this end, they have been researching music from pre-modern centuries, tracing it through books, musicological research and, interestingly, frescoes found on the ceilings of various cathedrals. "In these exquisite paintings, we found an inkling of what the instruments of the time could have been like. Using these depictions and descriptions found in certain important books, we re-fashioned our instruments. For example, the strings of the mandolin are made of gut, not wire, as done today. We also found mention of a double-ended flute which was often played during the Renaissance," explains Magraner.

He adds that there was a huge Moroccan influence on the music of the time. Jesus Clavero Rodriguez, cultural manager at the Instituto Cervantes, says that this music was actually a confluence of many vibrant cultures – musical strains from Central Europe, the Arab lands and even India, can be found.

The songs themselves, found preserved in some venerable books like the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (Book of Red Velvet), an important collection of devotional songs of the time, are not as much religious renditions as they are artefacts of culture. From songs of the Sibyl, creatures who believed themselves to be inspired by the gods, and in those praise of the Virgin Mary, to music dedicated to courtesans and those specially written for pilgrims, the oeuvre of the medieval times as uncovered today encompasses a vast array of lifestyles of the period, says Magraner.

"These were songs of death, destruction, in remembrance of historical events, even miracles – not always prayers or in praise of the Lord. But essentially, this is music from Aragon and Catalonia, believd to be the oldest sites of music in Spain," elucidates Magraner. The Church only served as a suitable space for singing the songs, because the acoustics rendered by the architecture ensured that the music took on larger resonance, says Rodriguez.

Through this exploration, Magraner opines that they are trying to evoke the real spirit of music. "We felt the need to investigate, compare and find how music was played in its origins. We have tried to recreate the spirit of the past, and this is our way to communicate with people. We feel that it is important to witness this as a compendium of senses – it is music that needs to be felt and watched along with being heard," he notes.

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