Classical & Opera: Music with a smile

Leonardo da Vinci's celebrated painting, the Mona Lisa, is unusual in a number of ways, and is certainly not representative of the standard portraiture of the time. One factor differentiating it, for a start, is that the sitter smiles. What is making her smile?

According to Da Vinci's contemporary, the art historian Giorgio Vasari, it was music - for he notes that Da Vinci "engaged musicians who played and sang and continually jested in order to chase away the melancholy which painters usually give to portraits." True or not, the anecdote at least provides a highly imaginative starting conceit for what should be a fine evening of new music theatre from the pristine viol consort, Concordia, when they give Music for the Mona Lisa at the Cochrane Theatre on 26 May, this week, as part of the BOC Covent Garden Festival.

"The Mona Lisa was painted in 1503," says Concordia's leader, Mark Levy, "and, just as it is a revolutionary painting, so music, too, was going through its own Renaissance at the time. Most music before 1500 might still, for want of a better term, be described as 'medieval'. At least, most secular compositions before then are all rather flat and angular. Interestingly, of course, the Mona Lisa itself is not a flat or angular painting - there are no planes on her face whatsoever, which seems to be effortlessly shaped from curves and natural forms. And, just as there's a new sense of freedom in the painting, so we find much music of the time following suit."

Italian musical life of Da Vinci's time was, to some extent, dominated by northerners crossing the Alps, and working in Milan, Florence and Venice. Yet, again, circa 1500, a new flowering of native composers occurred, with indigenous Italian songs worked via a new-found richness of harmony and mood-painting gradually emerging. Mark Levy has no doubts that a "Renaissance man of Leonardo's dimensions would have been aware of these developments, especially because these new harmonies were, equally, charting a new emotional territory at the same time."

Yet, having come up with the idea of Music for the Mona Lisa, Concordia have still had to put in a great deal of work assembling their precise and meticulous programme. "Part of the joy of a project like this," says Levy, "is the chance to gather a range of works together under a single banner. Great though much of this music is, it's also often very short and fragmented. So, to bring a gamut of it into an overall structural concept, seems to provide both context and weight." As to the actual pieces, which embrace Isaac, Compere, Desprez and, of course, Anon, Levy has located them from a number of sources, though often, as he says, the precise ensemble of viols, recorders, cornetts and shawms employed, "has to be rendered by a process of what might be called educated guesswork."

Yet Music for the Mona Lisa won't just consist of music. Aside from the stunning counter-tenor tones of Robin Blaze, there's the voice of Leonardo, a dancer and back projection. "We have something both alluring and intriguing in store," adds Levy. "Far from a mere fusty exercise. But, no, the musicians don't dress up. The audience is serenaded back to Renaissance Italy, like Mona, but from a codpiece-free zone."

'Music for the Mona Lisa' is at the Cochrane Theatre, WC1 (0171-242 7040) 26 May, 7.30pm

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living