Classical & Opera: Music with a smile
Saturday 23 May 1998
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
Life & Style blogs
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
30,000 reasons why the rhetoric on immigrants claiming benefits can stop now
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...
£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...
£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...