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Mare Nostrum

Montserrat Figueras, Lior Elmaleh, Hespèrion XXI and Jordi Savall, 2011. Bellaterra, Spain, ALIA VOX, 454 p. + 2 CDs

This multi-media book conceived by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras about the Mediterranean Sea as a crossroads of cultures and their music is intended as multi-facetted dialogues between the 'orient' and the 'occident', throughout their history, through their traditions and present-day perspectives. It is presented by the Institut Européen de la Méditerranée (IEM). It was enabled by a broad collaboration and financially supported by IEM, the Fundació Centre Internacional de Música Antiga with the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Institut Ramon Llull and the Culture and Education Programme of the European Commission.

“Our sea. This everyday expression , which is so familiar to those of use who live on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, is in fact a translation of the Latin “Mare nostrum”, coined by the Ancient Romans of the 2nd century BC after seizing the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily from the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars. Initially, they used it to refer to the waters of the Western Mediterranean, but the Romans' invincible conquests from Hispania to Egypt meant that, by about 30 BC, the expression “Mare nostrum” had come to refer to the whole Mediterranean, leaving the term “oceanus” to refer to the vast, menacing sea beyond the Rock of Gibraltar. The famous Roman historian Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus, 86-35 BC), also called it “Mare internum” because it was bounded by land from the Pillars of Hercules in the west to the coasts of Phoenicia and Syria in the east. Long before the Romans, the Greeks had called the sea that they crossed as they travelled from island to island “Mesogeios”, which means “between lands”. Finally, it was this translation which, in Latin, eventually held sway: the “mare medi terrae” or the “sea between lands” (according to Isidore of Seville in the 7th century), is our Mediterranean.” Manuel Forcano, Writer (translated by Jacqueline Minett), p. 60.

The accompanying texts are reflecting on a dialogue of souls across the Mediterramean, its millenia of exchange, warfare, cooperation, misunderstandings and mutual influence. They are by Amin Maalouf, writer, Jordi Savall, viol player, conductor and composer, Manuel Forcano, writer, Fernand Braudel, historian, Pedrag Matvejević, essayist and writer, Amnon Shiloah, musicologist, Tahar Ben Jelloun, poet and writer, Rossend Domènech, journalist, and Sergi Grau Torras, historian. They are presented in Arab, Spanish, Catalan, German, English, French, Greek, Italian, Turkish and Hebrew.

The two CDs are titled 'Mare Nostrum – Orient – Occident: Dialogues. Dialogues of Christian, Muslim and Jewish music from around the Mediterranean'. They enchant the listener with 8 Arab-Turkish pieces, six Hebrew pieces, seven Christian pieces and another seven pieces of mixed origin; texts are from ancient Hispanic sources, melodies and instrumentals of Sepharadic and Oriental influence. The music, even more than than the texts, is evocative of the profound exchange that has gone on for millennia across the Mediterranean. It is a timely reminder of the depth of mutual influence that can be traced in the history, the names, the migrant communities and many of today's practices, even though people on the northern, southern eastern and western shores may not always be aware of that and in active dialogue at present. Let shared culture become a link to reconnect to one another peacefully.

The music registrations on traditional instruments were realised by Manuel Mohino on 2 and 3 December 2009 in the Chapel of Mercy, Marseille, 20 August 2010 at the Franc-Warêt Church, Belgium, 7 and 8 September 2010 at the Monastery of St. Peter of Rhodes, 1 November 2010, 19 January 2011 and 15 and 18 May 2011 at the Collégiale de Cardona, Catalunia, and finally 14 July 2011 at the Fontfroide Abbey, France.

Cornelia E Nauen