Josquin Desprez (c. 1450/1455-1521) and Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) lived and worked, for the most part, in different countries and perhaps shared little in terms of abstract compositional style. Yet throughout Europe, generations of musicians came to recognize them as kindred spirits, and tablature versions of their masses and motets circulated amongst lutenists. For John Potter, this is “the secret life of the music – in historical terms its real life.” In this characteristically creative project, Potter explores “what happens to music after it is composed.”
As John Potter explains in the liner notes: “We don’t usually think of Josquin being a major influence on Victoria, and for most modern listeners and performers, one is ‘early renaissance’ and the other is ‘late’. But the musicians of four hundred years ago made no such distinction: for them a new choral work by a great master was another source of inspirational material to add to the stream of music from many previous generations which they constantly re-invented. The music of their past was also the music of their present. The original manuscripts, commissioned for purely vocal performance in church, were quickly transformed by lute players into instrumental and vocal pieces that then took on a life of their own, constantly re-worked over many generations. (…) Time and geography meant very little to singers or players who could make the music their own in the moment.”
The project developed out of an idea by Potter and Ariel Abramovich to perform pared-down duet versions of Josquin’s motets, “in keeping with our belief that the pristine ‘early music’ a cappella performance of Franco-Flemish polyphony has misrepresented the way the music was mostly performed. This then evolved into a plan to use two vihuelas and two voices, so we asked Anna Maria Friman and Lee Santana.” Viola da gamba player Hille Perle attended the Josquin sessions in St Gerold, contributing to two pieces. For a session devoted to the music of Victoria, Jacob Heringman, another outstanding lutenist, was drafted in. Heringman also contributes five improvised preludes to the programme.
The quartet with Friman, Abramovich and Heringman subsequently became Potter’s new group, recording the album Amores Pasados in 2014, “bridging the gap between art song and pop song” and incorporating new lute songs written by John Paul Jones, Tony Banks and Sting, alongside pieces by Campion, Moeran and Peter Warlock. Press reactions were very positive, with The Arts Desk praising both the “sublime lute playing” of Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman and the “pure, unaffected singing styles, perfectly matched” of John Potter and Anna Maria Friman. Potter himself – in an interview at website Jazz Views - has called this group “probably the most perfect ensemble I’ve worked with. We just breathe each other’s music.” (It has had of course, several very distinguished predecessors at ECM including The Dowland Project and the Hilliard Ensemble. Both of those groups also recorded, with Manfred Eicher producing, at the St Gerold monastery in the Austrian mountains.)