Ancient music’s most important value stems from its ability as a universal artistic language to transmit feelings, emotions, and ancestral ideas that even today can enthral the listener. With a repertoire that encompasses the period between the 10th and 18th centuries, Hespèrion XXI searches continuously for new points of union between the East and West, with a clear desire for integration and for the recovery of an international musical heritage, especially that of the Mediterranean basin and with links to the New World.
In 1974, Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras, together with Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith, founded the ancient music ensemble Hespèrion XX in Basel as a way of recovering and disseminating the rich and fascinating musical repertoire prior to the 19th century on the basis of historical criteria and the use of original instruments. The name “Hespèrion” means “an inhabitant of Hesperia,” which in ancient Greek referred to the two most westerly peninsulas in Europe: the Iberian and the Italian. It was also the name given to the planet Venus as it appeared in the west. At the turn of the 21st century Hespèrion XX became known as Hespèrion XXI.
Today Hespèrion XXI is central to the understanding of the music of the period between the Middle Ages and the Baroque. The artists’ labors to recover works, scores, instruments, and unpublished documents have a double and incalculable value. On one hand, their rigorous research provides new information and understanding about the historical knowledge of the period, and on the other hand, their exquisite performances enable people to freely enjoy the aesthetic and spiritual delicacy of the works of this period.
Right from the beginning, Hespèrion XXI set out on a clearly innovative and artistic course that would lead to the establishment of a school in the field of ancient music; they conceived, and continue to conceive, ancient music as an experimental musical tool and with it, they seek the maximum of beauty and expressiveness in their performances. Any musician in the field of ancient music will have a commitment to the original spirit of each work and must learn to connect with it by studying the composer, the instruments of the period, the work itself, and the circumstances surrounding it. But as craftspeople in the art of music, they are also obliged to make decisions about the piece being played: musicians’ capacity to connect the past with the present and to connect culture with its dissemination depend on their skill, creativity, and capacity to transmit emotions.
Hespèrion XXI’s repertoire includes, among others, the music of the Sephardi Jews, Castilian romances, and pieces from the Spanish Golden Age. Thanks to the outstanding work of numerous musicians and collaborators who have worked with the ensemble over all these years, Hespèrion XXI continues to play a key role in the recovery and reappraisal of our collective musical heritage, one that has great resonance throughout the world. The group has recorded more than 60 CDs and performs concerts for the entire world, appearing regularly at the great international festivals of ancient music.