Initially making himself known to smaller audiences as a viola de gamba player, Jordi Savall quickly enriched his repertoire and successfully infiltrated larger music circles. His recording debut dates back to 1967, in Barcelona, with a recording devoted to the ‘Chants d’Andalousie’ (Songs of Andalusia) which he performed with the famous Los Angeles soprano, Victoria, under the direction of Enrique Gispert. However, Jordi Savall received little credit since, for this recording, he was a member of the Barcelona Ars Musicae, an ensemble of ancient instruments specialising in early musicological research in Spain. Other recordings would soon follow, notably with oboist Michel Piguet, whom Savall had known at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, guitarist John Williams, and harpsichordist Rafael Puyana.

Paris - 1972

In 1972 he was staying in Paris, recording a programme devoted to Georg Philipp Telemann (for Erato) with the Orchestra of Jean-François Paillard (a baroque music pioneer in France), before a return to basics that would take him back to more classical instruments and playing styles such as we’re familiar with today. Subsequently, Marin Marais quickly caught the attention of the Catalan musician. What followed was the Pièces de Viole du Second Livre, in conjunction with Anne Gallet on the harpsichord and Hopkinson Smith on the lute for the Astrée label. Like Michel Garcin (Erato) and Bernard Coutaz (Harmonia mundi), Michel Bernstein, by creating his Astrée label, quickly became aware of the importance of the movement that would later be somewhat derisively called the “Baroque”, attracting a contempt not entirely dissimilar to what the “Impressionists” had felt themselves. The following year, under the direction of Gustav Leonhardt, Jordi Savall participated in the music recording for Molière-Lully’s Le ‘Bourgeois gentilhomme’.

Marin Marais: Pièces de Viole - Book 2 and Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière-Lully, conducted by Gustav Leonhardt

In 1974, he founded and formed the Hespèrion XX ensemble in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife Montserrat Figueras (vocals), Lorenzo Alpert (flute & percussion) and Hopkinson Smith (plucked string instruments). Pedro Estevan subsequently joined him on percussion, as did Driss El Maloumi on oud. This new genre of ensemble performed early music (medieval, renaissance, and baroque), with a particular focus on Spanish music. Right from the outset, free improvisation on a rhythmic and melodic canvas was the groundwork of Hespèrion XX, renamed Hespèrion XXI at the turn of the new century. It was the start of an impressive series of recordings for Alia Vox, Jordi Savall’s own label, which have continued right up to the present day.

With the passage of time and the ongoing development of his career, Jordi Savall turned to new repertoires. In 1988, Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (Vespro della Beata Vergine) appeared on the scene, an enlightening recording with deep Latin roots. A series of recordings dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach followed and achieved immense success: The Musical Offering, the Brandenburg Concertos, and the Suites (Overtures). At the same time, in a similar manner to early Spanish music, Marin Marais was always in the spotlight. Jordi Savall dedicated his time looking for new manuscripts, forgotten or little-known composers, and new music: Morales, Guerrero, Victoria. Some albums certainly revealed a world that we thought had been long-forgotten, such as Le Livre vermeil de Montserrat, El Cancionero de la Colombina or El Canciero de Medinaceli. Jordi Savall and his teams of singers and musicians could be seen on stage at many festivals in France and throughout Europe; they recorded new records simultaneously: Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks by Handel, and Mozart’s Requiem.

Jordi Savall enters the Top 50!

1992 was the year where everything changed for Jordi Savall. Already well known to music lovers, he rode his immense success with the film Tous les matins du monde all the way to “star” status. This film, by Alain Corneau, was based on the novel-screenplay by Pascal Quignard and featured Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Marin Marais (Gérard Depardieu), two great violists from the 17th century. The additional music, beautifully put together by Jordi Savall, a great violinist of the 20th century, earned him the César Award for best film music, the Grand Prix from the Académie Charles Cros, and the title of Soloist of the Year at the Victoires de la Musique. It was an unprecedented success that saw the austere and confidential viola da gamba repertoire climb to one of the top spots in the Top 50.

Another record was released the following year, and it remains famous to this day. Subsequently, a newly edited and remastered version was re-released in 2017 which beautifully accentuates the sounds of the old instruments and the spatialisation of the entire ensemble: it was called the Cantigas de Santa Maria collection. We have inherited one of the largest compilations of the thirteenth century. Composed in part, between 1250 and 1280, by King Alfonso the Wise (Alfonso el Sabio), who headed up the artists’ studio, these mystical cantigas (Spanish monodic songs), but not intended for the liturgy, were very popular throughout the Hispanic peninsula until the 15th century. This vernacular based music, with a somewhat naive Marian fervour, is inspired by an array of melodies which encompass modes and rhythms with Arabic and Jewish origins. It is a vast collection of over 400 songs in the form of four manuscripts which more or less overlap.

Tous les matins du monde, the film by Alain Corneau, based on Pascal Quignard's book, starring Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Marin Marais (Gérard Depardieu)

Alia Vox, a “hand-made” label

Throughout his career, Jordi Savall worked closely with his wife Montserrat Figueras, who sadly passed away in 2011. They worked together to ensure that medieval music and the Catalan, Spanish and European Renaissance, achieved the recognition it deserved. Amongst others, we think of the famous Chant de la sybille (El Cant de la Sibila), one of the Catalan singer’s symbolic titles. Several Montserrat Figueras tribute albums are also available on the Alia Vox label, which Jordi created in March 1997 to manage his musical supremacy. Many other musicians tried to do the same before, and even continued trying afterwards. However, few managed to achieve the master’s same level of ‘hand-made’ prowess in terms of editorial skill.

Cantigas de Santa Maria (13th century) Remastered re-release (with a new montage)

Over time, Jordi Savall’s approach became increasingly spiritual, and he also turned more towards a living, creative, and encyclopaedic ethnomusicology. His concert and vinyl programmes made music a reconciliation instrument, promoting understanding between different populations and cultures. His records became thematic, leading to close collaborations with traditional Mediterranean musicians. These included La Sublime Porte-Voix d’Istanbul 1430-1750 ; Mare Nostrum - Dialogue des musiques chrétiennes, musulmanes et juives autour de la Méditerranée ; Jérusalem, la ville des deux paix : la paix céleste et la paix terrestre ; Esprit d’Arménie ; Pro Pacem : Textes, arts & musiques pour la Paix ; Esprit des Balkans, Orient-Occident II-Hommage à la Syrie ; Bal-Kan ; Guerre et Paix 1614-1714 and, more recently, Les Routes de l’esclavage 1444-1888. Jordi Savall’s research is also devoted to the great spiritual figures of the West, with albums dedicated to Joan of Arc and Erasmus of Rotterdam.

In recent years, Savall has applied his talent to works from the so-called “classical” period with an in-depth exploration of the Beethoven, Haydn, and Gluck repertoires. In May 2023, at the Concert des Nations and the Capella Reial de Catalunya, he released a new recording of Mozart’s Requiem which showcased a rarely equalled sonic precision. This release came more than thirty years after the original version.