Against the monoculture of modernity
The terrible amnesia to which humankind is prey is undoubtedly one of the principal causes of our inability to learn from history. The invasion of Occitania and particularly the massacre on 22nd July, 1209, of the 20,000 inhabitants of Béziers on the pretext that the town harboured 230 heretics whom the town council refused to hand over to the Crusaders, dramatically recalls similar events in modern times, such as the Spanish Civil War triggered in 1936 by Franco's army with the excuse of the Communist threat and the division of Spain, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 with the excuse of the Sudetenland, and the invasion of Poland by Hitler's German troops, in September 1939, over the question of Gdansk.Frankly I find it very difficult to add anything to that extract from Jordi Savall's introductory essay to his latest project The Forgotten Kingdom - The Albigensian Crusade, but I will try.
More recently, we remember the wars in Vietnam (1958-1975), Afghanistan (2001), those launched in retaliation against the terrorist attacks of 11th September, and the Iraq war (2003) with the excuse of that country's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction. Just as the laws promulgated by Pope Innocent IV in his Bull on torture, Ad Exstirpanda of 1252, contemplated all the methods of accusation with no possible defence (still in place today at Guantanamo) and authorized torture as a means of extracting information from heretics, so do countries ruled by dictatorial and unscrupulous regimes today still deny the rights of those they accuse. Punishment was meted out not just to those convicted of heresy, but also to those accused without being sentenced, by the demolition and the very destruction of the foundations of their houses, a procedure still used today against the houses of Palestinian terrorists.
Absolute evil is always the evil inflicted by man on man. That is why, in common with François Cheng, we believe that "it is our urgent and permanent task to unveil the two mysteries which constitute the extremes of the living world: on the one hand, evil, and on the other, beauty. For what is at stake is no less than the truth of human destiny, a destiny which involves the very foundations of our freedom."
Eight centuries have passed, and yet the memory of the crusade against the Albigensians has not been erased. Even today, it evokes sorrow and pity. Leaving myth and legend aside, the destruction of the memory of that remarkable civilisation which was the "land of Oc", destined to become a truly forgotten kingdom, and the terrible tragedy of the Cathars or "Good Men" and their witness to their faith, deserve our unreserved respect and determined effort to preserve their historical memory.
Jordi Savall is seen above, photographed during my just-in-time interview with him in 2008. Scholarship, musicianship and production excellence are givens for any of his projects and this new release, which documents in music and texts the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century, is no exception. Three CDs come in a sumptuous 560 page book and in addition to the constant of Hespèrion XXI there are guest musicians from Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco. But there is something else that makes the The Forgotten Kingdom exceptional.
The Albigensian Crusade was the established Church's reaction to the supposedly heretical Cathar Christians of south-western France who were virulent critics of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy. In one of the illuminating essays that accompanies The Forgotten Kingdom David Renaker of San Francisco State University gives the first English translation of Pope Innocent IV's infamous Ad Exstirpanda, a papal license to torture. David Renaker concludes his illuminating essay by saying:
One only needs to read the Ad Exstirpanda to discover that the inquisition [against the Cathars] was not about faith and not even about heresy, but about wealth and power, and the crudest method of attaining these - terror.In the Middle Ages multinational armies, the Crusaders, were used to attain wealth and power. It is not difficult to see similarities between those armies of long ago and today's multinational media conglomerates, who seek wealth and power by restricting choice and establishing a monoculture of modernity. Free thinking is today's heresy, and it will surely not be long before those who swim against the tide meet the same fate as the Cathars of Béziers.
The Forgotten Kingdom is an important reminder, in both historical and contemporary contexts, of the importance of protecting the foundations of our freedom. Through music and texts documenting the tragedy of the Cathars, a group who dared to swim against the tide, we are reminded how wealth and power corrupts. And through the singular commitment of a group of artists working outside the media controlled celebrity circuit with a musician owned independent record label we are reminded of the true price of today's monoculture of modernity.
Swimming against the tide has always been deeply unfashionable. But is that tide turning? The Norfolk & Norwich Festival has a long and distinguished history, and its commissions include works from free thinkers such as Benjamin Britten (Our Hunting Fathers), Ralph Vaughan Williams (Five Tudor Portraits) and William Alwyn's (Fifth Symphony). In recent years the Festival's headline acts have included, as reported here, others who swim against the tide, including Jacques Loussier, the Hilliard Ensemble and last year Philip Glass.
In 2010 the closing concert of the Festival is not EMI's latest Chinese pianist or Sting's latest supermarket merchandised blockbuster. In another blow against the monoculture of modernity the closing concert is the UK premiere of Jordi Savall's Jerusalem, and the volume of early ticket sales suggests that swimming against the tide may just be coming back into fashion.
* In another of the excellent essays in The Forgotten Kingdom Antoni Dalmau reviews how history has treated the Cathars and cautions against some recent fictional treatments. But the National Socialism's fascination with the Albigensian movement cannot pass unremarked, read more here.
* This blog is also guilty of capitulating to the monoculture of modernity, which means Amazon is usually cited as the default source for CDs. So it is worth noting that I bought The Forgotten Kingdom from Prelude Records for £27.99, the amazon.co.uk price is £36.89. That is Jordi Savall in Prelude Records in the photo above which comes from my post The tills are alive with the sound of early music.
* The terrible Albigensian Crusade started from Nîmes, which featured in one of my road trip posts.
Our tickets for his Jerusalem project at the Norwich & Norfolk Festival were bought at the box office. Other performers at the Festival include John McLaughlin. Photos of Jordi Savall are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk