Every era has something that it calls its new music, but the musica nova of the later Renaissance era is difficult to put a finger on. This release by Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XXI unravels the meaning of the term with an attractive collection of instrumental music. The album doesn't have the vast sweep of some of Savall's recent releases, and the booklet weighs in at a slender (for Savall) 150 pages. Yet for those interested in the stylistic decisions Renaissance composers faced, it is, as usual with Savall, invaluable. If you had to sum up the musica nova concept in a single phrase, it might be "the emergence of independent instrumental music." The viol family, borrowed from the old Arab storehouse of musical knowledge of the ancient world, was placed in service first of the imitation of vocal music and then of independent instrumental genres like the ricercar, the ancestor of the fugue. The ricercar is represented here by a fine example from a published collection actually called Musica Nova, the Ricercare SIV "Da Pacem" of Hieronimus Parabasco. The other major impulse behind the musica nova was dance music, often coming from multicultural places like Spain. Each of these features was inflected through various national influences, producing the distinctive English melancholy of the viol consort, radical new Spanish forms of polyphony and music shaped by the most current dances, and the polyphonic genres in Italy that led to the Baroque. You don't get a comprehensive survey in one CD, of course, but Savall and his fellow viol players, lutenists, guitarists, and percussionists give you a pretty good idea and bring their usual flair and beauty to the music. A fine survey of works that have hardly been represented on recordings.
Musica Nova: Harmonie des Nations, 1500-1700 Review
by James Manheim