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FRANCISCO JAVIER – The Route to the Orient
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Reference: AVSA9856

  • Hespèrion XXI
  • La Capella Reial de Catalunya
  • Jordi Savall

Although we had been intrigued for many years by the extraordinary travels of Francis Xavier, the seminal idea for this programme began to take shape in the spring of 1996, when we were invited by the Festival of St. Florent le Vieil to give a concert with Spanish and Japanese musicians to commemorate Francis Xavier’s arrival in Japan. The programme was entitled “1549 RITUALS & PROPHECIES: Japan & Spain in the time of Saint Francis Xavier.”

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The World is a book,
and those who do not travel
read only a page.”
St. Augustine of Hippo (5th century)

Although we had been intrigued for many years by the extraordinary travels of Francis Xavier, the seminal idea for this programme began to take shape in the spring of 1996, when we were invited by the Festival of St. Florent le Vieil to give a concert with Spanish and Japanese musicians to commemorate Francis Xavier’s arrival in Japan. The programme was entitled “1549 RITUALS & PROPHECIES: Japan & Spain in the time of Saint Francis Xavier.” The concert was performed on 10th July, 1996, in the Abbey of St. Florent, with the participation of Montserrat Figueras, soloists of La Capella Reial de Catalunya and members of HESPÈRION XX, and the Japanese musicians Yumiko Kaneko, Ichiro Seki and Masako Hirao. A few months later, the same programme was performed in Tochigi, Kyoto, Yamaguchi and Tokyo. Ten years later, in 2006, most of that original group of Spanish and Japanese musicians came together again to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Francis Xavier, and we took the opportunity to give a number of concerts and prepare the recording of this fascinating new CD/book.

The commemoration of Francis Xavier’s arrival in Japan and his subsequent death was the initial reason behind the project, but the basic idea which inspired the development and content of this programme grew out of our wonder and admiration at his incredible epic journey and, above all, the spiritual and human dimension of Francis Xavier. This is the astonishing story of a man who lived both his life and his beliefs intensely and rigorously practised all the fundamental rules of the newly-formed Society of Jesus: rules of poverty, charity, abnegation and sacrifice for the sake of the most humble and the outcasts of society. A true apostle of his faith who, in less than twelve years, and despite the limited means available in his age, travelled almost 100,000 kilometres: Driven by the force of his beliefs, and bravely confronting the most dangerous of circumstances, he defied the power and pride of the bonzes to lay the foundations of new Christian communities.

Accompanied by Portuguese missionaries, Francis Xavier disembarked in Kagoshima in 1549. On his way to the island of Hirado, where there was an established community of Europeans, he would stride along singing psalms – much to the fascination of the local people, who turned out in large numbers and travelled long distances to see the distinguished Jesuits pass by. But it was not until about 1605 that a Japanese publisher in Nagasaki brought out the first edition of the Manuale ad Sacramenta, a volume containing nineteen of these religious songs, including the “Gloriosa Domina”. This date marks the beginnings of western music in Japan. It was to be an ephemeral flowering, however, because in 1613 Christianity was banned in Japan and it was only thanks to the continued practice of certain clandestine Christian communities in the islands near Nagasaki that the Manuale ad Sacramenta was passed down to the present day under the name of Prayer.

The forty-seven years of Francis Xavier’s life unfolded at a crucial time in the history of western civilisation, particularly in the case of the Christian religion. A half-century that was shaken and shaped by a series of seismic and decisive events: the consolidation of the Renaissance, the rise of Humanism, the Schism of the Reformation, and the reaction of the Counter-Reformation, which in turn gave rise to the Society of Jesus. It was also a period which witnessed the publication of highly original works of literature and philosophy that were profoundly critical of the religious and political hierarchies of the day. Such works include Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, dedicated to his friend Thomas More, who was the author of Utopia, an extraordinary text containing the blueprint for an ideal world. It was also the period in which Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and Machiavelli’s The Prince appeared. It was at precisely that time that Francis Xavier, on his journey to the East, was confronted with all the major Oriental systems of belief: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Nestorian Christianity. That is why we wish to reproduce a sample of the majority of the texts and beliefs which made a mark on that extraordinary fifty-year span, with a selection and introduction to the principal texts by the poet and academic Manuel Forcano.

In the words of Elias Canetti, “Music is the true living history of humankind, and we put our faith in it because what it says relates to our feelings; without it, we would be left with only lifeless fragments.” (Die Provinz des Menschen, Aufzeichnungen 1942-1972, Carl HanserVerlag, München-Wien, 1973; in English translation: The Human Province, Seabury Press, 1978). All these texts, all these fascinating stories, would lack something of their true life without their corresponding music. To recall in only 160 minutes of music (the space available on these two CDs) the key stages in the life of Francis Xavier and, at the same time, to draw closer to some of the most important landmarks of our own modern history, are objectives that we can only achieve through some of the most significant music that we believe or imagine the protagonists of the period would have listened to and loved. This is not descriptive music, but music from the courts of Navarre, Spain, Paris and Italy, sacred and profane music which evokes historical events (Navarre, Pavia, Wittenberg). These musical pages reveal the spirit and the atmosphere of life at court (Henry VIII), in the cities (Venice, Paris, Rome, Goa) and in different countries (the drums and the oud of Africa, the sarod and the tabla of India, the flutes, the Biwa and the chants of Japan). The rich vein of the Golden Age Spanish and Portuguese chansonniers who were the contemporaries of Francis Xavier has yielded up religious works by Joanes Ponce, Juan del Encina, Cristobal de Morales and other anonymous authors in Spanish, Latin and Portuguese which admirably echo and illustrate the mysticism and intense spirituality of Francis Xavier.

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”, said St. Augustine of Hippo. Francis Xavier was a great apostle, but he was also a reader of the World. He had a desire for knowledge, and to fulfil that desire he boldly and fearlessly travelled eastward, on route to the Orient: Ex Oriente Lux, light comes from the East. His route took him on a long and arduous journey to Africa, and then India, and from the Indian sub-continent to the Far East, first to the mysterious land of Japan and then onward to the very gates of inaccessible China. First the energy, and then the strength and determination that propelled him undaunted in pursuit of his goals, were born out of his principles, his faith and his desire to learn and to teach. Nothing could discourage him: “If I can’t find a boat”, he once said, “I will swim there”. Wherever he went, Francis Xavier learned the language of the local people so that he could communicate, laugh and sing with them, so that he could be one of them.

The lands in the East that he visited first were Portuguese colonies on the east coasts of Africa, India, Ceylon and the islands of Indonesia. There he witnessed the abuses of colonial power, the injustice of masters who exploited and humiliated their slaves, and all the suffering experienced by the outcasts of this world. And he did not hesitate to speak out against these ills and to do what he could to redress them, even challenging the authorities themselves, when necessary, to ensure that the dignity and rights of the native peoples were respected: “Indians have the same feelings as ourselves”. Tireless and steadfast in his determination, he allowed no barrier or difficulty to stand in his way. Moved by his desire to take the message of Jesus to the most impenetrable lands of the East, he reached as far as Japan and attempted to enter China, a country that was strictly forbidden to foreigners. The driving force and goal of all his travels was to take to those lands the consolation of a faith which preached the salvation of the soul; his presence and his words in those remote civilisations convinced thousands of men and women of all kinds and conditions. He was not afraid to remind kings of those words of Jesus that were so often quoted by Ignatius Loyola that he made them his own: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” In those countries he is to this day remembered and venerated as the “conqueror of souls”. They made him a saint.

In this CD-book, which charts Francis Xavier’s travels – from old Europe to the land of the rising sun – with the help of extracts from his letters, passages from the most representative texts of his age and a selection of music from the period and from the (still vibrant) musical cultures that he encountered on his journey to the East, we wish to express our own sincere homage to Francis Xavier. If the world is a book, it is one that Francis Xavier read from cover to cover.

JORDI SAVALL
Geneva, autumn 2007