How does Jordi Savall come by these ancient manuscripts? This latest one, a collection of French dances (estampies) from the 13th century Le Manuscrit du Roi, was discovered in 1907 by French musicologist Pierre Aubry. For the last hundred years bits and pieces of it were adapted by various academic and performing groups. But this is the first complete edition. Using his “historically creative performance” method, Savall arranged it all in a vibrant, beguiling, and energetic fashion. Of course pitch and instruments are not specified in the lovely source text, so a medieval-music arranger like Savall must actually be more of a composer than one who arranges modern music.
For the most part, these fifteen pieces are highly rhythmic and infectiously melodic. Some, like La Sexte Estampie Real, begin with an arrhythmic taxeem and suddenly bloom into a whirling dance; others like La Ultime Estampie Real sit out the dance and dwell in less rhythmic realms. All are astoundingly beautiful. One of them, Dansse Real, plunges so deeply into the well of melancholy that you wonder what pangs the composer must have endured to have spun it out. (See if you can play it just once.)
– Peter Bates