Classical fusion: Renaissance-era music meets Indian poetry

Renaissance-era music meets Indian classical poetry in Songs of the Heart, a unique cross-cultural exchange project. 

Jaideep Sen Published :  15th December 2017 02:39 PM   |   Published :   |  15th December 2017 02:39 PM
Françoise Lasserre / Photo Olivier Hoffschir

Françoise Lasserre / Photo Olivier Hoffschir

Songs of the Heart is billed as a baroque music concert. Although, as a collaboration co-hosted by the Alliance Française of Madras and the Prakriti Foundation, the concert will present a dialogue between Western Renaissance music and Indian classical poetry. 

Hosted as a part of the ongoing Bonjour India celebrations, to further cultural exchanges between India and France, the concert will feature music by French and Italian composers alongside texts by poets from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, in a dialogue with nuggets of Indian poetry. 

“Poetry is the common thread of this show,” says conductor Françoise Lasserre, who will lead the concert. “Renaissance composers arranged in music the best poets of their time, like Pierre de Ronsard or Torquato Tasso.” The old masters were also interested in the Song of Songs, the last section of the Hebrew Bible, she informs. 

In Françoise’s view, all that comes down to love. “All these texts describe different moods of love,” she explains, “Love at first sight, its flowering, separation, jealousy, the wait, the disdain, the worship, etc… But the object of the amorous desire, which can be a lover, man or woman, or a god, is often depicted using pictures from nature.”

That’s where Françoise found a parallel for Songs of the Heart, which will feature the actors Savrasti Banerjee and Varun Aiyer. “We find the same pictures in Sangam Poetry, in poems of Mira Baï, Amaru or Rumi,” notes the conductor. In effect, she says, “It was easy to alternate music and poems, singing voice and spoken voice, because of this common thread.”

Françoise Lasserre

Love, sacred & profane 
The comparisons do run deeper. “Poets use the same words, feelings, or affectations to express a voice of passion, in both instances of Profane Love and Sacred Love,” she notes. “The best examples of matching can be found in comparing the Song of Songs and Sangam Poetry,” she says. However, Western composers use different styles, explains Françoise.

“When Palestrina, the best composer in Roma in the late 16th century, put in music the Song of Songs, he was working for the Church,” she notes. “His music was polyphonic, with pure melodies. If Monteverdi composed on Tasso’s poems, he was working for aristocrats. He used what we call the ‘seconda pratica’ (Italian for ‘second practice’), which leaves behind the traditional polyphony.”

In the end, both poetry and music speak to the heart of each person in a different way, reasons the conductor. “It depends on your own condition,” she offers. “Sentimentality is missing in Renaissance Music. The depicted love, even unfortunate, stays in the vein of amour courtois (courtly love), inherited from the Middle Age. Unlike in operas by Puccini, the hero can give his life for his lover, but not blood. Passion and drama are expressed by dissonances, ruptures of rhythm, and a wide vocal range.”

Françoise’s ensemble Akadêmia has been working with Indian artistes since 2013. “We work with a mutual respect of our own traditions, and we are happy to discover new horizons,” she enthuses. “When I speak to Indian singers, they are pleased to know that my requirement is the same with them as with my musicians.”

For their performance in Chennai, which will feature five singers and two instrumentalists from France along with 13 Indian singers, the audience can expect “a personal experience”, promises Françoise. “My goals are far from entertainment, I’d like to move them in the depth of their soul,” she says. “I hope they will agree that love is the common thread of humanity!”

On December 17, 7 pm. At Edouard Michelin Auditorium, Alliance Française of Madras.