FROM SOCCER STAR TO MUSICUS
An interview with Michael Popp, March 1996
How do you develop the instrumentation of your pieces? It’s not so easy to decide from today’s point of view how exactly music sounded in the Middle Ages, is it?
Normally you have only a monophonic melody as a basis for medieval music, which is sometimes difficult to read or only fragmentary. This is a disadvantage on the one hand, because it is difficult to tell from the notes how to play the piece. On the other hand, it is also an advantage, because you have all the freedom in interpretation and can work very creatively. Furthermore you need a lot of background knowledge about the instruments, the tuning, the musical rules. To be able to understand the world of a medieval musician means to understand the medieval atmosphere. That is the most difficult thing!
The new album “Crusaders”, released by Christopherus/Chrom Records, transports the listener and the musicians into another time like in a historical play. Would you yourself like to live in the Middle Ages?
It depends on the position, the place and the social environment. Imagine that in 300 years someone would ask you if you wanted to live at the end of the 2nd millennium. Certainly not necessarily in a slum in a large South American city, not in a war zone or in a country where there is abject poverty and hunger. Maybe as a musician in Central Europe, if you can make a living from it to some extent…then it depends on your very personal situation, for example illnesses, personal successes or failures, simply everything you call “having luck”. This question cannot be answered too generally!
Since when are you occupied with music and since when with medieval music?
I taught myself to play the recorder and read music at the age of 4 and since then I have always made music with temporary interruptions when I wanted to become a soccer star!
I came to the music of the middle ages when I studied music at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. There I first got to know baroque and then medieval music with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. I was fascinated by this music from the first moment. That has lasted until today.
Has your involvement with this form of music changed something in your life?
Only to the extent that you also see the present with different eyes. One begins to relativize all the value judgments and behavior patterns that are so self-evident. I often think to myself: just as strange as the Middle Ages seem to us, the present will appear to a person in 500 years. But I have no romanticising view of the epoch of the Middle Ages that I wanted to integrate the way of life of that time into my present life.
The Ensemble Estampie has been researching medieval music for over 10 years. As a founding member of the ensemble, what do you think about the current marketing of the medieval trend?
The medieval trend has the advantage that a wider public is becoming aware of this music. In the past we mostly played in front of a small circle of initiates. Now people who are not experts come to our concerts. As a musician I find that very pleasant. The whole boom, the hunt for the fast marrow with esoteric chanting of fake and real monks I find rather repulsive. As soon as a musical style establishes itself, it always brings the business into the picture. That is sometimes difficult!
Besides your activities for the early music of the Middle Ages, you suddenly appear in the groups Deine Lakaien and Qntal, two bands that work with modern electronics. How does that fit together?
I have always tried to take medieval music out of its museum context. That’s why I’ve also worked with many artists from other areas, such as dance, theatre, performance. In the music of Deine Lakaien I have felt a certain atmospheric affinity to medieval themes from the very beginning. So it did not surprise me when Ernst Horn (DEINE LAKAIEN) told me right at the beginning of our acquaintance which piece he first tried to realize with the synthesizer. It was an interpretation of the Palestine song by Walter von der Vogelweide.
A piece that you have now made sound after some years on QNTAL II and the new ESTAMPIE album “Crusaders”.
- Thanks a lot for the interview.