ZILLO 6/98 - Text: Robert Lachmann
Dealing with the theme of the Middle Ages is no longer unusual these days. Estampie, however, do not succumb to the charm of the Transfiguration, but actively work with the musical and social events of this time. With “Materia Mystica” the Munich ensemble releases an album that deals with the myths and work of Benedictine Hildegard von Bingen.
It seems to be something special when a formation enjoys great recognition in both wave and classical circles. The ensemble founded by Michael Popp, Sigrid Hausen (Syrah) and Ernst Schwindl has succeeded in doing so. Since their foundation, Estampie have turned their attention to the musical hustle and bustle of the Middle Ages and since then have consistently stepped into this field; in the 13th year of their existence, with “Materia Mystica” they have given the audience what is now the fifth silver medal. With each previous publication, Estampie took on a relatively narrow range of topics. Materia Mystica” can therefore certainly not be seen and evaluated as a direct successor to “Crusaders - In Nomine Domini”. The basic approaches differ too much. While her latest work deals closely with the Hildegard von Bingen theme, “Crusaders…” contained an illumination of the time of the Crusades in an unobtrusive but not beautifully colored complexity. Michael Popp has always set himself the task of tearing medieval music out of its museum context. He, who is responsible for the concept and management, affirms: “I always oppose the mystification of the Middle Ages and its portrayal as an island of idyll, as if it were a past that had nothing to do with us.
It was precisely for this basic attitude that the occupation with Hildegard von Bingen naturally also meant a risk. Since Hildegard’s 900th birthday falls on 1998, several publications on this topic have already appeared, not least in the course of the omnipresent medieval trend. Even if it seems unfounded in the context of Estampie’s work to date, the question remains as to what the intention was to release another record on this subject. “Hildegard von Bingen is already one of the most important persons of this time. What particularly interested me was that from today’s point of view she can be depicted as a scientist. We wanted to musically understand their scientific thoughts of understanding by hand. One must certainly take their statements as seriously as one must take theories such as the Big Bang theory seriously today.” The actual occasion, however, was the commission of the city of Munich to create a musical production on the occasion of their birthday. “So it was not necessarily the case that we wanted to jump on the bandwagon of the anniversary releases. It was basically whacked out by that time anyway.”
The complete work was premiered on 6/7 March this year in the Reithalle in Munich. The performance is very elaborately designed. The four-element theory of water/earth/air/fire, symbolized by four singers, which represents Hildegard von Bingen’s scientific concept, also forms the centre of “Materia Mystica”. Several new stylistic means were introduced. Thus the band (at least in an estampie context) works for the first time with minimalistic electronic elements. “A Munich based Darkambient-DJ was especially engaged for this event. However, 95 percent of the “Materia Mystica” still consists of music with medieval instrumentation,” explains Michael Popp. “As another innovation, this time new compositions at least as subtitles were included in the four main pieces.” Furthermore, video installations were used for the performance, which were intended to represent alienations of the four elements.
Since Estampie belong to the wide circle of friends of the Chrom Records environment, it is almost self-evident that guest musicians were integrated again. Among others, Gerlinde Sämann, who has already worked with Mars, the Requiem by Helga Pogatschar, and Cornelia Melian as singers. Alexander Veljanov, whose contribution to “Crusaders…” was in my opinion a real asset, is not part of this work. Michael Popp assured me, however, that he will probably participate on the next Estampie release again in some pieces, if his early solo activities allow it. The new release planned for autumn is entitled “Mediterranée” and will deal with Spanish, Italian and Slavic pieces. You can pass the time until then with the anticipation of one of the few concert dates, namely August 29th. Estampie will once again perform the “Materia Mystica” at the opening of the Brandenburg Music Weeks.