What does a city sound like? If you walk through the streets of Antwerp today, you will hear all kinds of different sounds: cars, trams, snatches of conversation and so on. But what did Antwerp sound like in the 15th and 16th centuries? Very different, to be sure. But it certainly wasn’t a haven of peace and quiet! We can imagine the shouting and yelling in the streets and marketplaces, or the grinding and creaking of cranes at the port. If you would like to know what music people heard in the churches and palaces of the city, you are welcome to join us at Laus Polyphoniae 2023. The festival entitled ‘Antwerp. Townscape – Soundscape’ promises to be a lively soundtrack that recreates the music of Antwerp’s glory days.
In the late 15th and especially the 16th century, Antwerp experienced unprecedented economic and cultural growth. The city on the Schelde became an international metropolis. Goods from all over the world were traded there by merchant families who amassed immense fortunes. People also played music all over this bustling city, in places ranging from the biggest churches to private homes. The best Kapellmeisters were appointed to compose music for the liturgy. Publishers printed collections of music for lute players who made music at home.
Antwerp was a focal point of the art of book printing. Printers such as Phalesius and Plantijn were renowned for the high quality of their musical publications. Thanks to surviving prints, we can still perform this historical music today. Several of the concerts at ‘Antwerp. Townscape – Soundscape’ are devoted to music prints from the city. We will explore the scores with Huelgas Ensemble, Collegium Vocale Gent, the Portuguese ensemble Cupertinos and the French soprano Perrine Devillers. Utopia, from Belgium, devotes its attention to motet images: unique prints of magnificent engravings that also include music. Music commissioned from young composers provides contemporary counterparts for the historical motets.
Johannes Ockeghem, Jacobus Barbireau, Jacob Obrecht, Andreas Pevernage, Cornelius Verdonck and Peter Philips are all masters of polyphony who can be linked to the city of Antwerp. Their music will be performed by the best international ensembles, including Blue Heron, Cappella Pratensis & I Fedeli, Le Miroir de Musique and Stile Antico. The Belgian ensemble graindelavoix presents a dual programme focusing on the high point and swan song of polyphony in Antwerp, in De wonderjaren and De hongerjaren (The Wonder Years and The Hunger Years).
‘Antwerp. Townscape – Soundscape’ will be more than a festival of vocal music: it will be an instrumental event as well. The Antwerp Songbook is given a mischievous, up-to-date reinterpretation in the hands of the music theatre collective Les mes Perdues. Paul O’Dette, Chordophony, Zefiro Torna and Jean Rondeau perform the most beautiful works for the lute and virginal. Keyboard player Mario Sarecchia and historian Michael Pye, the successful author of Antwerp: The Glory Years, team up for a musical tale about the music scene in 16th century Antwerp. You will see young talent at work during IYAP, and if you want to learn more about Antwerp’s musical history yourself, you are welcome to attend the customary array of fascinating lectures and courses. The centre of the festival is AMUZ, but you will also be able to discover other wonderful venues such as the Museum Plantin-Moretus and the churches of St. Charles Borromeo, St. James and St. Paul.
A warm welcome to Antwerp!