Ciência Aberta

"O Bando de Surunyo" retrieves Christmas songs from the General Library with more than 350 years of history

17 october, 2019≈ 5 min read

Some of the most precious manuscripts of ancient music preserved in the General Library of the University of Coimbra (UC) are about to take on new life, through ´O Bando de Surunyo´, laboratory arm of the Project "Mundos e Fundos" ("Worlds and Funds") from the Center for Classical and Humanistic Studies (CECH) of UC. The group is preparing the recording of a Christmas music album written in the monastery of Santa Cruz (Coimbra) in the middle of the 17th century.

The CD, which should be recorded at the end of this year and published in mid-2020, will give expression to part of the work of the Mundos e Fundos Project, which is coordinated by professors Paulo Estudante and José Abreu, and makes the study and dissemination of Portuguese musical sources, from a philological, editorial and interpretive point of view. “Music without listening is a poor thing. For this reason, the groups associated with the Mundos e Fundos Project - like ours - have the mission of making known the ancient music that is sheltered in the manuscripts of the General Library ”, explains Hugo Sanches, researcher at CECH and responsible for the musical and artistic direction of 'The Band of Surunyo.

The ensemble - which was formed in 2015 and brings together professional singers and instrumentalists, many of whom specialize in ancient music (prior to the 19th century) - decided to release an album to gather the fruits of their first years of activity and to register songs that were not heard in centuries in an audible format. “To be perceived, the musical heritage has to be interpreted. Only then does it become intelligible and gain meaning, ”points out Hugo Sanches, underlining the historical and artistic value of these compositions. “They are documents that reveal something about the time we lived at the time: the War of the Restoration, the way parties like Christmas or Easter were lived… And the music is very pleasant to hear”, explains the director of O Bundo de Surunyo,which thus intends to show “the character and vitality” of ancient Iberian music - much less known than his contemporary work of Germanic-Italian origin.

Giving life to music that has not been heard for centuries poses several challenges: the main thing is to understand how to transpose it to the present without distorting it. “There are semantic, poetic and political codes that would be very noticeable by the public at the time and now they are not. Much of the Christmas music is from the time of the Restoration and is full of word games and allusions to the independence goal that the Santa Cruz Monastery then assumed. Transposing this in a way that makes sense to the public is the big challenge. Especially because this is an extraordinary musical heritage: it is music that is designed to have an impact on the public ”, describes Hugo Sanches.

The public that already knows O Bando de Surunyo has responded - including, participating in the crowdfunding campaign that collected around 5500 euros to leverage the CD recording project. After ensuring other institutional support (the group remains open to all contributions from those who want to contact them through its Facebook page), the work will move forward at the end of the year.

Delfim Leão, Vice-Rector of UC for Culture and Open Science, highlights the importance of the project: “This is a remarkable initiative at various levels, for the way it allows combining the restoration, transcription and modern edition of musical manuscripts with guard of the General Library of the UC, with the performative aspect and the investigation in Musical Studies. In this way, specialized skills are deepened and the academic community and the general public are also known as true treasures that are now beginning to be discovered and shared to the fullest. ”

This project “is also a very clear expression of the advantages arising from Open Science and the impact it generates on Society, as illustrated by the "2019 Early Music Gramophone Award ”, recently awarded to the Cupertinos group, also an ambassador for Renaissance polyphonic music associated with the matrix of the University of Coimbra”, adds Delfim Leão.

In turn, Hugo Sanches hopes that these examples will encourage similar groups to discover the unexplored musical collection that the UC General Library preserves. “It is an extraordinary collection, of which we only know the surface, and which really deserves to be studied”, he concludes.

Text: Rui Marques Simões

Video: Marta Costa and Karine Paniza