When Jordi Savall and a group of his colleagues performed the music for the 1991 French film “Tous les matins du monde” (“All the Mornings of the World”), he expected the movie to be screened in a few art houses and the score heard by a handful of aficionados.
After all, this was not “Pretty Woman” or “Star Wars.” Set in the 17th and 18th centuries, it wove a romantic fictional tale around two obscure historical characters: Marin Marais and his teacher, Jean de Saint Colombe, who were both famous composers of the period.
At the same time, it featured an all-but-unknown early instrument, the viola da gamba, and music written by Saint Colombe and Marais, as well as such other composers of the era as Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin, who were anything but household names.
But against all odds, the movie’s soundtrack achieved platinum status with sales of more than 1 million units. Savall even recalls seeing a list of Top 10 recordings list at one point that ranked it alongside pop hits by Michael Jackson and others. “It was incredible,” Savall said. “This was a real surprise.”
The renowned master of the viola da gamba and pillar of the early-music movement will bring two of his longtime ensembles to Chicago as part of a Symphony Center Presents Special Concert on Feb. 9.
Featured will be Hespèrion XXI, a period-instrument ensemble that Savall founded in 1974 with his late wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, and two other musicians, and La Capella Reial de Catalunya, a vocal ensemble established by Savall in 1987 to focus on music before the 19th century. In all, four singers and seven instrumentalists will participate in a program titled the Splendor of the Iberian Baroque, focusing on Spanish songs and instrumental works from about 1580 to 1750.
It does not seem an exaggeration to suggest that such a concert happening in a large and prominent venue like Orchestra Hall is due at least in some small part to the 1991 cinematic look at the French Baroque. It not only boosted the size of audiences for early music in general but also changed their composition. “Normally, for the early-music concerts, the age of the audience was 50 to 80,” Savall said. “And after ‘Tous les matins du monde,’ many more young people started coming to the concerts.”