Montserrat Figueras, Spanish singer of early music, dies at 69
By Emily Langer,
Montserrat Figueras, a Spanish soprano whose enchanting voice helped her husband, musician Jordi Savall, resurrect and popularize forgotten European music from the Renaissance and earlier eras, died Nov. 23 at her home in Bellaterra, Spain.
She was 69 and had cancer, according to Alia Vox, the record label the couple founded.
Ms. Figueras was Savall’s constant partner in his decades-long crusade to revive music that for centuries had been rarely, if ever, performed. Their repertoire, much of which drew from the diverse cultural and religious history of Spain, featured archaic instruments as well as the human voice. The effect was one of ethereal harmony.
Savall is a virtuoso of the viola da gamba, a string instrument that was popular during the Renaissance. Ms. Figueras had a voice that admiring music critics described over the years as “haunting,” “crystalline” and “wine-dark.”
During their 44-year marriage, Savall and Ms. Figueras helped form several early-music ensembles — most prominently, the group originally known as Hesperion XX. The name was inspired by the Greek word for the region comprising modern-day Italy and Spain, where much of the group’s music had its origins. The “XX” was a nod to the 20th century.
“We wanted to go back to original sources and to conserve the music with maximum respect,” Savall told the New York Times in 2005, “but also, to make it as alive and modern as possible. . . . We are musicians from our time, not from ancient times.”
Although Savall was the more prominent of the two musicians, he always presented his work with Ms. Figueras as a collective enterprise. His most notable success came in 1991 with the release of “Tous les Matins du Monde (All the Mornings of the World),” Alain Corneau’s film featuring Gerard Depardieu as Marin Marais, a viola da gamba player born in the 17th century.
The film’s soundtrack, performed by Savall, reached No. 2 on the French charts — just behind pop star Michael Jackson.
In addition to Hesperion XXI (the name changed with the century), Ms. Figueras and her husband founded the period ensembles Le Concert des Nations and La Capella Reial de Catalunya.
In her recordings and an international touring career, Ms. Figueras performed works ranging from centuries-old lullabies to the works of Monteverdi, an Italian composer who wrote some of the first operas in musical history.
She was “one of early music’s most uniquely beautiful voices,” critic Joe Banno wrote in The Washington Post in 1997.
Montserrat Figueras Garcia was born March 15, 1942, in Barcelona. She grew up in a musical family and showed early promise as a singer. In her youth, she performed with Ars Musicae, an ensemble dedicated to early Catalan music.
Through her work on that repertoire, Ms. Figueras met Savall. Both studied in Basel, Switzerland, at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, which focuses on early music.
Survivors include her husband, Jordi Savall of Bellaterra; her daughter, Arianna Savall, a harpist and singer, of Basel and Bellaterra; her son, Ferran Savall, who plays the guitar and the bass lute, of Barcelona; two sisters; and two brothers.
Savall once explained how he and his wife approached their performance of centuries-old music.
“We have our own experience and sensitivity,” he told the San Jose Mercury News in 2006. But, he said, “the way we say ‘I love you’ has not changed through thousands of years. . . . The essential things in life, there is no change.”