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harmonia mundi Store: November 22, 2010

harmonia mundi
The celebrated French label harmonia mundi has been an innovative force in the classical music industry for over 50 years. To honor their achievements, Classical Archives has created a harmonia mundi Spotlight Feature. Our "harmonia mundi Store" presents a specially selected collection of 25 releases made over the years, featuring such outstanding members of the harmonia mundi roster as Anonymous 4, Paul Hillier, the Academy of Ancient Music, John Nakamatsu, Fretwork, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and many more.

As a special gift, harmonia mundi is offering all visitors to Classical Archives a FREE DOWNLOAD - a recording of William Byrd's glorious Ave Maria performed by the spectacular a cappella vocal group Stile Antico.

The Spotlight also includes a brief overview of the company's history and a few examples of its many critical successes. Enjoy!

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Origins and History

Founded in Paris in 1958, harmonia mundi France is today the oldest independent classical music label in existence.

In 1962, its founder, Bernard Coutaz, moved the company to Saint-Michel de Provence. On the advice of his friends Carl de Nys and Pierre Rochas, he began by building up a catalogue based on the organ repertoire, associating this with a concern for the instrument's heritage by recording the historic organs of Europe. He even started a periodical, Orgues historiques, each number of which, devoted to a specific instrument, was accompanied by a recording showcasing that organ's particular qualities. His work in the field helped him develop a special sensitivity to musical timbre at a time when people in the record business still thought essentially in terms of melody.

This new approach to timbre facilitated the encounter with Alfred Deller, which took place at a concert in Avignon by the countertenor and his ensemble. The impromptu dinner which followed this concert marked the beginning of a second period for harmonia mundi, the years of collaboration with Alfred Deller, who remained loyal to his new record company right up to his death in 1979. An academy of English music organised under his auspices every summer in the Luberon attracted many young musicians, notably René Jacobs and Dominique Visse.

From the 1970s onwards, harmonia mundi began to produce recordings of Renaissance and Baroque music, at a time when the exploration of these repertoires was still confined to specialists. In this way René Jacobs, William Christie and Philippe Herreweghe quickly became 'house' artists: their records earned harmonia mundi its image as a pioneer in the performance of this music on period instruments. They permitted the label to gain an ever-growing audience as the early and especially Baroque repertoires became established on the international scene. In the meantime, harmonia mundi had been consolidating and diversifying its activity. In 1976 the company took over its own distribution. Four years later it also began distributing other labels.

In 1981, harmonia mundi opened its first foreign subsidiary, in London. Amidst a period of sustained growth, the company left the Luberon in 1986 to set up its headquarters at the Mas de Vert in Arles.

Faced with the progressive disappearance of specialist record dealers in France, Bernard Coutaz then decided to create a chain of harmonia mundi retail outlets. Today, there is a network of 44 shops in France and three in Spain. During this period the company continued to diversify its activities with the creation of a department devoted to book distribution in 1988 and the purchase, in 1993, of the music publisher and record label Le Chant du Monde.

Nowadays more than 100 people work at the Mas de Vert, the head office of an international group comprising five subsidiaries, some of which also produce recordings. The group as a whole employs nearly 300 people. Founder and long-time President Bernard Coutaz passed away on February 26 2010 at the age of 87; his wife, Eva Coutaz, has taken over as the company's General Director.

Since the 'historic organ years' and the 'Deller years', the catalogue has been considerably enriched, broadening to embrace the results of many collaborations from all over the world. Today, harmonia mundi records the whole range of repertoires, from early music to the music of the twenty-first century, and entirely finances its production thanks to its total financial independence.

Many musicians from the 'early days' have remained loyal to a label, which is nonetheless always open to new talents.

This constancy and fidelity give harmonia mundi a special place all its own in the world of recording.

In Praise of harmonia mundi

Anonymous 4: Cherry Tree

"The world absolutely needs music like this - of such purity and grace and beauty, supplanting the seedless hull of popular fashion with a sustainable harvest of spiritual sustenance and sheer musical pleasure." - David Vernier,

"Each of the four singers has a solo track, and the opportunity to hear the four individually is one to savor. Ruth Cunningham's wonderfully contoured notes, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek's exquisite control and warm tone, Susan Hellauer's intimate clarity of sound, and Marsha Genensky's impressive command of idiom remind that although the ensemble is perhaps an entity greater than the sum of its component parts, those component parts are stunning in their range of gift. In this particular case, a Christmas gift that we should not wait to unwrap." - Steven Plank, Opera Today

Jon Manasse, clarinet; Seattle Symphony: Mozart, Clarinet Concerto

"Jon Manasse has many qualities that suit him admirably to Spohr's clarinet music; a brilliant technique, with the necessary touch of flashiness... a fine smooth tone with the necessary brightness, and not least a sense of the virtuoso as the subject of the music rather than its interpreter." - John Warrack, International Record Review

"This performance by Manasse and the Seattle Symphony radiates warmth, tenderness and Mozart's end-of-life wisdom. Manasse...plays with a lustrous but not showy legato in the rondo and lets the final phrase of the adagio movement hang hauntingly in the air. The soloist has more flashy work to do in the sparkling Spohr concerto..." - Jay Furst, Post-Bulletin

Paul Hillier, Theater of Voices: David Lang, The Little Match Girl Passion

"In "For Love Is Strong," pairs of voices slowly chant the title phrase while the rest of the chorus unfurls similes culled from the Song of Songs - 'like the morning, like the moon, like the sun, like an army with banners,' and so on. This is the text that captivated Clemens non Papa half a millennium ago. Lang's serene, limber music breathes much the same air, even if its angular repetitions are pure New York. The album ends with a hauntingly spare setting of lines adapted from Ecclesiastes: 'People come and people go / the earth goes on and on.'" - Alex Ross, The New Yorker

"...This incantatory, moving choral work...splendidly performed by Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices... Humane and simple, it really does cast a spell." - Geoff Brown, The Times, London

Richard Egarr, Academy of Ancient Music: J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos

"Egarr infuses even more excitement into each concerto and the soloists offer models of period style-playing… if not on the very peak of that mythical Brandenburgian Everest, this is pretty close to the top…" - Barker, American Record Guide

"Richard Eggar and his superb period-instrument band have just released a hot traversal of Bach's "Brandenburg" Concertos on Harmonia Mundi" - Allan Kozinn, The New York Times

For more information, visit the harmonia mundi website.

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