The Moulting of Music - Janus 2024

Interview with Justina Repečkaitė and Jug Marković

What previous knowledge or practice did you have of Early music and most especially of French Baroque music? Did this potential practice influence your approach to composition?

Justina Repečkaitė : I have been singing all my life. First in a folk ensemble, then in the choir of my music school, and finally in a church choir. Singing is an important part of Lithuanian culture; a lot of people are singing in choirs! As of my relationship with Early music, I attended a course in Medieval music at the Sorbonne and the Conservatoire de Paris, which focused on improvised polyphonies. That is how I met Patrick Wibart (who is playing the serpent in my piece that premieres at the Janus concert). When I was attending Raphaël Picazos’s course, I got the opportunity to analyze manuscripts, some of ars subtilior (Latin for 'subtler art') – an avant-garde musical style from the 14th and 15th centuries. That got me interested in proportions in music. Medieval music has influenced my writing for a long time, partly because I really like Boèce’s idea that “music is a number that makes sounds”.

Jug Marković : I have been an enthusiast of Baroque music for a long time. It makes up a big part of the music I listen to and has been a major source for inspiration for many years, even before the Janus project.

Justina Repečkaitė © Marije van den Berg

What is your relationship with the musical repertoire?

J.R. : The most important thing in my opinion is to have your own identifiable style. I don’t like making direct references to other musical styles. But because I have studied composition in Lithuania and in France, my music has been deeply influenced by both countries: traditional Lithuanian music such as Sutartinės (a form of polyphonic music that is only performed by female singers in strict canon and recognized as an intangible cultural heritage by Unesco), repetitive music, ars subtilior, and spectral music to name a few.

J.M. : Tradition and traditions play an important part in my work. Though I too try to avoid making obvious references to artefacts from the past, I strive to find different ways to engage with them. Acknowledging them, admiring them, and paying tribute to them (instead of discrediting them) is what drive me as a composer. When composing, I approach my job and the musical repertoire neither in a formalist or positivist way. Rather than analyzing the music that I like and admire, I prefer to let it influence me on a subconscious level. To put it differently, I give in to intuition and impulse.

Jug Markovich © Ben Vieaperlata

How did you approach the composition of your pieces that are premiering at the Janus concert?

J.M. : Putting aside the obvious reference its title makes to the era, (Stabat Mater), practicing Early music has influenced this new piece – although not directly. As I was saying, I prefer to let my inspirations influence me in a more subconscious and mysterious way rather than exploring them in an analytic and systematic manner. Still, I decided to maintain some principles inherited from the practice of Baroque music. First, the choir is composed of 5 voices (a cinque) – sopranos, contraltos, tenors, baritones and basses – which is the most common configuration in French Baroque music. There are almost no deviations or divisions. Secondly, the viol is used like a continuo instrument in order to support the bassline. I felt like it was important to create a familiar environment for the singers of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (Centre for French baroque music) and build a strong collaboration to help them do what they do best without opposing or ignoring their already well-established methods.

Justina, why did you decide to include the serpent, an ancient and uncommon instrument, as an accompaniment in your piece La muë?

J.R. : The serpent is a unique instrument! It is often compared to human voice. It is made of wood and covered in leather, but because of its mouthpiece, it has been classified as part of the brass instrument family. From the 16th century and for four centuries, it was commonly used in French churches. But towards the middle of the 19th century, due to a change of taste in music and a lack of performers, it fell into disuse and the organ was favored in its place. If it has been forgotten nowadays, it might be because of Hector Berlioz’s critique of this instrument in his Traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration 1 (Treatise for instrumentation and orchestration), despite him including it in his Symphonie fantastique (Fantastic Symphony). The serpent was abandoned under the pretense that it sounded off-key and had a terrible tone. But in reality, it is an instrument that is very difficult to master. Playing an instrument this ancient, even for musicians accustomed to playing brass instruments, does not come easily.

Chantres of CMBV © Morgane Vie

Did you have the opportunity to exchange with the Pages and the Chantres of the CMBV?

J.R. : I chose to write for the children (the Pages) after getting the idea of focusing on the concept of voices that are changing. Then I had the unique opportunity to listen to maturing voices because the CMBV keeps adolescents whose voices break and crack, despite their instability. They are still performing, but in different tessituras. It was a very moving experience for me because I am very interested in sounds that are fragile, in the contrast between brilliant and “parasited” sounds, and unusual tones. Not only do the Pages have divine voices, but they are also not afraid to experiment with different tones, and have fun doing it. It was also a privilege for me to help them get a better understanding of contemporary music!

1 The tone of this instrument, which is essentially barbaric, would have been much better suited to druidic blood ceremonies rather than Catholic ones, where it is still used. It is a monstruous monument to the unintelligence and rudeness of both sentiment and taste which have been directing the practice of musical art and divine service since time immemorial.

Interview conducted by Jérémie Szpirglas