Barlaam & Josaphat: Buddha - A Christian Saint?
(reconstructed by Katarina Livljanić)
Era in quel tempo d’India signore
Nempe senex quidam, vir sanctus nomine Barlaam
I poyde Barlaam na urata od Palaca
E si tu aguessas huelhs esperitals
(The Parable of the Nightingale) [4:30]
Iviron Incantations (I) [3:18]
Варлам же глагола (The Parable of the Unicorn) [7:12]
Li fils le roi li respondi
I chada chragl bise razumi
Tαűτα oûν πάντα [5:37]
Iviron Incantations (II) [2:54]
Ke fol sont li Egyptiien
Dialogos/Katarina Livljanić (vocals)
rec. Köln (Cologne), Kunst-Station Sankt Peter, 2016
Texts and translations included
Unlikely as it may seem, the story of the historical Buddha leaving behind
a life of luxury as a prince and finding enlightenment was transmitted from
India to Europe in the Middle Ages in a bowdlerized form which saw the
Sanskrit word Bodhisattva, enlightened being, transmogrified into
the name Josaphat, a man supposedly converted by the saintly Barlaam,
itself a name derived perhaps by adduction from the Old Testament character
Balaam. ‘Josaphat’ was made into a (non-existent) Christian saint who was
expunged from the calendar only in the twentieth century.
It’s not so surprising when one realises the open transmission between
different religions in the ancient world; many scholars believe that Jesus
may have been open to Buddhist philosophy during the years when the Bible
tells us nothing about Him, and may even have travelled to India. The Dalai
Lama has pointed to several parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and
Buddhist teaching. Sadly, too often the great religions have forgotten
their shared values; the Sikh holy book, the Granth Sahib, is a notable
exception in containing texts from various traditions which the ten gurus
thought valuable to put together.
For this recording Katarina Livljanić, who sings and directs the small
ensemble Dialogos (consisting of Albrecht Maurer (fiddle, rebec) and Norbert
Rodenkirchen (flutes, harp)), has assembled a selection from a variety of texts in the
Bodleian, the French National Library, etc., and reconstructed the music to
accompany them. Assembling the texts in Greek, Latin, Old Slavonic-Russian,
Old Croatian, Old French, medieval Occitan (the language of the South of
France) and Italian was in itself a formidable act of scholarship; bringing
the music to life for a modern audience no less so. You don’t need to be a
musical or linguistic scholar or share my own weird Anglo-Catholic-agnostic
interest in Indian religions to enjoy it all.
The recording will be of interest mainly to scholars; it should be in every
University library, but I hope that it will appeal to a wider audience,
with the three performers, not least Katarina Livljanić herself, making the
music sound as diverse as possible. It’s all delivered in a basically
declamatory fashion, but the singing, always very assured, is often
dramatic and impassioned. It’s aptly described in the booklet as containing
‘a wide spectrum of nuances ranging from the spoken word to singing’.
The notes in the booklet are detailed and helpful, but there is also an
illustrated e-book which can be downloaded separately via a link in the
booklet. A theatrical presentation is also in the offing.
I have learned a great deal from this recording – being a snapper-up of
unconsidered trifles, especially of a linguistic nature, not least the Old
Slavonic word for unicorn, which I’m sure will prove very useful in the
continuing Brexit debate, where the concept seems to feature a great deal.
More to the point, I found it all so fascinating that I had to listen to it
all over again immediately. Even if you don’t follow the texts in detail
and simply let it wash over you, as I confess that I did some of the time,
the music is always enchanting and often ethereal.
On an earlier recording which we seem not to have reviewed, Katarina
Livljanić directs a much larger version of Dialogos, with another ensemble,
Kantaduri, sometimes together, sometimes separately, in an equally
fascinating set of chants from the Adriatic region. The music stems from the Roman and
Orthodox traditions, with Slavonic and Latin alternating. The title Dalmatica neatly refers both to the name of the region and to the
distinctive vestment, the dalmatic, worn by deacons in both traditions.
Once again, the music is presented in exemplary performances which should
prove attractive even to non-specialists – perhaps rather more so than the
new recording. (Arcana A395).
At the time of writing I’m awaiting the lossless press-preview files of the
new recording, but I believe that if you stream the mp3 from Naxos Music
Library you will be more than happy enough to place your order for the CD.
This, then, is music which will have a specialist appeal and be important
for scholars, but should also find a wider audience. Dialogos’s earlier
recording for Arcana, Dalmatica, is also well worth investigating.