Bernard Coutaz and Harmonia Mundi
Founded in Paris in 1958 by Bernard Coutaz (b. Saint-Auban-sur-l'Ouvèze, 30 December 1922, d. Arles, 26 February 2010), harmonia mundi France is today the oldest independent classical music labels in existence.
The era of historic organs
In 1962 Coutaz moved the company to Saint-Michel de Provence, near Forcalquier. 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.
Coutaz on his Gramophone's Special Achievement Award in 2009
The Alfred Deller years
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.
The rise of Baroque
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.
Expanding into distribution
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.
Harmonia Mundi today
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 330 people (260 in France).
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 loyalty 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.
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