Recording of the Week 50 Years of Harmonia Mundi
2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the independent French label Harmonia Mundi. Their history is a rich and interesting one, and while there is not time here is chart it all, I’d like to mention a few key periods and events which make me smile and give you a taste of the enthusiasm and philosophy behind the label.
Bernard Coutaz, the founder and still president, (now in his mid-eighties) launched the label in 1958 following a bet over a bottle of champagne. The first release was bizarrely enough a spoken-word disc of contemporary French writers interspersed with organ music. I can’t imagine selling many of those today, but it did well enough at the time in France and before long he had begun a collection of organ music focussing on historical organs all over Europe. They travelled the continent in a Citroen 2CV that carried all the equipment, a sound engineer and sometimes the organist as well! This series expanded to over 50 recordings and they also published magazines to accompany them.
The next major turning point for the label came in 1965 when Coutaz and his colleagues went to hear the countertenor Alfred Deller in concert and instantly fell for his wonderful ‘new’ sound. They went backstage afterwards and invited him for dinner. He thought they were the concert promoters and so accepted, and 80 odd miles, and several hours later they arrived back at Coutaz’s house. Coutaz produced some eggs and some goats cheese, (and no doubt a few good bottles), and by 5 o’clock in the morning his enthusiasm had persuaded Deller to make records for Harmonia Mundi.
Since then they have never looked back, and while more and more majors are parting company with artists, Harmonia Mundi seems to attract them – offering a safe haven and a climate of genuine artistic creativity to musicians who simply want to get on with what they do best: making great music. Philippe Herreweghe, René Jacobs, Andreas Staier, Maria Christina Kiehr, Paul Lewis, Andrew Manze, Anonymous 4, Paul Hillier, Fretwork: these are some of the names that spring to mind, all artists of formidable talent and integrity.
Last year Andreas Scholl, one of the world’s leading countertenors, returned to the label where he had began and released a highly acclaimed disc of Handel's Italian Cantatas.
To help them celebrate 50 years of fantastic recordings we are offering one Golden CD from the Harmonia Mundi catalogue each week (starting Mondays) throughout 2008 at 50% off its normal price, and we are launching today with the recent Scholl Handel disc mentioned above. Be sure to check every week for what is going to turn into a succession of real bargains.
A very Happy Anniversary to Harmonia Mundi and a Happy New Year to you all.