United by a cultural heritage
Of course, Laquirou is a winery, but it is also a home. We can often be found at Château Laquirou and are currently constructing tasteful holiday apartments («chambre d'hôtes») for wine-loving guests. But wine and music belong together, not least because music played such an essential role in the history of the Hug family in culturally flourishing, 19th Century Zurich.
Through our commitment to Château Laquirou in La Clape since 1993, we have not only become acquainted with the wine-growing culture, but also with the rich musical history of the «Langue d'oc», the region where Occitan is spoken. From the second half of the 11th Century onwards, a complex, secular musical art form evolved here. The so-called troubadours were poets, composers and singers who wandered through the countryside entertaining the populace with «canso» (love songs), «sirventes» (vassal songs) and «balada» (dance songs). Troubadours came from all walks of life, including nobles and monks, peasants and artists - and there were women among their number too. The most famous «trobadora» was the Contessa de Dia (circa 1140-1175).
Playing the piano with a view of the vines: music and wine in a harmonious symbiosis at Château Laquirou
The Troubadours: Yesterday and today
The heyday of troubadour culture in Languedoc lasted about 200 years. Guiraut Riquier (1230-1294), a native of Narbonne, was the last troubadour to go down in Occitan history. He wrote 89 songs, of which 48 have survived to this day. The Catholic church crusade against the Cathars and the suppression of regional cultures by French centralism accelerated the decline of song culture. However, for almost 20 years now, Occitan culture in Languedoc has been experiencing a renaissance. Many villages now have local choirs that sing in Occitan, thereby preserving their cultural heritage and keeping it alive.
Many of the professional bands that reinterpret medieval songs use traditional instruments such as the lute, harp, bagpipe, bow fiddle, hurdy-gurdy or accordion, often complemented by guitar, bass, keyboard, saxophone and drums. Old wind instruments also play a central role, including various flutes and the «Autbòi» - a type of oboe. The compositions in which this instrument is used are often reminiscent of sounds familiar to shepherds, characterised by the bleating of the animals, the ringing of the bells and the cries and whistles of their watchers. Various younger musical interpreters combine Troubadour songs with influences from jazz, rock and even hip-hop.
Thanks to the multifarious revival of regional culture, interest by Christian groups in the Catharists is growing again. This movement was active in the 12th-14th Centuries, at the same time as the Troubadours were so popular. The Cathars lived mainly in the remote foothills of the Pyrenees and Cevennes and led a modest, abstinent and secluded life until they were persecuted and largely wiped out by the Roman Catholic Church in the so-called heretic crusades.
Various musicians also set poetry by contemporary Occitan poets to music so as to reach a wider audience. For example, well-known singer Gérard Zuchetto has musically arranged a selection of poems by René Nelli (1906-1982). A translation of his poem «La Tronadissa» reads:
The rumbling of thunder burrows into the freshness of the valley
The birds have flown away with the colours of the land
Only the paths that are lost to the horizon bring me closer to what I love