My experience reading works like Cervantes’ Don Quixote or Boccaccio’s Decameron always leaves me with a sense of déjà vu. How is it that people who lived so many centuries ago can still sound so modern, so relevant? While there is a “liter-heiry” influence of these writers to be felt in recent works, it also suggests a fundamental human connection that emerges in times of crisis, when the need to get to safety must be balanced with the need to share the experiences with fellow travelers.
In the mid-14th century Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) wrote the Decameron, a collection of 100 stories shared between a group of 10 acquaintances who had removed themselves from society during the darkest period of a plague. The stories are framed by a narrative structure that gives context to the collection. The experiences of quarantine and loss are now universally understood in a way that would have been difficult to imagine just a few months ago. We find ourselves alone, yet we are not—we feel a new kinship with one another and peoples of the past. In Boccaccio’s time, the technology available to his characters and himself—and therefore the extent of their ability to reach others—may have been different from our current situation. But the necessity of removing oneself from “normal” life and somehow marking the change artistically remains.
In the midst of the pandemic, we draw on Boccaccio’s example to offer some musical responses to what has been happening. As part of the Boccaccio Project, we have asked ten pairs of composers and performers to write and perform brief solo works to be premiered online over the course of ten weekdays in June. The composers and performers are working remotely, and once the new commissions have been recorded, they will be released on a number of platforms; further details and a schedule for their release will be available soon.
We are pleased to announce the following participants in the Boccaccio Project:
For my colleagues and me at Concerts from the Library of Congress, it has been difficult to have to cancel or postpone all of our events for the time being, and challenging to look at new ways in which we might be able to offer the public access to our unique content. While we will always be strong advocates of live music, we only want to offer it if we can do so responsibly, and we look forward to the time when we can come together again in the Coolidge Auditorium.
In the meantime, please join us for the upcoming Boccaccio Project events, and learn more about each piece as the information becomes available by visiting us at //www.loc.gov/concerts/boccaccio-project.