La Légende de l’Étoile
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie lies at the foot of a great cleft in the rock of the pre-Alps of Northern Provence. This picturesque village, famous the world over for its distinctive style of faïence (pottery), is overshadowed by two craggy pinnacles which rise up on either side of the ravine around which the houses cluster. From these peaks is suspended an immense chain, 700 feet long, in the middle of which hangs a star. No one knows when this chain and star were erected: they have certainly been there from at least the 13th century, and possibly much earlier.
Several legends have inevitably grown up over the years to explain their origin, but one in particular has gained most acceptance. This concerns a 12th century knight, Blacas d’Aups, who was captured by the Saracens whilst on a crusade to the Holy Land. During his captivity he made a vow that if he should ever return to his home village of Moustiers he would hang his chain across the valley as a token of thanksgiving. The story is commemorated in a poem by the 19th century Provençal writer Frédéric Mistral, part of which is quoted below.
I have taken this legend as the starting point for my work. The three movements represent a journey from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from the depths of imprisonment to the heights of freedom in the mountains. During the course of the work I have made reference to a number of traditional tunes, including troubadour songs, gregorian chant, and hymns still heard in Moustiers.
La Légende de l’Étoile was commissioned by the International Organ Festival Society, with funds provided by the Eastern Arts Association. It was first performed by Thomas Trotter, Evelyn Glennie and Gregory Knowles in St. Albans Abbey on July 9th 1991.
© Christopher Brown 1991
Presounié di Sarrazin,
Engimbra coume un Caraco,
Em’un calot cremesin
Oue lou blanc souleù eidraco,
En virant la Pouso-Raco,
Blacasset pregavo ansin:
A ti pèd, Vierge Mario,
Ma cadeno penjerai,
A Moustié, dins ma patrio!
(Prisoner of the Saracens, dressed like a Bohemian,
With a crimson fez bleached white by the sun
While turning the creaking water-wheel,
Blacas prayed thus:
At your feet, Virgin Mary, I will suspend my chain
If ever I return to Moustiers in my homeland!)
Frédéric Mistral – 1885