Popol Vuh were a German musical collective founded by keyboardist Florian Fricke in 1969 together with Frank Fiedler (sound design, fine cut), Holger Trülzsch (percussion), and Bettina Fricke (tablas and production). Other important members during the next two decades included Djong Yun, Renate Knaup, Conny Veit, Daniel Fichelscher, Klaus Wiese, and Robert Eliscu. The band took its name from the Mayan manuscript containing the mythology of highland Guatemala’s K’iche’ people.
Popol Vuh began as an electronic music project, but under Fricke’s leadership they soon abandoned synthesizers for organic instrumentation and world music influences. They developed a productive working partnership with director Werner Herzog, contributing scores to films such as Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), and Fitzcarraldo (1982). The group are associated with West Germany’s 1970s krautrock movement and are considered progenitors of new-age and ambient music. Today, Popol Vuh’s best-reviewed works are In den Gärten Pharaos (1971) and Hosianna Mantra (1972).
The band’s name, taken from the Mayan manuscript, has been translated roughly as “meeting place” or “book of the community”. Their first album, Affenstunde, released in 1970, can be regarded as one of the earliest space music works, featuring the then new sounds of the Moog synthesizer together with ethnic percussion. This continued for only one more album, In den Gärten Pharaos, and material later to be released on the soundtrack to Aguirre, the Wrath of God, before Fricke largely abandoned electronic instruments in favour of piano-led compositions from 1972’s Hosianna Mantra forward. This album also marked the start of exploring overtly religious themes rather than a more generally spiritual feeling within the music. The group evolved to include a range of instruments: wind and strings, electric and acoustic alike, combined to convey a mystical aura that made their music spiritual and introspective.
Popol Vuh influenced many other European bands with their uniquely soft but elaborate instrumentation, which took inspiration from the music of Tibet, Africa, and pre-Columbian America. With music sometimes described as “ethereal”, they created soundscapes through psychedelic walls of sound, and are regarded as precursors of contemporary world music, as well as of new age and ambient.
The band contributed soundtracks to films of Werner Herzog, including the aforementioned Aguirre, the Wrath of God, as well as Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, Heart of Glass and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, in which Fricke appeared.
Florian Fricke died in Munich on 29 December 2001 and the group disbanded.
In October 2003 Klaus Schulze wrote:
“Florian was and remains an important forerunner of contemporary ethnic and religious music. He chose electronic music and his big Moog to free himself from the restraints of traditional music, but soon discovered that he didn’t get a lot out of it and opted for the acoustic path instead. Here, he went on to create a new world, which Werner Herzog loves so much, transforming the thought patterns of electronic music into the language of acoustic ethno music. (wkipedia)
And here´s the third album of Popol Vuh:
Before recording Hosianna Mantra, Popol Vuh founder Florian Fricke found religion (both Hinduism and Christianity), which led to a significant shift regarding the approach towards Popol Vuh’s music. Gone were the synthesizers, the band opting for an acoustic approach, rich in piano melodies and echoed guitars, thus becoming the foundation for the songs found on Hosianna Mantra. There are some links to the first two records, Affenstunde and In Den Gärten Pharaos, and those being the use of the Indian percussion and tambura, used to a certain extent here.
While In Den Gärten Pharaos was a more abstract affair, Hosianna Mantra, like the title suggests, became a more subdued, trance inducing experience. From the gorgeous opening piano lines of “Ah!” to the weeping slides and soft vocals on “Kyrie” and even the lovely violin leads on “Abschied”, the record does not show any signs of weakness. All the tracks are so well pieced together, designed to create a warm, eerie atmosphere and, in the end, to induce the listener into a mantra. No doubt, the title track is meant to be the centerpiece, building an endless, circular movement comprised of piano, delayed guitar, oboe and dreamy vocals. The free guitar licks successfully create the tantric atmosphere over the low piano rhythm, at one point beautifully intertwining with the vocals and oboe. Words are hard to express the sheer magnificent nature of “Hosianna Mantra”.
Hosianna Mantra marked a significant shift both in structure and melody for Popol Vuh. The material that followed this masterpiece was more or less based on the blueprint created here. The spiritual nature of this record and the use of exotic instruments combined with classical ones placed Popol Vuh at the forefront of the New Age and contemporary World Music genres that would develop over the years.
In the end, Hosianna Mantra is an amazing, yet overlooked record which gives so much from its rather sparse structure, it’s no wonder it influenced so many bands to come. It is a must listen for fans of New Age and World Music, but also for any avid music fan. (Raul Stanciu)
In other words: An overlooked masterpiece. !
And I add a rare single from Djong Yun (recorded together with Popul Vuh) from 1972 … another beautiful piece of music !
Robert Eliscu (oboe)
Florian “Popol Vuh” Fricke (piano, harpsichord)
Conny Veit (guitar)
Klaus Wiese (tambura)
Djong Yun (vocals)
Fritz Sonnleitner (violin)
01. Ah! 4.46
02. Kyrie 5.23
03. Hosianna – Mantra 10.12
Das 5. Buch Mose:
04. Abschied 3.14
05. Segnung 6.08
06. Andacht 0.48
07. Nicht hoch im Himmel 6.18
08. Andacht 0.49
Composed by Florian Fricke
09. Maria (Ave Maria) (B.Fricke) 4.30
10. Du sollst lieben (B.Fricke) 5.05
The French edition: