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HIP (Historically Informed Performance)

Part 14

 

 

Continue from Part 13

On the futility of HIP

Charles Francis wrote (June 12, 2004):
A well known musician stated the following:
"Natürlich wissen wir, dass wir auch mit all unseren Originalinstrumenten and Knabenchören keineswegs eine Aufführung des 18. Jahrhunderts gleichsam keimfrei in die heutige Zeit übertragen können, wir wollen es auch gar nicht. Zuviel is seither musikgeschichtlich geschehen. Sowohl die Musiker als auch die Hörer der heutigen Zeit, die mit Beethoven, Brahms und Stravinsky musikalisch aufgewachsen sind, musizieren und hören ein Werk Bachs mit ganz anderen Ohren als die Musiker und Hörer zu Bachs Zeit, die ledichlich Buxtehude, Kuhnau und Reinken kannten"
Of course we know that, for all the use of historical instruments and boys' choirs, we cannot simply transplant an 18th century performance to the present day. (...) Too much has happened since then in the history of music. Both the musicians and the listeners of the present time, who grew up musically with Beethoven, Brahms and Stravinsky, perform and listen to a work by Bach with completely different ears to the musicians and listeners of Bach's time, who were only familiar with Buxtehude, Kuhnau and Reinken."]

Anyone disagree?.

Donald Satz wrote (June 12, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] No disagreement, but all that matters to me is musical enjoyment, and I much prefer baroque music played in the HIP style with period instruments.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 12, 2004):
There is nothing new in this statement. And as far as I know nobody – at least no interpreter - does intend to transplant a 18th-century performance into our time. But an attempt to come as close as possible to the performance practice of the composer and his time is no transplantation, because that is impossible.

But I get sick and tired of the argument used in statements like this that listeners of our time have grown up with Beethoven, Brahms and Stravinsky and therefore their perception must be different. How do other people know which composers I have grown up with? I only started to listen to Beethoven when his music was played on period instruments. And I can only appreciate some of Brahms' compositions. But music from 1850 on is something I generally avoid. So how can Brahms and Stravinsky have any influence on my perception of music of the 18th century? And the whole idea that - even extensive - listening to music of the late 19th and the 20th century has a decisive influence on the way music of previous periods is listened to is something which has never been proven, as far as I know. And since we can't test it, it will never be proven.

I have the suspicion that people who come up with statements like this only try to create free space for themselves to do what they like to do, independent from what they (could or should) know about period performance practice. And when people start to fight ideas no HIP interpreter or listener is attached to, their real intention is to fight the concept of HIP itself. Then why don't they say so?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 12, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: "And when people start to fight ideas no HIP interpreter or listener is attached to, their real intention is to fight the concept of HIP itself. Then why don't they say so?"
Well said.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (June 12, 2004):
< A well known musician >
It should be Harnoncourt (however he said something like that).

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2004):
On the futility of anti-HIP argumentation

[To Charles Francis] The argument of Charles' posting, as presented here, is a flawed and futile one. Essentially: since we can never get there completely, it is absolutely worthless to take even the first step. (And, conveniently, that serves Charles' own preferences not to hear such steps being taken...at least some of the steps he dislikes, specifically, with regard to phrasing, tempo, and articulation.)

Parallel illustration: since my daughter will never be a native speaker of German, French, Spanish, or Russian, we shouldn't bother teaching her any words or grammar in those languages.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2004):
<< A well known musician >>
Riccardo Nughes wrote: < It should be Harnoncourt (however he said something like that). >
Yes. Obviously, Charles was trying to trap his readers: anyone who disagrees openly with the quote (as he'd lifted it out of context) would be disagreeing with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Then Charles would be able to crow triumphantly that Harnoncourt fans (or whoever, however he'd like to characterize us) are anti-HIP. He'd also be able to crow that one of the HIP movement's most influential people is against its goal, and that therefore the whole thing is probably a sham. We see here the danger of Charles' techniques of discourse. By trying to demonstrate slyly that Harnoncourt and all his fans are fools, Charles denigrates that musical/artistic pursuit itself. That's Charles' obvious mission, his own agenda, through his misuse of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's words.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (June 12, 2004):
< Yes. Obviously, Charles was trying to trap his readers >
Yes, but his traps are old and well known ^__^
He should create something really new! ^__^

Charles Francis wrote (June 12, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < The argument of Charles' posting, as presented here, is a flawed and futile one. >
Yes, the quote was from old Nic (perhaps that's why he moved on to woman's voices for Bach, Johan Strauss etc.?). But the reaction above does illustrate how the followers are often more radicalised than the prophet.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: < Yes, the quote was from old Nic (perhaps that's why he moved on to woman's voices for Bach, Johan Strauss etc.?). >
If the marginally clever intent here was to equate Nikolaus Harnoncourt with a familiar pseudonym of Satan, the master deceiver of humanity, the correct spelling is "Old Nick". Personally, I don't feel that such a parallel is in any way warranted.

An additional N is also owed to Strauss' Christian name, as if you didn't know; and the correct English plural is "women's voices".

(Always glad to help out those who are unable or unwilling to use their material correctly.)

< But the reaction above does illustrate how the followers are often more radicalised than the prophet. >
Not as radicalized as the anti-prophet and anti-academic.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 12, 2004):
< But the reaction above does illustrate how the followers are often more radicalised than the prophet. >
And who exactly defends the position Harnoncourt denounces here? Which interpreter holds the view that historical performance practice means 'transplanting' 18th-century performance to the present day?

In general I - unlike some people here - don't believe quotations as such deliver any meaningful evidence of anything, but in this case I'm ready to make an exception.

Quotations please. (Shouldn't be a problem for the quotation fetishists on this list.)


Justification for period instruments

Dale Gedcke wrote (July 21, 2004):
Johan Van Veen wrote: ",,,,,,, The only argument in favour of using period instruments is that the intentions of the composer as laid down in his music comes through the best possible way by using the instruments the composer had in mind when he wrote the music. ......"

MY COMMENTS:

As I listen to the proponents of Historically Informed Performance or the use of Period Instruments it appears to me that their main aim is "to try to duplicate as closely as possible what the original performances of the composition sounded like."

Ironically, it occurs to me that the composer may have INTENDED a better sound than the original performers actually achieved. Most composers usually attempt to compose for the limitations that are expected from the available instruments and players. I presume that Bach was well aware of those limitations as he composed. But, some of his compositions are still difficult to play today, even on modern instruments that offer better precision and agil.

As we have discussed previously, the modern listener may or may not find the period-instrument performance appealing to the ear, because we are accustomed to listening to instruments offering better intonation and precision.

The aim to reproduce the original sound is admirable, but difficult to achieve. First, modern reproductions of period instruments may not accurately reproduce the original sound. The manufacturing technology has changed, and one can never be sure that the process of building the instrument is the same and produces the same sound. Secondly, how the music was played must be interpreted by extrapolating backwards in time with occasional guidance from scant historical documentation. Our reconstructions of both the period instruments and the style of playing are distorted by our current technologies and experience.

However, given those limitations, it is still an interesting and laudable persuit to get as close as humanly possible to the original sound. Matching the original sound may be easier than deducing and matching the composer's original intentions.

Charles Francis wrote (July 21, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrote: < However, given those limitations, it is still an interesting and laudable persuit to get as close as humanly possible to the original sound. Matching the original sound may be easier than deducing and matching the composer's original intentions. >
A fundamental problem, here, is that we cannot help but experience the world according to the programming of our own experience. If you doubt that, consider your own perception of Chinese, Arabic script etc. versus that of your own language. There is a fundamental problem here: those who appreciate, say Mozart, Beethoven and contemporary music are a priori outside the paradigm of Bach's time. So, even if one could exactly recreate the sonic world of Bach, it is impossible to recreate the experience of a listener in Bach's day. Just try to see the characters on this page as mere shapes devoid of meaning - you cannot: you are inevitably programmed by your previous experience.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (July 21, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: "So, even if one could exactly recreate the sonic world of Bach, it is impossible to recreate the experience of a listener in Bach's day."
That is true, but so what? It is impossible to a listener to recreate the experience of any other listener, even one in the next seat at the same concert. That is not an argument against trying to use instruments that create the sounds the composer envisaged.

Dale Gedcke wrote (July 21, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] Charles, I think what you are saying is "Not only is our perception of earlier history distorted by our experience of later history, but we could not possibly duplicate the sensation of listening to the original Bach performances, even if we could jump into a time machine and travel back to listen to one of those original concerts. The 21st century experience of the time traveler would cause him to have a different appreciation of the concert than the 18th century church members of Bach's era sitting in the pews next to the time traveler."

Whew! That implies that the justification for pursuers of HIP and Period Instruments is simply the enjoyment of the pursuit.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 21, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrote (1st message): < As I listen to the proponents of Historically Informed Performance or the use of Period Instruments it appears to me that their main aim is "to try to duplicate as closely as possible what the original performances of the composition sounded like."
Ironically, it occurs to me that the composer may have INTENDED a better sound than the original performers actually achieved. Most composers usually attempt to compose for the limitations that are expected from the available instruments and players. I presume that Bach was well aware of those limitations as he composed. But, some of his compositions are still difficult to play today, even on modern instruments that offer better precision and agility. >
I don't know what sense it makes to speculate about what the intentions of the composer could have been apart from those we can deduce from his actual compositions. It seems to me that the whole idea that composers try to break boundaries and to cross borders is a rather romantic idea - the composer as a kind of visionary who looks for things that don't exist yet.

Do we really know for sure that Bach was dissatisfied with the instruments of his time? I think that usually composers who want to express things for which the instruments available are not adequate are looking for 'new' instruments. That is the reason behind the development of the fortepiano. But I wonder whether Bach was really looking for new possibilities as far as the instruments were concerned. And I also wonder if he really considered as limitations what we see as such.

You are right that Bach's music is sometimes difficult to play. But I am not sure whether I agree with your addition "even on modern instruments that offer better precision and agility."

I could imagine that the use of modern instruments makes it rather more than less difficult to play Bach's music, for the reason that music and instruments don't really match. Often performers say many problems they were facing while playing modern instruments simply disappeared as soon as they started to use period instruments.

I am not convinced that the sometimes highly complicated music of the 17th and 18th century was almost unplayable. If their compositions were too difficult to be performed in a satisfatory manner, why would composers continue to compose them? No composer wants to spend time and energy into composing pieces nobody is able to perform. When they cannot be performed well in our time, this seems to be the fault of modern players or the use of incorrect instruments or the incorrect playing technique.

< As we have discussed previously, the modern listener may or may not find the period-instrument performance appealing to the ear, because we are accustomed to listening to instruments offering better intonation and precision. >
I can imagine that. I know a Dutch violinist found it almost impossible to listen to instruments tuned with a=415 Hz, because he had absolute hearing. But - as has been discussed before on this list - what exactly is 'better intonation'? According to which temperament? What some people may consider bad intonation can be right in another temperament than the equal temperament.

And in what respect are modern instruments more precise than baroque instruments?

Besides, as much as I understand that some people prefer qualities like perfect intonation, they should realise that with a 'perfect' intonation according to the equal temperament, we lose the particular characteristics of the different keys. And baroque instruments were not supposed to produce a completely equal sound in all registers, as modern instruments are expected to do.

As often, you win some, you lose some.

< The aim to reproduce the original sound is admirable, but difficult to achieve. First, modern reproductions of period instruments may not accurately reproduce the original sound. The manufacturing technology has changed, and one can never be sure that the process of building the instrument is the same and produces the same sound. >
Could you explain that? Instrument builders are able to measure and analyze the characteristics of period instruments very precisely, with the help of modern technology. I am not saying that we can be absolutely sure that modern replicas do sound the same as the originals sounded when they were made. But it seems to me that when replicas of different families of instruments share many characteristics and as a result blend very well - which according to performers is one of the most striking advantages of period instruments - this can be considered a pretty strong indication that the replicas come rather close to the original.

< Secondly, how the music was played must be interpreted by extrapolating backwards in time with occasional guidance from scant historical documentation. Our reconstructionsof both the period instruments and the style of playing are distorted by our current technologies and experience. >
In what way?

Johan van Veen wrote (July 21, 2004):
[To Dale Gedcke, 2nd message] But it is completely wrong. I am getting a little tired of this, since I have refuted this 'argument' so often.

To say no modern listener can possibly experience Bach's music the same way as it was experienced by his contemporaries is just a purely theoretical statement, which doesn't prove anything nor has any substantial implication for the way Bach's music is performed in our time.

First of all: we don't know exactly how Bach's contemporaries experienced his music. Even if we had a zillion 'ear witness' reports we couldn't be sure about the way every single listener experienced Bach's music. Secondly: it is equally impossible to know for sure how every single listener of Bach's music in our time experiences his music. How does Charles know how I experience Bach's music? There is no pattern here, as every listener is an individual with his own way of listening to and experiencing music (or whatever).

Since we don't know for sure how Bach's contemporaries experienced his music, and equally don't know for sure how today's audiences experience Bach's music, there is no way we can define what exactly the differences between the two ways of listening and experiencing are.

Are we influenced by our time? Certainly, but not everyone is influenced by it the same way and to the same extent. It is also possible to resist the influence of your own time. Some are more keen to do so than others.

And how do we know that the influence of our time is decisive in the way we experience Bach's music? What was the main factor in the way Bach's contemporaries experienced his music? Was it the fact that they were part of the same culture (which one: German, Leipzig, protestant?) or shared the same faith, or spoke the same language?

Could it be that sharing Bach's faith makes it much more likely to experience his music the same way as his contemporaries than the fact that the culture of our time is different or that we have heard other music than Bach's? Can faith (or language) bridge the gap of centuries?

So: what brings us most close to understanding Bach's music the way he wanted to be understood?

John Pike wrote (July 22, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I have just been listening to Rachel Podger's recordings of the Bach solo sonatas on baroque violin. No technical or intonation problems there, and the sound is, to my ear at least, very pleasing. When in the best hands a baroque violin can sound fine, even with gut strings etc. As I have mentioned before, I like to hear wind instruments played on "original instruments" since the sounds are so characteristic and very different from modern equivalents. I suspect that people like Dale have had their feelings about period instruments largely coloured by their experiences of baroque brass instruments. I can certainly imagine, though I know nothing about brass instruments, that the baroque versions were very much harder to play and that intonation was a major problem, except in the most skilled hands.

Dale Gedcke wrote (July 22, 2004):
RE: John Pike's comments:

Yes, my considerations of intonation, agility and precision were based on the brass family of period instruments. Certainly, a violin doesn't suffer those same limitations, because the player can match the desired pitch by adjusting the finger position. The sackbut also allowed instantaneous adjustment of the pitch, per the modern slide trombone.

In terms of a difficult composition, one I had in mind is Abblassen. Recent research has established that this was written by J. S. Bach for his favorite trumpeter Gottfried Reiche. This is extremely challenging to play on a natural (Baroque) trumpet! Although it is somewhat easier to play on a modern piccolo A trumpet, it is still a very difficult composition. Another example is the Brandenburg Concerto, with frequent notes more than an octave above the treble clef. This, of course, was originally written by Bach for a Baroque trumpet. It is easier to play on a modern piccolo trumpet, but still so difficult that only highly skilled professionals attempt it. Those high notes are an endurance killer for the lips!

But, I think the bottom line is this: The pursuit of HIP, period instruments and Bach's exact tuning temper is still very rewarding for those interested in that endeavor, in spite of any limitations in recreating the original sound and style. Being a modern trumpet player, I have certainly found a great interest in understanding Baroque period instruments, how they were made, how they were played, and how they sounded. Although, at this point in my life I don't have the time to work at playing a natural trumpet in addition to the valved Bb, C, D and piccolo trumpets needed for today's orchestras.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (July 22, 2004):
[To Dale Gedcke] Speaking as a lurker on this list, I wanted to say that this made sense to me. This is presumably the reason why composers went on to seek/commission/invent instruments which could (for example):

1. Play louder (brass?)
2. Stay in tune (metal strings?)
3. Do things which other instruments couldn't (fortepiano/piano?)

I've appreciated the responses to this post so far, and the spirit in which the debate has take place. It's been a good way of novices like me learning - thank you, gentlemen.

Ludwig wrote (July 22, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] Brass has NEVER been a problem when it comes to playing at high volume.

As for as string instruments are concerned you may have point abou tuning when it comes to the Viola d'more. However, as listening rooms got bigger and larger metal strings were found to have more volume. Compare a violin with all gut strings to one that is strung with metal---big difference in sound tones and in some cases quality.

Other instruments could do what the piano could do for at least 400 years before the Baroque and Romantic age---such an instrument is and was called the Carillon. It is also the loudest and softer instruments that have been invented. The invention of the Piano was in response to needing an instrument that was easier to play than the
Cimbalon---by which I mean the national instrument of Hungary, which is struck by felt hammers --each in one hand. (you may have heard this instrument when gypsy music is played) It was also a rebelious reponse against the terraced dynamics of the Harpsichord and Organ.]

It was not just Bach that wrote difficult pieces for Brass but other composers of the Baroque age. Trumpeters made very good livings, thank you, for being able to play such material that today requires a Piccolo Trumpet to play.

John Pike wrote (July 22, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] So far as strings are concerned, the problem with gut strings, as used on baroque instruments, is not so much that they go out of tune but that they can have an unpleasing sound, except in the hands of experts. Modern strings of the best quality tend to me aluminium wound on gut for violin G, D and A strings, and a metal E string.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Trumpets in Bach’s Vocal Works – Part 6 [General Topics]

John Reese wrote (July 24, 2004):
[To John Pike] According to this website: http://www.baroquemusic.org/barvlnbo.html : The catgut strings sounded better with the German bow most commonly used by Bach.

John Pike wrote (July 26, 2004):
[To John Reese] This is true, but they still don't sound as good (to my ear) as a really good "modern" style bow on a good modern string. However, there is still much to be said for playing Bach with the strings and bows that he knew.


Diminishing returns of period performance practices?


Bradley Lehman wrote (October 7, 2004):
Peter Bright wrote: < Perhaps a gritting of the teeth and a truce might be called: How about a message from Thomas pointing out some new welcome advances in Bach theory/practice that have come out of the early music/period instrument/HIP camp (and sorely lacking in thtradional, 'modern' approach); and one from Brad pointing out possible diminishing returns/significant difficulties of period performance practice and/or any advantages that the 'traditional/modern' might have over it for the listener. >
Er....I'm expected to take a dump upon my colleagues and friends in the field, and a dump upon my own accreditation? While Mr Braatz, with no real investment in the field other than a pile of his own money, and no responsibility to scholarship, is expected to say something nice and thereby look like a hero? What kind of a Hobson's Choice is that?

OK: here's one significant difficulty of period performance practice: getting cynics (who are not engaged actively in musical practice and musical research) to believe that there could be any reasonable musical advantages to using period instruments/techniques, and to believe that it's not merely a snobbish and self-serving fad.

I personally use period instruments/phrasing/fingerings/tunings/articulations whenever circumstances allow, because I believe as both a musician and scholar that the music is usually better served (taken seriously) that way. That is, I believe it sounds better and offers richer depths of musical insights, when the composer's expectations and techniques are taken seriously and allowed to speak. That's from the positive assumption that the old now-dead guys really did know what they were doing, they weren't morons, and their work shouldn't be overruled whenever some modern people would prefer to throw out whatever they don't understand. Where I come from, real musicians (dead or alive) get the benefit of the reasonable doubt, and their work deserves to be taken seriously to see what can emerge from those parameters. Accordingly, I've invested years of training, practice, money, and dedication into that premise which I firmly believe.

I understand that some other people consider such a premise as hogwash; that's their right. What matters here is activity. I don't go around saying that "modern" performers who disdain those older techniques MUST NOT be allowed to touch the music. However, those opponents of mine here DO go around saying that historically-informed performers and scholars MUST NOT touch the music in any way that they personally don't understand; and that they themselves have some better handle on "Bach's intentions" than specialists do. I find that to be profoundly offensive. So, I speak up about it.

Let's see: what advantage might "traditional/modern" performance practices have over "historically-informed" performance practices, for the listener? For listeners who come to it with an expectation that naive and generic musicianship (and literalistic score-reading, Toscanini's way) should trump everything, "traditional/modern" offers huge advantages: the performers need not have done any homework before going onstage, any serious preparation other than guessing one's way through the piece. The work's a lot easier when there's no responsibility involved! Just get right up there and sight-read it with generic skills, as if that's good enough. Such a performance might even win cries of "Bravo! Bravo!" from those whose listening expectations were that undemanding. Such positive reinforcement encourages laziness, shortcuts, irresponsibility, settling for less than optimal results.

Those of us who strive to take the music more seriously than that lose opportunities to participate at all, or we're thought of as picky snobs, against the easy success of a lazier approach. (Why hire a real harpsichordist when it's easy enough to let a decent pianist bash through most of the notes on a harpsichord, with little clue about the techniques behind those notes? It sounds good enough to impress 95% of the audience that the music's being played, so why bother seeking out a specialist?!) It certainly doesn't help matters when--as seen here regularly on these discussion lists--a naive and even anti-academic approach is trumpeted as the only reasonable way to take "Bach's intentions" seriously.

Peter Bright wrote (October 7, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Er....I'm expected to take a dump upon my colleagues and friends in the field, and a dump upon my own accreditation? While Mr Braatz, with no real investment in the field other than a pile of his own money, and no responsibility to scholarship, is expected to say something nice and thereby look like a hero? What kind of a Hobson's Choice is that? >
Please read it again and note the words 'possible' and 'might have'. Now do you have to ask why we get the surly attitudes and/or absence of posts from other list members? I was just looking to close the gap even if just a tiny bit between the two positions.

Oh well, I tried... At least I did that much...

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 7, 2004):
[To Peter Bright] Yes, I did notice the words "possible" and "might have", and considered them carefully several times before writing what I wrote below.

I then went on to describe a MAJOR possible disadvantage that period performance might have: that it encourages listeners to dismiss whatever they don't understand (any unfamiliar crosses of their expectations) as automatically wrong, and to come up with rationalizations of their own familiar taste above the possibility that the period-performers might really know what they're doing.

It's rather difficult to offend undemanding listeners by taking a "traditional/modern" approach to the music; what could be objectionable about delivering a naive approach, to those who come to it with expectations of a suitably naive approach?

Meanwhile, the adoption of period techniques can be a large risk, having so many ways to alienate or bewilder the audience who expected something more familiar. The audience doesn't get to sit there so comfortably. The music forces a confrontation against familiar listening habits. It especially alienates an audience who already believe they know all they care to know, and who don't wish to be challenged by music that they already believe they know. How dare the performers do any serious thinking and research beyond what's seen in the holy score, and come up with performances that for whatever reason cross the comfortable expectations?!?!? A more naive approach sells more tickets and records; is that therefore all we should strive for, bigger sales, and offending as few people as possible?

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 7, 2004):
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10136
Peter Bright wrote: < (...) I have almost always preferred an HIP approach in Bach (although I remain immensely impressed by some of Richter's work and a few others). But how fundamentalist HIP enthusiasts who come out with comments like those in Brad's last message can class themselves as progressive is beyond me (or perhaps they don't?). >
"Fundamentalist HIP enthusiasts"?!

This is a stimulating dialogue. In addition to what I just wrote at:
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10137
let me try to clarify, by saying a similar thing in even fewer words:

It is a scholar's job to present truth.

It is a performer's job to present something that is engaging/entertaining/enjoyable.

Those two goals are not in conflict, IMO. I believe a good performance should deliver both, maximizing both, simultaneously.

However, for some listeners, the concept of "truth" in music is beyond their expectations, and even (apparently) makes them uncomfortable. Woe unto the performer who tries to deliver both the above (which is indeed a progressive thing to do: and much harder than simply being entertaining, and much harder than merely following scholarly instructions to the letter).

Especially so when, on one side, there are pedants insisting that such-and-such an ornament (or whatever) was "wrong", and on the other side there are anti-pedants insisting that truth doesn't exist. It would be much easier, and much less progressive, to cop out and merely try to serve one side or the othe.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 7, 2004):
A few comments about ALLEGED diminishing returns of period performance practices, chez Barenboim.....

< In Barenboim's notes to his recent WTK recording he says: "The study of old instruments and historic performance practice has taught us a great deal, but the main point, the impact of harmony, has been ignored. >
By whom?

< This is proved by the fact that tempo is described as an independent phenomenon. It is claimed that one of Bach's gavottes must be played fast and another one slowly. But tempo is not independent! And you do not hear it! You only hear the substance of the music. It is this very audibility that informs every kind of music theory. I could develop a theory that applies to any phrase of any prelude or fugue by Bach. But all theory is useless if it cannot be heard when you play. >
Such a theory doesn't really need to be developed by Barenboim; it's already part of historically informed performance practices. A good book in that regard is Richard Hudson's Stolen Time: The History of Tempo Rubato.

And yes, the concept of harmonic rhythm is important. Barenboim (who is very good about it as a pianist and conductor) can exclaim about it all he wants to; but, why would that be news to other players of Bach's music? Seems to me that Barenboim is merely putting up "historic performance practice" as a straw man to be knocked down, as if his own way is then more complete and more deeply informed.

< I think that concerning oneself purely with historic performance preactice and the attempt to reproduce the sound of older styles of music-making is limiting and no indication of progress. >
Straw man. This demonizes his straw opponents.

< Mendelssohn and Schumann tried to introduce Bach into their own period, as did Liszt with his transcriptions and Busoni with his arrangements. In America Leopold Stokowski also tried to do it with his arrangements for orchestra. This was always the result of "progressive" efforts to bring Bach closer to the particular period. I have no philosophical prooblem with someone playing Bach and making it sound like Boulez. My problem is more with someone who tries to imitate the sound of that time. Knowing that in Bach's day this appoggiatura was played slowly and that ornamentation fast and copying it is not enough. I must understand why it was like that. This is why I consider a purely academic approach to the past very dangerous because it is linked to ideology and fundamentalism, even in music. >
He said something pretty much like that on the BBC Radio interview, too. The interviewer then kept pressing him, right at the end of the interview, to show how his own approach is not merely a competing ideology, and Barenboim kept refusing to acknowledge that he had an ideology at all.

Isn't it a truism that a "purely academic approach" to ANYTHING is limiting, without the intersection of practice? And vice versa, too.

< "...[WTK] makes a statement about everything that preceded it in music. It makes a statement about music in the time of Bach. But it also indicates the direction which music might take as it develops - as indeed it has developed. For example, the chromaticism in the Prelude in C sharp minor from Book One brings Wagner's Tristan und Isolde to mind. Or the Fugue in E flat, which could be straight out of a symphony by Bruckner. In other words, Das wohltemperierte Klavier is not only the sum of everything that has preceded it, but it also points the way ahead. In the history of European music there are very few composers whose work that applies. This is one of the main reasons for the towering stature of Bach's music." >
Nice truisms that could really be said about any influential pieces of music by any sufficiently influential composers. Schoenberg's Opus 11 is another good example. And Beethoven's "Eroica" and "Grosse Fuge". And Monteverdi's madrigals.



Continue on Part 15


HIP (Historically Informed Performance): Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17

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Last update: ýDecember 3, 2005 ý15:23:28