Early Music: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

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A variety of reasons suggest themselves: This is in essence the appeal of forgotten repertories; those not yet forgotten may be canonical, they may be highbrow, they may be elitist, but they are not exotic. These earlier repertories provide a means of connecting with worlds so different from our own that they give us reason to question our assumptions about how music works, what it does, and what it should sound like. There is also the desire to know what it was that people in the past listened to. What are those angels singing and playing in medieval paintings?

What are those musicians up in the balcony in that banquet-scene doing? What did Queen Elizabeth I dance to? What entertained Louis XIV at dinner? If it turns out that we like the music, so much the better; no one would question admiring a Gothic cathedral or a painting by Van Eyck or Leonardo. Lovers of the visual arts are almost never forced to justify their love of those things, but the music of the past often does not get the same timeless respect.

Early Music: A Very Short Introduction - Very Short Introductions

The impetus for this aspect of early music is essentially historical, like the interest in medieval cookery, or in Baroque clothing. Sheer novelty can also be at the core of an interest in early music. It is not like any music today; and it is not like any music in other cultures; and it is not even like itself, in that it consists of a long and broad series of repertories that have in common only that they are old and unknown. There is a certain satisfaction, perhaps, in being the first person in a long time to hear a Spinacino intabulation for lute of a sixteenth-century frottola; and satisfaction in showing off—that is, introducing other listeners to it.

To the extent that early music was seen as nontraditional, and participatory there were, and are, a great many summer workshops where early music is played , it could be seen as part of a cultural trend toward music of the people, music without pretense, music that expresses a general union of popular and learned. Almost all music in the world of concert, or art, or classical music, is a heard electronically, and b old. Many more people listen to p. And many more people prefer music they already know to music they have not yet heard; even music of contemporary composers is seldom heard live, or at first performances.

One of the attractions of jazz, and of live concerts of rock and other music, is a sense of being there, of being present at a unique event that nobody else has ever heard. A substantial part of the activity of the modern early-music movement is an effort to evoke that excitement, the one-time, you-were-there effect of music being made now.

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How successfully the early-music revival reaches these aims is subject to ongoing debate, but the impetus for its existence is grounded in the idea of spontaneity, of excitement, and of recapturing experiences otherwise lost to us. Until the late nineteenth century, if you wanted to hear music you had to know how to perform it, or you had to be physically present in the place and at the time that it was performed. The performance of music had a value that it perhaps has lost, even though music itself—defined differently by every listener—has enormous value to almost everybody.

Now, with recording and playback devices we can hear any music, from any place, from any repertory in history, and at any moment we wish.

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We can have an enormous orchestra in our living room, and we can command it to stop while we step out to the kitchen p. It is quite remarkable. And with a century of recordings behind us we have a backlog of recorded performances that grant us amazing access to performance events that took place in the past, and to a wide variety of repertories and styles.

There may still be those who claim that they play a particular piece of music the way Bach did, because they play it the way their teacher does, who studied with so-and-so in Vienna, who studied with so-and-so, who studied with Czerny, who studied with Beethoven, and so on back to Bach; these players have probably not listened to the changes that the piece in question has undergone in a century of recorded music; if they had, they would probably come to doubt the fixity of tradition and the unity of performing style.

Even if we believed in unbroken and unwavering tradition, early-music advocates would argue that there are certain performance traditions that are broken beyond recovery. When real professional music teaching was begun in the Paris Conservatoire after the revolution, there was an unbridgeable gap between what had gone before in the eighteenth century—essentially late Baroque music and before—and what was now being taught at the Conservatoire. Even if we believed in the stern tradition of method, passed down from teacher to pupil, we could not trace it much farther back than the early part of the nineteenth century.

And so the music from before that time, usually taught and performed, only as exercises—Bach preludes and fugues for p.

Early Music: A Very Short Introduction

The early-music movement seeks to reexamine that music; its repertory is the music before the common-practice, canonical music of the concert hall, the modern chamber music concert, the current opera house; it seeks to understand the context in which that older music, that now seems so odd, was not only perfectly normal but thought to be ravishingly beautiful. Early music has another aspect that has to do with performance: This emphasis on performance is one of the two main aspects of the movement—the notion that lost practices and broken traditions can be recovered through assiduous research and practice.

The hardworking pioneers of the s and s sought to find out, by the study and reproduction of instruments of the past, what could be learned about sound and about what works best when Bach is played on a harpsichord rather than a Steinway, when Corelli is played on a gut-strung, lower-pitched, lighter-bowed violin; and some performers made an effort to rediscover playing techniques and stylistic conventions from the careful study of surviving writings about music, and from a careful reexamination of surviving scores.

The effort to take the authors at their word and to ferret out of these books information useful to modern performers was a work of real intensity, carried out by those who believed it could be done. There is no doubt that a great deal was learned by those pioneering scholarly and performing efforts, and anybody who has been listening to Baroque music since the s will know how much has changed since those efforts began. And it is not focused on the music of a single place and time, unlike these treatises, all of which come from mid-eighteenth-century German-speaking lands—which, interesting as it is, is neither central to music-making nor the only place and time of interest to people who make music.

The focus on these treatises was an important start, and all who were involved in those efforts felt proud of what was learned, and of the vigor and freshness that Baroque music seemed to gain. It was an important part of the spirit of the time to feel that one was a pioneer, that one was rediscovering, through hard work, a tradition that had been lost. Now, a generation or more later, there are teachers who learned from these pioneers, and students can simply go to a conservatory or to a summer workshop and learn the modern approach to Baroque music at the hands of people who have been practicing this style their whole lives, second-generation practitioners who never had to unlearn the Romantic approach to Bach and Handel.

Perhaps some of the excitement of the discovery has been lost, but it is certainly true that standards have improved considerably. Some will object that it is well and good for those people, but that we are not those people, we are ourselves and we are now, and we cannot un-listen to the music we have all around us, and so performers might just as well acknowledge the existence of pianos, microphones, amplifiers, modern keyboard techniques using thumbs, the need for loud instruments and voice to fill large halls, and so on.

Thomas Forrest Kelly

To those people many early-music enthusiasts will probably shrug and wish them well; but even the users of modern hardware could adapt some aspects of historical style that might affect their performances—a suitable tempo, for example, can transform a piece regardless of the instrument it is played on. But early music has another side, and that is the music itself—that is, not only the rediscovery of lost traditions, but the rediscovery of lost music; repertories that for one reason or another have fallen out of use, or out of favor, and that when rediscovered and revived might give considerable musical pleasure.

If somebody figures out a way to write it down, and that writing can serve as a recipe for performing the music again, then of course it is not lost. The musical notation developed in medieval Europe has made it possible to know about a great deal of music that nobody remembers personally. The amount of detail encoded in the musical notation varies with time and with writing system and with writer, but the level of detail generally increases with time, and wherever we have music that is written down, or wherever we have living musicians, we have the possibility of music.

Either they have memorized the music—usually using notation—like performers at most piano or vocal recitals, or they read from music but have practiced many times before performing—like most orchestral concerts. Where only memory is available, there is the risk of forgetting, or of slippage of memory from one performance to the next. And where only notation is used, there is the risk that the player will not fully understand the notation, or that the notation, as is almost always true, will be specific about some things usually the pitches and lengths of the notes but not about others often dynamics, articulation, volume, tone color.

It leaves out what is taken for granted and must be supplied by the performer; this is a lot of what is worked out in rehearsal. Early music concerns itself mostly with music where some notation survives, but nobody remembers the music. To perform the music, one needs to understand as much as possible about what the notation means; and to understand what is not present in the notation, or suggested but not specified, and be sure to include those essentials also.

Questions that have concerned musicians seeking to understand older repertories are sometimes quite rarefied when, if ever, is it appropriate to begin a trill on the main note rather than the upper note? How long is an appoggiatura? These and similar questions are the subject of much research among those who study surviving written music and compare it with what writers on music have to say about the meaning of written symbols and about the accepted conventions of performance.

The other aspect of early music, not so directly connected with performance, is an interest in musical repertories that have been rediscovered, in the sense that they were not part of the common coin of musical performance and experience.

They have had to be found, either in surviving manuscripts, or in scholarly editions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—editions that were well known to musicologists but of little interest to anybody else. Sometimes it happens, for reasons that are hard to explain, that there is a sudden vogue for a particular kind of music—chant, say, or Vivaldi concerti for the violin or Bach harpsichord music.

There have been other times and places in which music of the past has been of interest. Various reasons can be given for these particular movements—often they are antiquarian curiosities; p.

The last great work of the architect Palladio was the splendid theater of the learned academy of the Olimpici in the city of Vicenza, designed along classical Greek lines. Performing Issues Chapter 6: Thomas Forrest Kelly is Morton B. When this book was announced, the only question was whether it would be any good. The answer, emphatically, is yes, and the author addresses both specialist readers and newcomers.

Authoritative, surprisingly comprehensive for its size, and presented with all of Professor Kelly's usual grace, wit, and clarity. Professor Kelly offers historical perspective, not only on the music itself, but the long trail of interpreters who preceded the more recent Revival, plus a very astute recognition that present ideas could soon seem as dated as those of Beecham and Stokowski -- or Mozart and Mendelssohn. Not only is Professor Kelly's heart in the right place, but his ears and brain seem to be more correctly connected than usual in the polemical world of early music.

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