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Bach Books

Text and Act
by Richard Taruskin

 

 

Book

1

Text and Act

Essays on Music and Performance

Richard Taruskin

Oxford University Press

1995

PB / 382 pp

Taruskin

Bradley Lehman
wrote (June 18, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: < I assume the "mammoth" motif is a reference to extinction: traditional performance practice being driven to extinction by the modern fashionable style, HIP ( I take, here, the perspective of Taruskin that HIP is merely a rationalisation of modern taste). >
But, that's not Taruskin's perspective; you've mis-represented it! Taruskin's contention (his broader point in that book, Text and Act, as a whole) is that an overly objective fidelity to the score (and to formulaic performance practice in general) in the guise of being "historically informed performance practice" is the problem in modern taste.

Take, for example, the anecdote he cites from a piano lesson in which he was playing a piece by Prokofiev. He went back to Prokofiev's own recording and from it learned the unwritten performance practices that the composer expected to have applied to the music (and did apply, himself, to his own music), thereby altering some of the rhythm and articulation. But his teacher insisted that it must be played exactly as written in the score, and that Prokofiev himself as a player was wrong!

Taruskin's whole book is a collection of essays and annotations explaining that same point: that there is a difference between fidelity to a score (basically, worship of a piece of paper) and fidelity to musical process: that music is not captured completely, or even to a large percentage, in a piece of paper. Text and Act. Two different things.

Taruskin's not bashing "HIP" as you are. He's bashing the repackaging of 20th century practice (score-fidelity-worship, and the thin consideration of only small portions of evidence, i.e. some of the 1970s and 1980s pseudo-"HIP" practice) as if it were the best that HIP can offer. HIP, when done properly, goes far beyond that; and that's what he's challenging us all to expect and to demand, not settling for superficiality.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 18, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Taruskin's not bashing "HIP" as you are. He's bashing the repackaging of 20th century practice (score-fidelity-worship, and the thin consideration of only small portions of evidence, i.e. some of the 1970s and 1980s pseudo-"HIP" practice) as if it were the best that HIP can offer. HIP, when done properly, goes far beyond that; and that's what he's challenging us all to expect and to demand, not settling for superficiality. >
One could sum Taruskin as saying that HIP is too literalistic, that it doesn't go far enough in challenging the authority of notation: "A movement which might, in the name of history, have shown the way back to a truly creative performance practice has only furthered teh stifling of creativity in the name of normative controls. Here Early Music actively colludes with teh so-called 'mainstream' it externally impugns" (Text and Act, p. 13).

My own view is that Taruskin is superb as a critic of some trends within HIP, but repeatedly makes the mistake of ascribing monolithic unity to it: HIP is much more intenrally diverse than he is willing to acknolwedge. I discuss this a bit more fully on <http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Books/Book-Authentic[Golomb].htm>. More wide-ranging and convincing critiques of parts of Tarukin's thesis (as well as corroborations to some other parts...) can be found in John Butt's Playing with History (http://books.cambridge.org/0521013585.htm) and Peter Walls' History, Imagination and the Performance of Music (http://www.boydell.co.uk/43830051.HTM).

John Pike wrote (June 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] As I mentioned before on this list, in a recent BBC Music magazine, an article addressed the difficulties in knowing what the composer's original intentions were. The case studied in depth was Chopin, who frequently preformed his own music in very different ways from one occasion to another.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 18, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I agree, Uri. The biggest problem is that Taruskin's book (as fine as it is) is simply out of date now; "HIP" performance practices have changed so much already since 1980 (in some part due to his own essays here) that the book now describes bygone modern practice. [I can vouch for this personally, if anecdotes are worth anything: my own performance practices, and my commitment to the depths of academic scholarship, were shaped profoundly by reading the first appearances of some of these Taruskin essays when they were new: in Opus magazine and the New York Times, mid to late 1980s. Taruskin's writing cemented my resolve and commitment to spend five years of my life in graduate school (1989-94), exploring the issues he brought up: that is, personally I've found his writing both inspiring and apropos to doing "HIP" better than it was done in the 1970s and 1980s. I'm living proof, here, if such proof is needed.] It's all about getting beyond the normative controls that stifle creativity, and indeed kill the music accordingly. For that reason, Taruskin's book is still absolutely essential reading.

Not that this problem (Taruskin's historical observations about 1980s performance practice being now out of date) bothers those who would use Taruskin's book to bash all "HIP" practice, from superficial judgments that (1) it's still monolithic in any way, and (2) performers don't have or use our brains or souls in deciding what to do.

I second this recommendation of John Butt's book Playing With History: an excellent survey of the situation since the time of Taruskin's writing. I haven't seen Walls' yet, thanks for mentioning it.

Bach Books: Main Page / Reviews & Discussions | Index by Title | Index by Author | Index by Number
General: Biographies | Essay Collections | Performance Practice | Children
Vocal: Cantatas BWV 1-224 | Motets BWV 225-231 | Latin Church BWV 232-243 | Passions & Oratorios BWV 244-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Lieder BWV 439-524
Instrumental: Organ BWV 525-771 | Keyboard BWV 772-994 | Solo Instrumental BWV 995-1013 | Chamber & Orchestral BWV 1014-1080


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Last update: June 20, 2004 10:39:40