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HIP (Historically Informed Performance)

Part 11

 

 

Continue from Part 10

Defence of HIP

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 16, 2003):
Jack Botelho wrote: < To be frank, I had almost given up on Bach a few years ago because I became continually disastisfied with historically informed recordings of selected works: recordings of keyboard works sounded stodgy, cumbersome, mechanical, wooden, in a word: boring. I will not name performers here so as to not offend anyone. I had made some friends on-line who insist on HIP recordings only, but I must admit I have been mislead. I am beginning to understand that Bach's keyboard works need to be infused with a high level of creative musicianship, or else fall flat. >
Why should "historically informed" and "high level of creative musicianship" (i.e. imagination and enterprise, putting the music across strongly and directly) be in any way a dichotomy? There are many fine players who accomplish both goals simultaneously, and whose Bach recordings are outstanding because of it. For example: Wilbert Hazelzet on Baroque flute, Ingrid Matthews on Baroque violin, Hopkinson Smith on lute, Edward Parmentier and Robert Hill on harpsichord, Paolo Pandolfo on viola da gamba; and many, many others.

If you've heard some "HIP" recordings that displeased you, due to inferior musicianship or your expectations or whatever, OK, acknowledged; but don't throw all of us who professionally specialize in that approach into a boat and set it out to sea. Such a sweeping categorization gets dangerously into the realm of prejudice.

Jack Botelho wrote (December 16, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I very much appreciate the below point of view, and will return later to further discussion. Perhaps other members will have some further input too.

Fostruh wrote (December 16, 2003):
"So, I don't appreciate being told how to do my job, in playing the keyboard works of Bach that I love.... And to play any music (by anyone) in a "tiresome" manner is right out.

Yikes indeed."

Please Brad,

I understand you have been in an online war with some other individuals but no need to carry it over here. In fact, I have learned (finally) very much the gist of what you have been arguing for so long on other lists: making Bach keyboard music come alive, and infusing it with the care and love that makes for great keyboard performances (disregarding pipe organ for the moment).

I encourage you to continue in your pursuit of vibrant musicianship - but taking into account Bach (sorry no apostrophes today) living and working conditions and his continual frustration with the resources he had at hand in comparison to musicians today who spend years studying and performing even a single piece of his music, I think it is far too much to expect Bach to play with a sophistication we have cultivated in our ivory towers. Bach had to feed 13(?) children after all, had fist fights with choir boys, had to pay off a teacher of Latin to the students, argued with town councils and stodgy officials, had to accept lower pay than a harpsichordist, was fired and imprisoned for a time, lost several children and a wife to illnesses, and yet found the time to compose over 1000 master works. You have been educated in sophisticated techniques of musicianship, but Bach lived in a very different time than you - one of much less self-consciousness and little leisure.

Anne Smith wrote (December 16, 2003):
I always have mixed feelings about HIP. I can appreciate historical research but I love modern instruments. I don't throw out the historical approach I learned when I studied harpsichord or music history, but I don’t obsess over it either. Last week someone quoted someone saying: "If it sounds good it is good." This is my theory.

Now about Bach’s own playing, Jack said:
< I think it is far too much to expect Bach to play with a sophistication we have cultivated in our ivory towers. Bach had to feed 13(?) children after all, had fist fights with choir boys, had to pay off a teacher of Latin to the students, argued with town councils and stodgy officials, had to accept lower pay than a harpsichordist, was fired and imprisoned for a time, lost several children and a wife to illnesses, and yet found the time to compose over 1000 master works. >
You missed one vital point. Bach had God given talents that the rest of us do not have. He did not need to spend as long practising as the rest of us do. He was special.

Carol wrote (December 17, 2003):
[To Anne Smith] How much I do agree with you, Anne.

Bach, who created so many melodies with their other elements, the likes of which I, with my limited vocabulary, can't come close to describing in superlatives, must have had the gift of playing them with equal majesty. And even if he didn't have singers and other musicians like those we are so privileged to hear today, he imagined them inside his head. I do wish he could have heard these performers though, and more importantly, I wish he could have known how much all of us here today love him. I think, even feel sad and worry about that, every time I hear yet another amazing combination of those basic notes, unlike the last he invented. It's kind of like the way nature created so many different faces out of just a few features.


Historical Instruments
OT: Historical Instruments, volume, electricity

Anne Smith wrote (January 9, 2004):

From: Johan van Veen: [much snipping] < How can we begin to understand the experience of those who lived in a world without electricity? >
One point people seem to forget when the Historical Instrument debate comes up is the fact that living in a world without electricity, central heating, air conditioning, humidifiers and de-humidifiers effects musical instruments. Historical instruments are not going to sound or work the same unless they are stored in damp, mouldy old basements.

Johan van Veen wrote (January 9, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] The quotation is not from me.

Anne Smith wrote (January 9, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Sorry. I took that part from message 12257 which was from your e-mail. You are responding to someone else. It is not clear who the original person who said that was.

Donald Satz wrote (January 9, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] When the electricity shuts down in my neck of the woods, I feel like a lost puppy. As a matter of reference, there have been recent experiments where modern-day folks are placed in an historical setting with all its particular trappings. With little exception, the participants end up very surprised at how hard life was back then. Also, many of them feel much more accomplished and useful living in the past.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 10, 2004):
OT: Historical Instruments, volume, electricity

[To Donald Satz] When electricity shuts down around here, it's not such a big deal. Indeed, about half of my neighbors don't have electricity anyway, or drive cars (by lifestyle choice).

Watching the horse-drawn vehicles I regularly get some sense of the pace of transportation from Bach's time....

And some relatives of mine, in Ohio, have a store that caters to people who live without electricity: there's all kinds of wonderful stuff in their store and catalog, a reminder that gadgets don't have to be electrified to get the job done.
http://www.lehmans.com/
When the "Y2K" scare came around, in 1998 and 1999, there was a huge run on this store by people from all over the world, stocking up on survivalist stuff, just in case the electric grid would be down for a bit. Golly.

If the electricity ever goes off, it's a good reminder that music was written to be played and sung oneself, not just throwing a disc into an electric machine and listening passively.

While working during the day, I hardly ever turn on any lights in my office, just use window light. When it starts getting dark (in winter, anyway) I know it's time to knock off. I do find that computer hum is annoyingly loud sometimes; I'd rather have it much quieter than that.

Whenever people visit here, if they've ever heard a clavichord in a recording, I make stry the clavichord themselves. They're always shocked at how quiet it is. The ear adjusts fairly quickly, but it's still a shock. Then when they cross the room and try the harpsichord, it seems very loud in that context, even with the lid closed.

I remember a week spent at a harpsichord conference, then getting home and hearing a voice and piano recital the next day. With my ears adjusted to harpsichord levels, and nobody using a microphone anywhere all that week, I found that recital painful (even though the musicianship was fine)...just too bloomin' loud, and there wasn't any amplification! I can't bear to go to other types of concerts that are amplified...it feels like an assault.

Speed, light pollution, excess volume: Just Say No. :) Ditto for listening to recordings played back louder than the instruments actually are in real life.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Besides, what does electricity have to do with Historical Instruments, anyways? I mean, I could understand humidity, but not electricity. Besides, even the automatons (those cute little mechanical music-making dolls) and other mechanical instruments did not always rely on electricity. Even the organ can be considered a "mechanical" instrument and for the most part it does not require electricity. So why bring up electricity? Why not bring up more pertenant issues, like humidity, size of instrument, size of performance area, etc.? I think that the question is not one of electricity and sound mechanics more than acoustics, which has little to do with the instrument itself more than the surroundings. Sure, in the early string instruments, the quality has some effect on the sound, but that was and is not the only factor.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 10, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote: < Historical instruments are not going to sound or work the same unless they are stored in damp, mouldy old basements. >
I know there's a slight hygenic problem, but why don't we store them in damp, mouldy old basements? Does it really matter that much?

btw, the Early Music studio at my school, where 2 of the harspichords and a bunch of other period intruments are kept, is maintained at quite a sweaty temperature...

Anne Smith wrote (January 10, 2004):
"Besides, what does electricity have to do with Historical Instruments, anyways? I mean, I could understand humidity, but not electricity. "
You need electricity to operate central heating, air conditioning, humidifiers and de-humidifiers. Electricity or the lack of it makes a difference to acoustic instruments Have you ever seen what dry air does to wooden instruments? Have you ever had the misfortune to have someone place an instrument in a damp basement?

Don't you think museums store valuable Historical Instruments in climate controlled environments?

Juozas Rimas wrote (January 10, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Queer experiments are being done: the people lived in those rigid conditions for as long they can remember and now they're placing an adult person straight from a warm hi-tech housing and putting him in Baroque conditions? :/

Returning to the subject: perhaps the Baroque violins - in just about every recording I listen to - meow precisely because they aren't stored in "damp, mouldy old basements" as they were ages ago when they really sounded soft? :) The violins are the only thing that spoils my beloved AoF by Savall's Hesperion although even with them it's splendid.

Anne Smith wrote (January 10, 2004):
< Returning to the subject: perhaps the Baroque violins - in just about every recording I listen to - meow precisely because they aren't stored in "damp, mouldy old basements" as they were ages ago when they really sounded soft? :) >
Yes!! This is my point. Baroque violin makers made violins to suit the conditions of that time. We are not going to get a "True Bach Sound" unless we spend a great amount of time reconstructing his environment. Is this something we want to do? Too far removed from the music for me.

Craig Schweickert wrote (January 10, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote: < Returning to the subject: perhaps the Baroque violins - in just about every recording I listen to - meow precisely because they aren't stored in "damp, mouldy old basements" as they were ages ago when they really sounded soft? :) The violins are the only thing that spoils my beloved AoF by Savall's Hesperion although even with them it's splendid. >
Maybe your problem with the violins in Savall's Art of the Fugue recording is that they're viols?

Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Paolo Crazzi, oboe da caccia
Charles Toet, tombone
Claude Wasmer, basson
Jordi Savall, viole de gambe soprano
Christophe Coin, viole de gambe altus
Roberto Gini, viole de gambe ténor
Paolo Pandofo, viole de gambe de basse
Direction: Jordi Savall

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 10, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote: < We are not going to get a "True Bach Sound" unless we spend a great amount of time reconstructing his environment. Is this something we want to do? Too far removed from the music for me. >
Why not? I was quite serious when I suggested yesterday that someone try it (i.e. if no one does then I might). All we need is some dank mouldy old basement somewhere!

Of course, this goes all the way back to the idea of hardware affecting the music, something my fellow Canadian Bernard Labadie disagrees with. His Violons du Roi consider themselves an HIP group (or whatever designation one wishes to assign the movement), but all his instruments are modern and he argues that, in his own words (as far as I can recall) "musicianship is in the player's head, not hands."

What's my take on the matter (cause I have one)? I feel that Labadie is right only to a certain extent. Sure, an instrument can't play itself, but to say that the instrument doesn't affect the music is suspect mainly on the basis of timbre-which is the essential factor in orchestration. Besides, I like the more characteristic baroque meow to the modern blandness anyway (not that there aren't extremes of course-Magloire's Mozart Messiah! oy!)

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 10, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote:
"Besides, what does electricity have to do with Historical Instruments, anyways? I mean, I could understand humidity, but not electricity. "
You need electricity to operate central heating, air conditioning, humidifiers and de-humidifiers. Electricity or the lack of it makes a difference to acoustic instruments Have you ever seen what dry air does to wooden instruments? Have you ever had the misfortune to have someone place an instrument in a damp basement?
Don't you think museums store valuable Historical Instruments in climate controlled environments? >
They certainly do. One of my research-assistant jobs in grad school was as a docent, cataloguer, and assistant to the curator of the University of Michigan's "Stearns" collection of instruments...nearly a thousand various instruments, European and otherwise, some going back more than 300 years. The instruments on display in the school's glass cases are only a small fraction, and that's of course all climate-controlled and under security; but the bulk of the collection is also climate-controlled, elsewhere in town, under even more security. The main storage building is an old factory, formerly used to manufacture stuff for the war effort in the 1940s. We had to double-check the climate controls every time we went in there to do any work. (And there wasn't much funding for any of us on staff to do any of that work more than a few hours a week, which is most unfortunate: those instruments sitting there in storage, perpetually, like corpses...and only rarely brought out to be heard.)

Damp basement? One of my own keyboard instruments here lives in the basement because I don't have space for it in the main part of the house. Yes, there's a dehumidifier running in its room, regularly, and humidity gauge set up to make sure things stay close to optimum.

Anne Smith wrote (January 10, 2004):
I said: "We are not going to get a "True Bach Sound" unless we spend a great amount of time reconstructing his environment. Is this something we want to do? Too far remfrom thmusic for me.”
Matt said: < Why not? I was quite serious when I suggested yesterday that someone try it (i.e. if no one does then I might). All we need is some dank mouldy old basement somewhere! >
I think we would need more than that. Someone who understands old instruments. Someone who would lend us some. A lot of money. The dank mouldy place is easy - an abandoned barn. Let them sit during spring thaw and the heat of the summer. I really think historical recreations are only a product of CBC specials.

Brad's post was excellent on the care of instruments. They die if you don't take care of them.

Juozas Rimas wrote (January 10, 2004):
Craig Schweickert wrote: < Maybe your problem with the violins in Savall's Art of the Fugue recording is that they're viols? >
Not being a musician, I think I can't hear the difference between "a viole de gambe tenor" and a Baroque violin. Anyway, the strings - whatever they are - still sound quite dry and meowing... A thought of meowing strings didn't cross my mind when listening to Mozart's quintets by Grumiaux & Co. for the past several weeks, though.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 10, 2004):
Anne Smith commented: >>They [historical instruments] die if you don't take care of them.<<
Even more dangerous than death are the instrument makers, particularly the at-that-time-well-meaning violin makers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. An almost systematic 'destruction' of the original instruments took place so that it has become almost impossible to provide reconstructions which are not based upon a great amount of guesswork.

To provide a foundation based upon expert opinions, here are some excerpts from articles contained in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003) My own comments will always be enclosed with brackets to distinguish them from the musicological experts.

At first I will quote from a summary article by Howard Mayer Brown and Peter Walls on performance practices as affected by historical instruments:
>>Modern performers have concerned themselves not only with styles of playing Baroque music but also with the revival of precise sonorities. More often than not, increased knowledge about the details of Baroque instruments and performing practices has brought with it an increased sensitivity to the sound of older music and a heightened awareness of the connection between musical style and the history of technology. Thus 20th-century instrument makers copied ever more closely the details of surviving instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries in the realization that the so-called ‘improvements’ of modern technology (often intended to eliminate mechanical disadvantages) may destroy some essential quality of sound. Moreover, modern builders (especially of keyboard instruments) have come to appreciate the vast differences between, say, a 16th-century Italian harpsichord and its 18th-century French counterpart, and have passed on to players and listeners their conviction that the best instrument for a particular piece is the sort for which it was originally intended.<<

[After attempting to summarize the general situation, these authors turn their attention specifically to the violins as the most important representative of the string instrument family. Similar transformations as those mentioned here for the violin can easily be applied to the remaining members of the family (note the assertion that "every surviving Stradivari instrument has been altered" and that these alterations, as those with the names of violin makers not as well known, are considerable)]::
>>The concept of a ‘period instrument’ is rather different for the violin family from what it is for keyboard and wind instruments where, by and large, the Baroque versions differ so much from their modern equivalents that they are essentially distinct instruments. (No amount of alteration could make an 18th-century flute or trumpet function as a modern instrument.) Violinists, however, still prize 17th- and 18th-century instruments above all others – and many internationally famous violinists perform Romantic and 20th-century repertory on instruments made in the Baroque era but extensively modified since (through resetting the neck, strengthening the bass-bar and substituting a thicker sound-post). One of the paradoxes of the modern world is that while Stradivari is acknowledged as the greatest violin maker of all time, every surviving Stradivari instrument has been altered (‘improved’) to conform to 19th-century notations of how a violin should sound. Those (‘period-instrument’) players who feel that Baroque and Classical repertory is best served by instruments set up as they were when the music was composed use either newly made replicas or older instruments restored to their pre-19th-century condition. And, of course, they use bows which, as far as possible, match those in use at the time the music they are playing was composed. Related to this concern to reproduce as exactly as possible the original timbre of older music is the persuasive case scholars have made that older conventions of performance should be observed even when they run counter to modern tastes.<<

[The authors optimistically unrealistic assessment is : "Those (‘period-instrument’) players who feel that Baroque and Classical repertory is best served by instruments set up as they were when the music was composed use either newly made replicas or older instruments restored to their pre-19th-century condition. And, of course, they use bows which, as far as possible, match those in use at the time the music they are playing was composed." The idea that historically informed players actually "use either newly made replicas or older instruments restored to their pre-19th-century condition" is very misleading and amounts practically to a myth that these authors are perpetuating here. Much closer to the truth would be that there are newly made replicas based on questionable sources and that older instruments can not really be restored to their former condition except in a very general, approximate sort of way. The authors continue:]
>>The increasing use of old instruments or of accurate modern reproductions has in many cases required performers to relearn techniques by studying instruction books published during the 17th and 18th centuries. Thus keyboard players have studied and adopted the fingerings included in such sources as English virginal books or François Couperin’s 'L’art de toucher le clavecin' (1716). For wind players, the study of Baroque tonguing conventions provides similar insights into articulation and phrasing. Musicians who play on violins (that is to say, violins set up as they would have been in the 17th or 18th century) have had to learn an entirely new technique, particularly in the use of pre-Tourte bows. While some useful information can be gleaned from the instrumental tutors published before 1750, it is not until the end of the Baroque era that we find treatises written by truly accomplished violinists (Geminiani, Herrando, Leopold Mozart, L’abbé le fils and Tartini) addressed to players of more than amateur aspirations. Moreover, violinists must take into account the differences between the more rhythmic, dance-orientated playing technique of the French (described in detail by Georg Muffat in the preface to 'Florilegium secundum,' 1698) and the freer singing tone and more varied bowings of the Italian musicians of the period.<<

[When the authors state: "For wind players, the study of Baroque tonguing conventions provides similar insights into articulation and phrasing. Musicians who play on violins (that is to say, violins set up as they would have been in the 17th or 18th century) have had to learn an entirely new technique, particularly in the use of pre-Tourte bows," this is another problematic area where misinformation regarding the sound and playing style of Bach's violins has been inferred from the use of a short bow. Harnoncourt created the equation for Baroque violin playing as follows: Short Baroque bows = short two or three note phrases (Bach's violinists, according to Harnoncourt, were incapable of doing much more than thbecause of the restrictions of the short bow.) This is why the violin playing in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata series generally sounds very fragmented and yet is touted as authentically historical.

Robert E. Seletsky, however, on the subject of 'bows' in the 18th century reveals that both long and short bows were being used in Bach’s time (the Tourte bow was invented in 1785.) Very interesting is his observation on the late Baroque playing style: “the prevailing 18th-century italianate cantabile style.” This is quite a contrast to Harnoncourt's mistaken assumption about what Bach's strings must have sounded like:]
>>Performers were evidently satisfied with the short violin bow well into the 18th century. However, about 1720, reportedly at the instigation of Tartini, Italian luthiers developed a substantially longer violin bow, between 69 and 72 cm in total length and generally weighing between 45 and 56 grams. In another modification later credited to Tartini as well, the mild convexity near the tip was replaced by a slightly more elevated head, frequently resulting in a distinct ‘swan-bill’ profile, while the stick remained straight; however, Tartini's long bow, although straight, has a small, somewhat elevated pike head rather than a ‘swan-bill’ (Conservatorio di Musica Giuseppe Tartini, Trieste). The new bows were known as ‘long bows’, sometimes as ‘Tartini bows’. Under playing tension, long bows still always appear slightly convex; moreover, many 18th-century long bows were still built with low pike heads, or even swan-bill heads, that retain the convex ‘hump’ at the upper end of the stick. Not infrequently the shank of the stick was reeded – that is, carved with up to 24 shallow, narrow flutes – either for better grip, or for decoration. The bow…[shown in an illustration], probably of English provenance, c1725, is 71·7 cm long and weighs 54·5 grams; its original ‘clip-in’ frog is intact, and the grip area and end of the stick are reeded.

Long bows did not supplant the short bows. G.B. Somis (1686–1763), a disciple of Corelli (1653–1713), continued to use a short bow; and P.A. Locatelli (1695–1764), arguably the most brilliant virtuoso of the 18th century, was reported by English observer Benjamin Tate in 1741 to be adamant in his preference for the short bow, perhaps because its greater ease of handling and quicker response complemented his fiery performance style. The slight sagging of the long bow on initial string contact suited the prevailing 18th-century italianate cantabile style and continuous on-string passagework, but not certain types of crisp articulation.

In an effort to reduce their mass without a compromise in strength, long bows, not infrequently, had their upper two thirds fluted; a number of fluted 18th-century examples are extant. Many of these show few signs of use, their preservation possibly due to their craftsmanship or costly materials rather than their playing characteristics. Indeed, the prevailing perception of bows as accessories meant that most ordinary, if well-playing, short and long bows were ultimately discarded, while aesthetically pleasing long bows survived without regard for their musical efficacy. Fluted bows never seem to appear in iconographical sources; perhaps their reduced mass also reduced their richness of sound or stability, diminishing their attractiveness to professional players. Indeed, short bows, invariably unfluted, had achieved increased strength and reduced mass with a stick that was slightly higher than wide; it was carved with an oval cross-section in its verticle axis.

The short bow continued in common use until at least 1750. Catalogues of mid-18th-century luthiers still include them, and many 18th-century paintings show them in use, among them Carle Vanloo’s 'Sultan Giving a Concert to his Mistress' (c1737) and Hogarth's 'Enraged Musician' (1741), whose principal figure was identified by Charles Burney as the virtuoso violinist Pietro Castrucci. Still, the long bow eventually did replace the short bow, at least for most soloists: J.-M. Leclair performed with a long bow; so did F.M. Veracini, as illustrated on the frontispiece of his 'Sonate accademiche' of 1744. The aesthetic of matching instrument and bow lengths was abandoned: bows for viola, cello and bass viol were now shorter than those for violin.<<

[For a more reasonable and enlightened assessment of the historical (Baroque) violin, the reader should turn to the article on violins by David D. Boyden and Peter Walls. Prepare yourself for a shock, because they do not mention one of the most significant features: the effect of different thickness of the wood of the top and back of the violin. These were quite different in Baroque violins and were modified in the post-Baroque period generally just before and after 1800 by scraping (carving out some areas) and/or adding wood by gluing it on top of the original under-surface to increase its thickness and strength, for instance, under the bridge. Below the authors will admit that altering thickness of a violin is a 'barbaric act.' This is one of a number of changes made to the existing violins of the 17th and 18th century that is irreversible: such an altered piece of wood for a violin amounts to a piece of plywood and in no way can produce the marvelous sound effect of the original piece of wood.

The following technical description is quite detailed, but should help to demythologize the claims, whether asserted openly or simply implied, by HIP orchestras which are supposedly using/playing upon 'Baroque' violins.]
>>Violins of the Baroque period are distinct in a number of basic features from their modern counterparts. The neck, usually shorter than on modern instruments, projects straight out from the body so that its upper edge continues the line of the belly's rim. The neck is fixed by nails (or occasionally screws) through the top-block rather than mortised into it as in modern instruments. The fingerboard is wedge-shaped and, again, shorter than the modern fingerboard. Bridges were cut to a more open pattern and were very slightly lower. The bass-bar was shorter and lighter and the sound-post thinner. Violins (and violas) lacked chin rests. The tone of these instruments is brighter, clearer, less loud and less ‘mellow’ than that of their modern counterparts.

Such a summary, necessarily peppered with inexact comparative adjectives, may be useful enough; but getting beyond it is no easy matter. Throughout the period all these instruments underwent change, which took place unevenly in different parts of Europe. To acknowledge this is to recognize the term ‘Baroque violin’ as merely a serviceable generalization. Instruments which have never been altered are scarce and may be of dubious value as models: their survival intact may be attributable to their lack of appeal to discriminating players. Contradictions and approximations in other sorts of evidence create difficulties. The James Talbot manuscript of around 1695 (GB-Och Music MS 1187) gives measurements for a whole range of wind and string instruments but its laconic notes are sometimes tantalizingly inconclusive. Another late 17th-century manuscript, the violin method attributed to Sébastien de Brossard (F-Pn RésVm), contains a few apparently detailed measurements, but these are surprising. The bridge, for example, seems thinner rather than thicker than modern bridges: ‘about a demie-ligne’ (1:125 mm) for the base, and the top should be ‘thin, but not too much so or it will cut the strings’.

The term ‘Classical violin’ is another convenient generalization. The key features of violins that were used in the second half of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th were the size of the sound-post and bass-bar and the length of the neck and fingerboard. (Chin rests and shoulder rests still did not exist.) Not surprisingly, these dimensions on Classical instruments lie mostly somewhere between 17th-century and modern averages. This is not to say that the Classical violin should be regarded as a ‘transitional’ instrument, at least not without acknowledging that the violin has always been and contito be in a state of transition.

Hardly any extant sound-posts can be positively identified as late-18th-century, but the manuscript treatise on violin making completed by the Bolognese violin maker G.A. Marchi (flourished from c1755) in 1786 suggests that some makers must have been inserting sound-posts as large as the modern standard (6·5 mm), with a diameter ‘such that it can only just pass through the f-holes’. More substantial bass-bars were used as the century progressed – but the picture is far from simple. Surviving examples show great variation within an overall trend towards increase in mass. Compared with Baroque period models, original necks from the later 18th century tend to be longer and slightly tilted back. Fingerboards show considerable variation in length (and besides, some late-18th-century players were using instruments built long before). Mozart owned an early-18th-century Mittenwald violin which still has its original fingerboard (long enough to play up to d'''). An unaltered 1783 violin by Antonio Gragnani (Smithsonian, Washington, DC) allows for a range of a 12th above the open string, that is, up to b'''. Marchi noted that it was better to copy longer fingerboards ‘because some players today are so good that they can exploit the whole length’. Galeazzi advised that fingerboards should be long enough to produce the note two octaves above the open string.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the most sought-after violins were those made in the previous two centuries, especially Cremonese instruments. But virtually all of these have been altered to bring them into line with later ideas about tonal quality and strength in a violin. Quite a lot of updating must have taken place as an incidental by-product of repairs and more drastic alterations. Many over-confident makers and repairers took it into their heads to adjust the thicknesses of backs and bellies on instruments that came into their workshops. By Marchi's own account, he made comparatively few new instruments since he was kept very busy repairing and ‘improving the quality and strength of tone’ of old instruments. (He mentions in particular reducing cellos to smaller forms.)

Antonio Bagatella, in his 'Regole per la costruzione de' violini' (Padua, 1786), said that he got his break as a violin maker because Tartini sent many violins to him for adjustment. He described altering a great many old violins to give them either a ‘voce humana’ (suitable for solos) or a ‘voce argentina’ (for orchestral playing) The essay gives dimensions for the neck (virtually modern length) and bass-bar (puzzingly small), and describes in detail how the sound-post should be fitted; but it never even hints that those found in older instruments would need altering. Bagatella described a gadget he had invented for ensuring that the neck is correctly aligned, and from this it is clear that he was still using the traditional way of fixing the neck to the body with nails through the top-block.

The Hills, in their pioneering study of Stradivari (B1902), quoted from the journal of Dom Vicenzo Ascensio who described alterations he made to the quintet of Stradivari instruments at the Spanish court in the 1783. In the interests of what he called ‘improving the tone’ Ascensio almost certainly modernized the dimensions of neck and bass-bar (though claiming to be following Stradivari's principles). But this was all mixed up with more barbaric acts; Ascensio, too, ‘corrected’ thicknesses, as shown by his description of repairs to the violoncello:

'I pieced the centre, replaced the bar by one adjusted to mathematical proportions based on that of Stradivari. I corrected the thicknesses, pieced the four corner-blocks, took the back off and inserted a piece in the centre, as it was too thin. I had to replace the neck, which I did in the most careful manner. I then adjusted the instrument, the tone of which was rendered excellent by all these changes.'

Marchi, Bagetella and Ascensio were among many craftsmen working in the second half of the 18th century who participated (at least piecemeal) in what we now see as something of a revolution: the adaptation of old instruments to modern requirements. The nonchalance with which they write about what would now be considered fundamental transformations in an instrument suggests that much of the modernization must have been carried out with no other aim than to apply current best practice in the craft. It was only from the early 19th century onwards that the practice of replacing bass-bars and resetting necks was explicitly acknowledged. In 1806 the Abbé Sibire wrote at some length on the subject in 'La Chélonomie.' He described these structural changes as a response to changes in musical expression:

'I shall confine myself hereafter to a daily occurrence …. It is a kind of restoration (loosely called) which is purely accessory and yet at the same time crucial. This is a process which does not imply the slightest deterioration and yet which virtually every old violin, no matter how well preserved it is in other ways, could not avoid: REBARRING. The revolution which music has experienced needs to be replicated in instrument making; when the first has set the style, the other must follow. … Formerly it was the fashion to have necks well elevated, bridges and fingerboards extremely low, fine strings, and a moderate tone. Then the bass bar, that necessary evil in the instrument, could be short and thin because it was sufficient for it to have enough strength to sustain the weight of five to six pounds which the strings exerted on it. But since then music, in becoming perfect, has placed a demand on violin making. The tilting back of the neck, the raising of the bridge, of the fingerboard, and the amplification in sound, necessitate increasing by a full third the resistant force. Repairers have only one choice: strengthening the old bar, or replacing it with a new one.'

Vincenzo Lancetti ('Notizie biografiche,' Milan, 1823) suggested that the process of replacing necks was in full swing by the end of the 18th century and implied that this started in Paris: ‘About 1800 the Brothers Mantegazza were restorers of instruments who were often entrusted by French and Italian artists to lengthen the necks of their violins, after the Paris fashion, an example which was followed by amateurs and professionals all over North Italy’.<<

A final note on gut strings from the same authors demonstrates how difficult it is to make any easy generalizations about the physical aspects of Baroque violins:
>>Violin strings in the 17th and 18th centuries were usually gut, although metal stringing was known and liked for a short time at the beginning of the Baroque period. In his 'Syntagma musicum', ii (2/1619) Praetorius expressed the opinion that ‘when brass and steel strings are used on these instruments they produce a softer and lovelier tone than other strings’. There were various types of gut string. Exactly what 17th-century musicians understood by such terms as ‘minikins’, ‘gansars’, ‘catlines’, ‘Lyons’ and ‘Pistoy basses’ is not absolutely clear, but the vehemence with which these were variously recommended or condemned indicates that the distinctions were important. The invention in the late 20th century of strings made of roped gut to which the term ‘catline’ has been appropriated is not based on secure historical evidence, although they can sound good. By the early 18th century gut strings wound with silver were being used on various instruments. These appear to have been invented in Bologna in the mid-17th century (see Bonta, B1977). They must have reached England by 1664 since John Playford (i) advertised them then as a ‘late invention … which sound much better and lowder than common Gut Strings, either under the Bow or Finger’. Because they allowed for an increase in mass without an increase in diameter (and consequent loss of flexibility), covered strings could produce good-sounding bass notes from a shorter vibrating length than pure gut strings of the same pitch. For the violin this meant a more resonant and refined-sounding G string. There is, however, that in parts of Europe (notably Italy and Germany) violinists continued using pure gut G strings until well into the 18th century. French sources mention strings which are half covered (‘demi-filée’ i.e. wound with a single open spiral of metal thread). The manuscript treatise attributed to Brossard recommends them for the D string. Such strings are extremely resonant and mediate well between the covered G string and a pure gut A.<<

Sorry about the length of this post. It seemed to me that it might be worthwhile reading for some who really wish to know more about the violin sound and playing techniques that emanate from many current recordings of Bach's music.

Charles Francis wrote (January 11, 2004):
To help those trying to read the excellent posts from Mr. Braatz, but having difficulty with certain characters in Microsoft Internet
Explorer:

1) Display his message and right click on it (i.e. right mouse button)
2) Select the option "Encoding", then select the sub-option "More"
3) Set the encoding to "Unicode (UTF-8)"

Jack Botelho wrote (January 11, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] Sorry, I have no right-click option (library terminals).

Thanks anyway,

Charles Francis wrote (January 11, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Perhaps you have a menu option "View" with a sub-option "Encoding"? If so, then select "More" and then set to "Unicode (UTF-8)",

Craig Schweickert wrote (January 11, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] This advice is of absolutely no use to those of us (and I suspect we are many) who participate in these groups via e-mail. Moreover, members who do use a browser might rightfully object to being obliged to switch their character coding twice (once to Unicode and once back) whenever they want to read a post by TB, especially as it would be a simple matter for him to avoid the problem in the first place. One can only infer that TB feels that inconveniencing tens if not hundreds of readers is preferable to making the slightest change in his habits. I leave it to others to draw conclusions about what that says about his mindset.

By the way, to effect the change in Mozilla (and I assume Netscape), one must drop down the View menu, select Character Coding and then click on Unicode. To switch back, View > Character Coding > Western (ISO-8859-1). An even more complicated dance to dance in order to read these "excellent" posts.

Jack Botelho wrote (January 11, 2004):
[To Craig Schweickert] Most completely agreed!

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 11, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] But you miss the point. The question is not about storage, but performance.

Gabriel wrote (January 11, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: < To help those trying to read the excellent posts from Mr. Braatz >
Excellent??!!

Anne Smith wrote (January 11, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] No David, you miss the point. How the instruments are cared for and maintained mean everything to a performance. Ask a musician whose violin has a crack in it or a pianist/harpsichordist whose keyboard is damp.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 11, 2004):
Historical Instruments; Harnoncourt; Douglass on authentic context

Tomas Braatz wrote: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/12282

In the crusade against Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mr Glosspan rides again with a posting that casts Harnoncourt (& co) as ignorant, or dishonest, or both. Selective quotes from other scholarly material are presented, with Glosspan's own ever-present gloss, in the quest to pan the work of Harnoncourt, which Glosspan evidently believes he understands.

There are some obvious problems.

- No book completely represents and captures its author's knowledge, understanding, or intentions; nor does a book keep itself up to date.

- Glosspan has read one or both of Harnoncourt's books.

- Glosspan despises almost all the musical results of Harnoncourt's work: and therefore comes to that reading of the book(s) already opposed to whatever he might find there. Evidently he reads the book(s) mainly to accumulate ammunition for himself, to be used against Harnoncourt, on how ill-informed and thin Harnoncourt's arguments (supposedly) are...according to Glosspan's presentation!

- Glosspan nevertheless arrogates to himself a complete understanding of Harnoncourt's knowledge and intentions, enough to represent him here and then correct him. That is, Glosspan obviously assumes Harnoncourt's mastery of his own material is merely a subset of Glosspan's own knowledge and experience, and therefore he is in a position to offer correction or warn readers away from Harnoncourt's conclusions.

BZZZZZT.

Also, as I have pointed out elsewhere, at the bottom of this page: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/12177
a performer (in this case, Harnoncourt) writing about music will necessarily present a sure-sounding front, even to issues that are not fully decided more academically. That is the way a performer puts across the necessary conviction that makes a performance believable...even if a listener does not agree with the results, the conviction and confidence are important. A performer cannot afford to appear unsure of himself onstage; the music will suffer (lose clarity) from any indecision.

Yet, Glosspan here tries to hold Harnoncourt to a scholarly standard (one which he does not understand himself, but that's neither here nor there), instead of recognizing Harnoncourt's written work (and allowing it to stand) as the forthright position papers of an intense performer.

=====

Readers interested in a more balanced view of Harnoncourt should simply read both books for themselves, and see how badly the ideas in them have been represented here by Glosspan. I've read these two books myself, and affirm that Glosspan's way with them shows very little respect for their contents and their author.

- Musik als Klangrede (1982), also available in English (tr. Mary O'Neill) as Baroque Music Today: Music as Speech; Ways to a New Understanding of Music (1988).

- Der musikalische Dialog (1984), also available in English (tr. Mary O'Neill) as The Musical Dialogue: Thoughts on Monteverdi, Bach, and Mozart (1989); reprinted 1997 in paperback, with a discography addendum and new index.

=====

Anyone interested in organology (the history of instruments, themselves) should read books about it and take courses in it; not rely solely on cobbled-together excerpts from reference books, put together by a polemicist.

Obviously, Glosspan here is out to show that a responsible reconstruction of the music is all a sham, starting from a dishonest use of impossibly reconstructed instruments. Judged by his writings, he doesn't take these earlier instruments, or the aesthetic goals in playing them (and listening to them!), seriously on their merits; he simply tries to show that the people who use them are necessarily wrong...as if it boiled down
principally to a hardware issue, anyway!

=====

On this topic of stringed instruments and their changes, another resource worth reading is David Douglass' chapter "The Violin Family: Technique and Style" in The Performer's Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music. Douglass points out the importance of bowing technique, and where the performer holds the instrument (on shoulder or off? chin or not?), and standing vs sitting, and left-hand fingering technique, and learning how to listen differently.

Here are some paragraphs from Douglass:
"One could learn a particular style by assembling, piece by piece, all of the many shapes used in that style. And, indeed, many performers begin to learn to play stylistically by this method. But that process by itself is ultimately unsatisfying. It would be the same as learning to recites poetry with meaningful inflections and dramatic pauses, but in a language you didn't understand. It is far more useful and satisfying to have an understanding of the general background and framework of a particular musical style and how that framework changed over time. The task, then, is to establish the stylistic context of a reperso that the special details of a particular place and time have meaning. Once the stylistic context of a piece of music is established, the specific stylistic details included in a performance of that music can be arrived at through intuition, as well as deduction.

"At the most subtle level, the stylistic context of any repertory is closely linked to all of the social forces that shape human (and therefore musical) history, and a truly complete picture of a style can only be assembled through an interdisciplinary study that brings together as much information about a period as possible. It is hoped that your native curiosity will carry you on a lifelong pursuit of knowledge that will enhance your perception (and performance) of many styles.

"The most important principle underlying all stylistic development is so simple that it is usually overlooked. That principle is that stylistic context is fully perceived only when it is examined with a forward-looking perspective as regards time. In other words, you will understand a style better if you know where it came from. Even though that seems obvious, it is difficult (and ultimately impossible) to accomplish. It is irresistible to bring our modern sensibilities back to whatever we play, and, in a sense, that bit of ourselves that we bring back is what makes it our music, our artistic expression, instead of a perfect historical recreation. Still, every attempt must be made to establish, for ourselves and the listener, the stylistic context of whatever we play, in order to invest a composition with some of the expressive shapes preferred by those who created it in the first place." (p154)

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 11, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: "But you miss the point. The question is not about storage, but performance."
Anne Smith wrote: < No David, you miss the point. How the instruments are cared for and maintained mean everything to a performance. Ask a musician whose violin has a crack in it or a pianist/harpsichordist whose keyboard is damp. >
Another point not to be missed by anyone is: How the instruments are played, with a technique appropriate to them (and appropriate to the music), also means everything to a performance. Ask any musician who's ever heard a good instrument played by somebody who has had no training on it.

Case in point: a few years ago I heard a crystal flute (built c1800) brought out of museum storage and played in a public concert by a professional teacher (university professor) of modern flute. She brought to this venture plenty of skill on her own instrument, but zero background in earlier techniques. In preparation, before the crystal flute arrived for her practice, she spent some time on her own playing some older wooden flutes, all self-taught. I attended the concert; it was awful. Terrible tone, no volume appropriate to the hall, no phrasing that made any sense in the performance. The concert gave the impression that old instruments are hopelessly inferior, and of listening value only in their quaintness. And several local newspaper articles, before and after the concert, reinforced that: for this community, the whole venture was just a novelty, not to be taken seriously on its musical results. Indeed, about 75% of each article focused on the security measures taken in getting this flute into action, and keeping it from breaking.

That very same crystal flute has been played in a recording, and several concerts, and in a National Public Radio feature about that flute, by a different professor: one who specializes in early flutes and recorders, and who is able to build early-flute replicas himself. In the hands and breath and soul of this fine player, the crystal flute sounds completely different, and like a fully viable musical instrument: with a clear, warm, penetrating sound. [And no, I'm not being misled by the artifice of recording and microphones: I have worked with this latter professor myself, in rehearsals and concerts, and know how well he knows how to do his job.]

Playing technique, and the player's listening technique, and the player's aesthetic expectations, and the player's willingness to learn what the notation meant to the person who wrote it down, and the player's willingness to approach the music imaginatively, are all more important to the resultant sound than hardware is.

That flute example is not intended as sufficient proof in itself; just a typical illustration. The point should already be obvious to anyone who's ever heard a beginner's results on any instrument.

And there's a fine anecdote in Andre Previn's book No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood. I've quoted it here before: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/5191
"[Jascha Heifetz] was misanthropic by nature and, in his later years, a recluse, seeing no one and suspicious of everyone who tried to get in touch with him, including his old friends. He must have been deeply unhappy once his concert days were over. He taught for a while, and I witnessed a master class at the University of Southern California. A young female student had been playing the Bach Chaconne for him, and he had criticized the sound she was producing. 'Let me show you,' he said, and played a few bars so beautifully as to make one's head swim. The girl was overcome. 'Of course, Mr Heifetz,' she stammered, 'but it has to be admitted that I'm playing on a kind of cigar box, and you have your Stradivarius.' Heifetz's response was wordless. He took the student's cheap instrument, tucked it under his chin, and proceeded to play for several minutes. The sound he was making was the same as the one he had produced on his own violin. He finished, handed the fiddle back to the girl, and unsmiling, uttered the one word: 'So?'"

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 11, 2004):
Translating Harnoncourt: getting the inevitable defense over with

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/12293

To pre-empt the probably forthcoming complaint from Glosspan that he understands Harnoncourt's writings better than I do, since he read them in German while I read them in English translation:

Why should we assume that Mary O'Neill has a mastery of music, and a mastery of German (both of which are required to do a good translation, preserving contents), inferior to your own? A translation, whether for oneself or for publication, is only as good as the reader's (translator's) own background in the field; in this case, the 17th and 18th century music in which the author--Harnoncourt--is an expert performer. The material makes more sense to other expert performers of that repertoire, and to people who work directly in that history, than to casual readers who bring little musical or historical background to the reading.

Plus, O'Neill comes to Harnoncourt's writings with the goal of representing them as objectively as possible, for publication as an accurate translation; while you come to them looking for any hole in them so you can shoot down the parts you don't fancy. And, most normal readers come to these books expecting to learn something and take seriously what is said. Why should we believe your reading of the material (a reading that is already biased against the author and his work) over hers, or theirs?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 12, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] The dampness has, though, everything to do with the performance conditions, not the storage facilities. As an organist, that was one of the things that iritated Bach most. Since in the case of organs performance and storage areas were the same thing, and since he was responsible for alerting the consistory about possible defects of the instrument entrusted to him due to weather or other factors and was responsible for fixing said problems, the argument you are talking about is not applicable. The same actually goes for any other Keyboard instrument. Especially in those days, people didn't have specified rooms where they put their Pianos for practicing like many universities and homedo now. They were on permanent display in the home/church/concert hall/palace. Besides, have you ever tried moving a Piano or Organ? Take it from me, it is quite an ordeal.



Continue on Part 12


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