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HIP (Historically Informed Performance)

Part 4

 

 

Continue from Part 3

Karajan admiration is not misplaced

Teri Noel Towe [TNT] wrote (February 15, 2002):
Steven Langley Guy [SLG] wrote (February 15, 2002):

Part 1

SLG: Once more! With feeling! ;-))

TNT: Amen, brother! {;-{)}

SLG: I can see that many people have warm and fuzzy feelings about the recordings of Landowska, Casals and, perhaps, even Beecham.

TNT: It has nothing to do with "warm and fuzzy feelings". It has everything to do with revelling in the charisma and the passion of the performances given by recreative artists who were geniuses, recreative artists whose engagement with the scores of creative geniuses resulted in listening experiences of such quality and conviction that they transcend and render moot any and all issues of "authenticity" or "textual accuracy".

SLG: This is true of any performance. Andrew Parrott's recordings of Venetian Church are excellent and would impress anyone with a mind open to Early Baroque music.

TNT: That is precisely my point. That can be true of any performance, without regard to the underlying philosophy of the performer.

And the Parrott Venetian Recordings are indeed spectacular!

SLG: But Herbert von Karajan?

TNT: Yes, Karajan! His 1950 Vienna Bach Festival performances of the B Minor Mass and the St. Matthew Passion and his spectacular interpretations of the Handel Concerti grossi, Op. 6, are "desert island" recordings for me.

SLG: Well, I haven't heard the 1950 Missa but his later recording seems to be lazy and oblivious to Bach in my opinion. It sounds like 'poor man's Beethoven'.

TNT: Basically, I agree with you about the "later recording", by which I assume you mean the later of the two commercial recordings. (There are at least 4 HvK BWV 232 recordings. ) It is by no means Karajan's best Bach; he could be quite self-indulgent, and in the last years of his life he had the clout to get away with the self-indulgence.

SLG: I think that many will have been brought up on his recordings of 19th century music and, in particular, his recordings of the Beethoven symphonies. But I never liked his Bach even as a child - when I first heard them.

TNT: You certainly were entitled not to like those performances when you heard then, and you are entitled not to like the same performances now.

SLG: I started playing the recorder as a child and hoped to hear this instrument in the Brandenburg concertos. Instead, where Bach indicated 'Traverso' we got a modern metal flute (a reasonable substitute, I suppose) and where Bach indicated 'Flauto' we got a modern metal flute. Bach's ideas about timbre and colour were out the window! And I'd wasted my money!

TNT: Considering what you were hoping to hear, Steven, I can well understand your disappointment. Did you buy the Karajan recording at that time because it was the only one available to you, or did it just not occur to you to ask if, as you had assumed, the recorders were used? I recall commiting that sin of omission a few times when I was first collecting records.

I can remember that, during the early LP days particularly, recordings of the Brandenburgs in which recorders were used were hen's teeth indeed. In fact, the first recording in which recorders were used in No. 4 advertiesed that fact on the jacket.

SLG: I guess that these were made at a time when conductors were expected to record all the major repertoire and the Brandenburg concerti and the B minor mass were fair game for any famous conductor.

TNT: It was a time when conductors had not yet been intimidated, cowed, and browbeaten by the gang of Performance Practice Puritans, HIP-ocrites, cultural fascists, and self-appointed guardians of our musical morals,

SLG: Can you name any of these people? This all seems like vague accusations and propaganda to me.

TNT: It was a quite different early music world in New York in the 60s, when I was in prep school and in college and avidly going to concerts to hear whatever 17th and early 18th century music was being performed. Leonard Bernstein, while Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, did a fair amount of early music and of repertory that would surprise you. For instance, one year he did one of the Handel Passions. He did (and commercially recorded -- something that would NOT happen today, believe me!) the Ode for St. Cecelia's Day and the Bach Magnificat. These recordings I still find rewarding, and they are a cogent reminder of the fact that major "main stream" orchestras performed a certain amount of music by composers before Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. I cannot recall when the New York Philharmonic has done a composition by Handel, and, apart from! the 1993 St. Matthew Passion that Kurt Masur conducted, I cannot recall the last time that the orchestra presented any Bach.

The first time that I ever heard the Monteverdi Vespers, either live or on recording, was when Michael Tilson Thomas had the guts to present the work, with a modern orchestra and chorus when he brought the Buffalo Philharmonic to Carnegie Hall in 1969 or 1970. I may have quickly visited the Record Library of the Princeton University Music Department to find and listen to a recording of the work that more accurately presented the work as Monteverdi might have heard it, but I shall never forget the thrill of hearing the work in concert, especially since it was for me, a premiere.

I feel the same way about the Handel concerts that Thomas Dunn presented in the early '60s with modern orchestras but with musical texts that adhered as closely to the original scores as possible. How often do you get to hear Water Music or Concerti grossi, Op. 3, live? I was 15. I can see them and hear them now. It was a wondeful, galvanizing experience. It was exciting, and it was music. That we now may know much more about how Handel presented that music and be better equipped to replicate the sound and spirit of Handel's own performances makes the Dunn performances no less exciting and no less musically valid.

I personally blame the disappearance of any presentations of such music by major orchestras on critics and commentators who stirdently and incessantly condemned the conductors for playing the repertory on instruments deemed "inappropriate" and according to performance practice ruled "incorrect".

It became a heresy to believe, as those conductors did, and as I fervently do, that any piece of music may be validly performed in the style of any period subsequent to the period of its creation as well as in the style of the period of its creation. It is only within my lifetime that the validity of that belief has been challenged and this postulate of performance that was once fundamental and universally accepted transmogrified into anathema.

TNT: into abandoning whole segments of the repertory to which they are as entitled as any other musician.

SLG: I strongly doubt that any conductor feels this way. Most conductors I have know seem to want to get their teeth stuck into all the neglected C20 music! I have the scores for many small to large scale instrumental and vocal works by Biber, Tolar, Hofer, Schmelzer, etc. and I can tell you that most modern conductors have no interest in this music or imagination. Several conductor I have known aren't interested in any music before Beethoven.

TNT: Sadly, Steven, a music world with conductors indifferent to music before Beethoven is an unintended consequence of the marginilization and compartmentalization of "Early Music". Conductors, of course, will be indifferent to music before Beethoven when they grow up and are trained in a culture that would have you believe that it is inappropriate for Early Music to be performed on anachronistic instruments and according to anachronistic performance practice.

SLG: Brow-beaten! I doubt it!

TNT: I don't, sadly. I recall Bernstein saying that it was sad that it was no longer possible to play Bach and Handel with the New York Philharmonic without being criticized simply for doing so. He stopped conducting early music, and, even though noof his performances would be one of my interpretations of choice, the fact that he did stop conducting Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, for instance, deprived us of some listening experiences that would have been both sincere and thought provoking. Thank God that he did not give up on the Haydn and the Mozart though!

SLG: I am sure that they don't feel much enthusiasm for performing Early Baroque music in any way - HIP or otherwise! (I approached some people recently about performing a St John Passion by Johann Selle here. The reaction? Total indifference!

TNT: Whether you mean Thomas Selle or Johann Schelle, that is indeed a pity. But I would have thought that the performance of such a work would be precisely what one of the local period instrument ensembles would jump at the chance to perform. I mean the publicity possibilities are myriad, and, if funding could be found for the recording, it adds to the ensemble's cachet and visibility. After the all, to be able to advertise that your ensemble made the world premiere recording of a Baroque masterpiece does have value.

SLG: I wish that someone would feel some passion about this music - I don't care if they love it or hate it - as long as there is some passion!)

TNT: And passion is something that you clearly have!

SLG: Karajan's Brandenburg's are a real example of how the details of Bach's scores got trashed in older recordings.

TNT: Really? It has been some time since I have listened to either of his complete recordings of the Brandenburgs, I admit, but I have always had a fondness for the second set, the one that was released in 1980. (I find it is hard to believe that it is 22 years since I gave the American broadcast premiere of those recordings on my WBAI radio show!) William Tim Read, who flew to Europe at Karajan's request expressly to record the 5th Brandenburg, gives one of the truly great harpsichord performances of the 65 bar cadenza, and, if my recollection is correct, No. 3 is one instrument to each part. The problem with many of Karajan's later recordings, of Bach and other composers, is the artificial nature of the recorded sound. One of the truly unsatisfying Karajan performances is his recording of the Magnificat. The balances are best described! as "weird". By that stage in his career, Karajan was so potent a force that they couldn't keep him from tampering with the balances and the sound.

SLG: Well, to me Karajan was a little like the 'Elvis' of Classical music in some respects - great at times and at other times pure Kitsch!

TNT: Your analogy is by no means inappropriate!

SLG: For many, in those days, the inclusion of a harpsichord in the ensemble was as much 'authenticity' as anyone expected or could understand.

TNT: There is no law that says, as you imply, that a performance has to "authentic" to be valid.

SLG: No. You misunderstand me. People thought - my father did - that the inclusion of a harpsichord in an ensemble guaranteed some sort of level of authenticity. Valid or not, performances with harpsichords were assumed to be 'authentic' by a great many people. Many people still feel that way.

TNT: The sentiment that your father held is not necessarily ill founded, but the description is absolutely inaccurate. I think that it is much more accurate to say that for many the presence of the harpsichord serves to create the perception that the performers have acknowledged that the music is "old music" and that because it is "old music" that certain special ules of performance need to be followed and are being followed.

And that of course opens the door to all sorts of chicanery! {:-{)}

TNT: If that were the case, you would have to take Bach to task for playing Frescobaldi on the organ of the Himmelsburg in Weimar or on his big Harrass double manual harpsichord.

SLG: Frescobaldi on a larger harpsichord than his own a century later is hardly what I mean. Frescobaldi's music was played on an Italian harpsichord of his time and it is easy enough for us to do that these days.

TNT: Really? And then there is the issue of which kind of Italian instrument, Particularly in the 17th century, Venetian harpsichords are very much different from Roman ones which are very much different from Neapolitan ones. And, would it be an instrument with a standard keyboard or one with split key accidentals, like the ca. 1630 Barbetta Fabbri?

SLG: Bach didn't have the resources or musicological tools that we have.

TNT: Which I am sure did not trouble while studying and learning from the scores of "old" music that were available to him.

TNT: You would have to scold Beethoven for thrilling listeners with Preludes and Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier on the fortepiano, and chastize Chopin for playing Scarlatti on his Erard.

SLG: I am not saying anything of the kind. We know how to play this music much better than several generations ago and this learning will continue.

TNT: Somehow, Steven, I doubt that anyone could play Bach "much better" than Beethoven could or Scarlatti "much better" than Chopin could. And I, for one, would love to have heard it and, better yet, have the recordings. Playing the music in a manner that might more accurately reflect how Bach and Scarlatti might have played it? In that sense, you definitely are right.

TNT: To be valid, a performance must move the listener. Nothing more and nothing less.

SLG: Well, this is all well and good - but it means that music loses its colour, culture, technology, style and uniqueness of cultural expression.

TNT: That statement is not only patronizing, but also it is pure hogwash!

SLG: It was the movement towards HIP that revived the harpsichord - would we want to return to a world where this voice was a forgotten memory?

TNT: I certainly would not, but I also would not want to live in a world in which the voices of Wanda Landowska, Pablo Casals, Rosalyn Tureck, and Marcel Dupre are forgotten memories.

And that is the brave new world that all too many HIP proponents want to create.

SLG: How many people today have heard a well played mute cornett or cornettino played at the correct A = 466 pitch? Not many, I'll wager!

TNT: And what is particularly sad about the accuracy of of your contention is that the people who haven't likely wouldn't give a damn about what they are missing.

SLG: Of course, today music lovers are more sophisticated and would expect a lot more awareness from an orchestra - even one using traditional modern (well, C20, at least) instruments.

TNT: I beg to differ. If audiences will swallow, hook, line, and sinker, as I saw one do several weeks ago when I went to hear Andreas Scholl and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, performances of "orchestral" works by Bach and Corelli that were tossed off in a totally "faux" neo-authentic fashion that reeked of the slapdash and stank of total ignorance of Affect and the rules of embellishment, they will cheer for anything.

SLG: Sure! Junk! Who cares. What does it have to do with HIP? Many people may have been moved by this performance.

TNT: What it has to do with HIP is that it would have been much better had they played the scores "straight" and not cheapened them with a thick layer of pseudo HIP crinkle-crankle. And, if people were moved by the performance, that is fine by me. but my observations were related to your statement about the general public's widespread lack of awareness.

TNT: And that Scholl, an HIP icon and a superb singer, would pander to that audience with those ghastly Dmitri Tiomkinesque folk song arrangements that he sang that night,

SLG: Scholl is good in most things but he has laps of good taste. I am not really worried about this.

TNT: Neither am I, but, as Philip Sidney, I believe, wrote, ice once cracked, it cracks the more.

TNT: shamelessly promoting that gruesome cross-over record that he recently had made, is cogent evidence of the widespread moral emptiness and hypocrisy within the HIP movement

SLG: Scholl has fans from all walks of life - I was on the Scholl Yahoo group for two years before I grew bored. I work in a CD shop and I can tell you that many Scholl fans are women who have no particular inin Baroque music in general.

TNT: What an interesting bit of market research you have done! I had never thought about it, but what you are saying about who buys the Scholl records does not surprise me. And thank goodness that they are thus listening to what are, in most cases, wonderful performances.

SLG: I take exception to your remarks. I have devoted myself to playing the cornetto and the cornetto alone (I play no modern instruments at all) for 28 years of my life.

TNT: Get a grip, Steven, please! Merely because I write about the widespread moral emptiness and hypocrisy within the HIP movement is no reason for you to assume that I include you among the guilty.

TNT: and is proof positive of the total lack of sophisitication, taste, and essential knowledge of the majority of the listeners who paid as much as $95 for a single seat.

SLG: Well, look at the jerk who go to Grand opera and orchestral concerts! I bet a large percentage of them are philistines too!

TNT: Oh, I am sure that a lot of them are lacking in awareness.

Part 2

SLG: For my money, Karl Richter was far better bet than Herbert von Karajan in Bach or Handel - even though Richter's recordings do fall into many of the traps that musicians and conductors fell into before more research was done. (His trumpets are far too loud, for instance)

TNT: Richter's trumpets were too loud?

SLG: Yes. Yes, they were.

TNT: Certainly not for performances by the forces of the magnitude that Richter customarily employed. The Munich Bach Choir was usually about 80 members strong.

SLG: Yet, his B Minor Mass sounds like one extended trumpet concerto!

TNT: Well, that was de rigueur in the '50s. Please remember that the revival of the art of playing the clarino was in its infancy. The first use of the instrument in a recording of the music of Bach did not take place until 1960, and even then the instrument was slightly "bastardized" from what I am told.

Also, I assume that you are writing about Richter's first commercial recording of the Mass, and not the later one, recorded in concert in Japan, or the television broadcast from the early '70s.

In any event, the later recording is much like the first one. It was a part of the sound in those days, and for some of us it is still a thrilling listening experience from time to time.

TNT: I shall never, ever forget the visceral thrill of a performance of Singet dem Herrn ein Neues Lied -- sung a capella by a professional chorus of 36 -- that Karl Richter conducted in Avery Fisher Hall in 1980. HIP? No! Authentic? No! Compelling and convincing? Yes!

SLG: I don't consider 36 singers too big for this music. The OVPP mob might think so but they are wrong.

TNT: Steven, I had better warn you. I am a charter member of the "OVPP mob". Joshua Rifkin's first broadcast presentation of the OVPP evidence was on one of my NYC radio shows. His Nonesuch recording is one of my desert island sets of the Mass, along with the 1950 Karajan and the Otto Klemperer.

SLG: It depends on the size of the instrumental ensemble. Lully used a 300 voice choir in his Te Deum. 36 singers? No problem!

TNT: But, if you are going to do it as the composer intended, you must use one singer per part, because, as Joshua has convincingly proven, every one of Bach's performers got his own performing part, and, unless the surviving performance materials indicate otherwise, as they do in the case of the 1749 version of the St. John Passion for example, it is one singer to each line.

Lully used a 300 voice choir in the Te Deum? I had forgotten that. I hope Paul McCreesh or Robert King can be goaded into recording a recreation. Sounds very exciting!

SLG: I don't really feel any nostalgia for the older recordings of Baroque music - they can be interesting but only as a way of hearing how far we have come in the interpretation of this music.

TNT: Nostalgia has nothing to do with it, except in the sense of a woolly mammoth like me longing for the occasional live performance of the 6th Brandenburg Concerto played by a batallion of violas, 'cellos, and double basses.

SLG: Well, fashions and tastes change. It really isn't any more complex than that. People who want to play the Brandenburg concerti and people who want to listen to the Brandenburg concerti will expect the 6th concerto to be treated as chamber music rather than a low pitched piece for a string orchestra.

TNT: Well, Steven, I guess that it depends on the person who is doing the wanting and the expecting.

TNT: The performances of Casals, Landowska, Beecham, Karajan, Tureck, Dupre, and, oh, so many others are much more than interesting, believe me. They are powerful statements, monuments of and to genius.

SLG: People will say the same thing about many recordings of today in fifty years.

TNT: And I certainly hope that you are right when it comes to the performances of Christpher Hogwood, Joshua Rifkin, Scott Ross, and Skip Sempe to name but four.

TNT: Theirs are performances so inspired that they are taken on their own terms, pure and simple.

SLG: Well, with such performances you get the notes and the structure of the music but you rarely get any more than glimpses of the styles and timbres of the music.

TNT: Perhaps it is a case of those who have ears but hear not.

SLG: I like to listen to Sir Charles Mackerras' recordings of 'Saul', 'Israel in Egypt' and 'Hail Bright, Cecilia' occasionally.

TNT: For once, we agree on something. And remember that Sir Charles was in the vanguard of the movement to record "early music" in accurate editions and with instruments that, at the least, approximated the instruments that the composers would have recognized. Don't forget that Mackerras's was the first recording of Messiah to include a significant number of alternate versions and also the first commercial recording to feature a countertenor soloist.

SLG: Mackerras did some marvellous things. I still enjoy his Saul recording very much but I can hear a number of elements that could be 'improved'. It was an HIP recording for its time - 'HIP-friendly' by today's standards. The problem is that today we have people busily working away making HIP recordings and performances (some good, some bad, some excellent, some mediocre) and a few other people making very anti-HIP recordings.

TNT: I shall be most interested to read your list of alleged miscreants.

SLG: The trouble is that some conductors who do perform Bach and Handel with 'modern' (and I'll shelve the problem of the stagnant modern orchestras for the moment) orchestras and instruments often do so with a sense of antagonism for what has been learned about performing this music.

TNT: If choosing to perform the music in the style of a later age is "a sense of antagonism for what has been learned about performing this music", most certainly so.

SLG: Pinchas Zukerman is an example. We do not have a group of conductors who are interested in authenticity and applying it to their own orchestras any more.

TNT: Well, I do not consider Pinchas Zukerman an effective or perceptive interpreter of Bach in an anachronistic style. Spivakov, on the other hand, can be immensely satisfying.

SLG: I am not a rich man and I like to spend my money of good modern recordings which take into account what is known about Baroque music and use the instruments that the composer expected.

TNT: I have lived throuigh too many HIP fads, alas, to be have much confidence in the day to day. month to month, year to year accuracy of "what is known about Baroque music".

SLG: We know lots about Baroque music and although ideas about tempo, ornamentation and a few other details change we can say that we know a few things about this music!

TNT: But we know much, much less than people think.

SLG: We are pretty smart about performing Gabrieli's music these days. It is nice to hear different ensembles bringing their own individual interpretations to this music. Later music is lucky in that it is much closer to the set up of a modern symphony orchestra.

You get pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings from the 1810 to 1820 and if you have group of sensitive, informed and capable musicians you can perform a Beethoven symphony in a way that Beethoven and his audience might have heard. The difference between the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Orchestra of the 18th Century and the London Classical Players in Beethoven is in the way they perform this music.

We could, as was done in France, play the oboe parts of Beethoven on clarinets and obliterate this timbre from Beethoven's vision - but I feel that this is disrespectful to Beethoven's music and Beethoven himself.

TNT: Well, there are some of us who do not feel that performing "a Beethoven symphony in a way that Beethoven and audience might have heard" is the only way in which a Beethoven symphony can be validly performed. And particularly when there remain so many open questions about what the performance practice really was (as anyone with an open mind who reads Robert Philip's book Early Recordings and Musical Style will realize at once), it is crucial that we not lock ourselves into a so narrow a mindset.

SLG: I wouldn't want to hear Shostakovich's 24 Preludes & Fugues played on the harpsichord because they were not written for this instrument.

TNT: Do you mean to tell me that you are denying yourself the joy of Skip Sempe and Olivier Fortin playing the Buxtehude Passacaglia in D Minor in their arrangement for two harpsichords merely because Buxtehude wrote the Passacaglia for organ?

SLG: You have taken my argument out of context. The organ and harpsichord are, in many ways, much closer to each other than the piano. A performance of Buxtehude's organ music on harpsichords would have been a realistic option in Buxtehude's time.

TNT: As my beloved Mother would have put it, if you need an excuse, you can always find one. You wrote, "because they were not written for this instrument". That is an absolutist position, and once taken, no distinctions need apply. And whether the reinstrumentation would have been a realistic option in the composer's time is no justification for the distinction either.

SLG: Playing the Shostakovich on the harpsichord many be interesting but much of the detail and subtlety of his work would be lost.

TNT: Oh? How can you be so sure until you have heard the performance? that such an alternate instrumentation was authorized?

SLG: I would always choose a violoncello as the first option - it is how one should get to know this music.

TNT: Oh, not necessarily. Hearing the G Minor Lute Suite, at the age of 14, before I heard the C Minor 'Cello Suite from which it is derived was a wonderful introduction to the rarefied world of the 'Cello Suites!

SLG: But a recorder was a plausible solo instrument in Bach's time. I must say that I have no particular interest in hearing such a mode of performance and I am much more interested in Bach's compositions specifically for the recorder and the subtle messages he expected this instrument to convey with its timbres.

TNT: All the more reason to revel in the magnificence of Bruggen's artistry!

TNT: My goodness, that is indeed a narrow, inflexible, and authoritarian position to take! You are missing out on a lot of great stuff!

SLG: Not at all. There are hundreds of CDs I still want - I buy what I can when I can, but I don't feel deprived. If I want to hear chitarrone music I will buy a CD of chitarrone music, if I want to hear Biber's great Masses and Requiems I will buy recordings of these works that include all the instruments Biber asked for! If I want to hear and opera by Lully - I buy one that uses all the instruments Lully expected and played at A = 392 - so the strings have that very low tension and give the right sound.

TNT: And that is certainly as it should be. And it would, of course, be daylight madness to present or record a Lully opera in a non HIP fashion. However, to hear his incidental music for the Moliere plays in the manner in which it became codified at the Comedie Francaise is an experience that you should not deny yourself. Nor should you miss the experience of Spering's HIP recording of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's 1843 performing version of the Bach St. Matthew Passion.

TNT: And, as far as the Shostakovitch 24 Preludes and Fugues on the harpsichord is concerned, for me it would depend on the harpsichordist and the instrument on which he or she chose to play.

SLG: I wouldn't bother. The music is meant to be played on the piano and Shostakovich wrote this music with a piano in mind. Anyway, you'd lose all the pianos and fortes and other pianistic effects on a harpsichord.

TNT: I now even more regret the recent death of my good friend Igor Kipnis. I would have copied Igor in on this e-mail and asked for his opinion about which of the Preludes and Fugues might be playable on the harpsichord and what kind of instrument he would have chosen to play them on. And I doubt that Shostakovitch would have had a problem with it, either.

TNT: It has nothing to do with what Shostakovitch meant, and, as I have written before, it would depend on the particular performance.

TNT: After all, there is a recording of him playing one of the pianos in a concert performance of the Bach Concerto in D Minor for Three Claviers, BWV 1063, and he made most unusual and delightfully sardonic arrangements of Scarlatti Sonatas.

SLG: Shostakovich was a genius and I have many recordings of his own music.

TNT: Well, you should have a listen to his orchestrations some time. The Scarlatti are divine, the Schumann 'Cello Concerto accompaniment is fascinating, and his arrangement of "Tea for Two" is over the top.

SLG: I agree that it might be an interesting experiment but that is all it would be.

TNT: No, it would depend on the quality of the performance. Regardless of the instrument, is the performance good music making, does it inspire the listener?

SLG: Perhaps, but I am also interested in timbre - it makes music is so diverse! To ignore timbre is to deny music its individuality and voice.

TNT: You're absolutely right. Timbre does make music so diverse. The timbre of Pablo Casals's Brandenburg Concertos is every bit as important to the sucess of his performances as the timbre of Hans-Martin Linde's is to the success of his spectacular HIP recordings. The timbre of Rosalyn Tureck's recordings of the Goldberg Variations is as important to the success of her performances as Wanda Landowska's is to hers. And the same is true of the Beecham and the Hogwood Messiahs.

SLG: Schütz and Gabrieli played by modern brass ensembles does [not] really tell us very much about the music other that than give us a basic idea about the structure of the music and the order of the notes.

TNT: Once again, it depends on the quality of the performance and the sincerity of the music making.

SLG: While does Gabrieli include certain notes on the tenor cornett lines - especially at cadences? This is because of the acoustic properties of the instrument. Why does he 'lean' into the high G# on the cornetto so much? It is because this note is much more pungent than adjacent notes on this instrument. Gabrieli never used alto trombones - just tenor and bass trombones. How should one articulate the semi-quaver passages? The correct way is te-re-te-re-te etc. but modern brass players are taught to use te-ke-te-ke-te-ke - which Girolamo dalla Casa (a cornett virtuoso in St. Mark's) said was "crude and terrifying". The pitch of this music should be around A = 466 - which changes the nature of the vocal parts slightly. As I said, modern brass only gives you a vague impression of how this music was meant to sound.

TNT: But modern brass can give you a powerful impression of how this music can move the heart and soul.

SLG: How can a modern orchestra play Monteverdi, Bertali, Biber, Tolar, Lully, Rameau, Schmelzer, Cavalli, Rosenmüller, Charpentier, Schütz, Buxtehude or Gabrieli without some sort of compromised or 'half-baked' HIP anyway?

TNT: Very easily, funnily enough. The modern orchestra plays the music essentially as written on the instruments that are the nearest modern equivalents,

SLG: Well, what do you do when faced with a bass 'Bombard' and 'Fagotto'(a dulcian) in the same work?
What about parts for tenor and alto dulcians? What modern instrument can substitute there?
What about cornetti? And once you've worked out what modern instrument you want to play the cornetto parts on, you have to work what will be the substitute for the cornettino, mute cornett and tenor cornett???? What about the 'viole piffarato' and 'violino piffarato'????
What the heck are you going to use for them! (I simply can't imagine!) Yet these strange instruments turn up in quite a large number of scores - and, judging from the music, the composers expected some pretty good playing on these instruments!

TNT: What the heck is used for them is a judgement call for the conductor, and that is one of the reasons why the Gabrieli recordings of Stokowski, Cantelli, and Edmond Appia are so fascinating. No one even had originals or replicas on which to try and perform the parts in those days, and these conductors wanted the music heard. So they made the necessary compromises. Those necessary compromises resulted in some pretty exciting and moving music making, and I am glad that the recordings exist so that we can still enjoy these performances. In the same league are the Nadia Boulanger Monteverdi recordings.

TNT: and it avoids like the clicheed plague the kind of "pseudo authentic" trappings and "neo Baroque" claptrap that made those Orpheus performances of Corelli and Bach in early December so shallow, so gutless, so cynically insincere.

SLG: How can you play a work like Bertali's Sonata Sancti Leopoldi on modern instruments with a grievous loss to the over effect of the music? Bertali used 2 natural high 'clarino' trumpets (which occasionally dip down deep into the tenor register!), 2 Cornettino, 2 solo Violins, Mute Cornett, 4 trombones, 3 violas da gamba and an organ and 'tiorbo'. The work would have been performed at 'Chor-ton' - A = 466 and this would be of great benefit to the cornettini and would mean a very high string tension for the violins - giving them a sharp, pungent timbre that would blend very well with the cornettini and the clarini. There are hundreds of works like this! You don't know them, do you! And neither do I! (I have the scores for many) This is because no one in the past has quite known what to do with this music or how to play it! We are only now just starting to see some recordings of this music becoming available.

TNT: Believe it or not, I have heard some of the music of this genre. I am away from my CDs, so I can't be specific, but several years ago I acquired a disc that contains the reconstruction of a Festal Mass performance in the Hofburg in Vienna in the late 1630s. There are some captivating compositions on that CD, and I eagerly look forward to hearing more of the repertory.

Apropos of these instrumentation challenges and the compromises that are sometimes made, even now, I must mention the recording on Opus of sacred choral works by Capricornus. This is thrilling stuff, especially the Mass setting, and, as exciting as I find the modern instrument performances that I had first on LP and now on CD, I long for an HIP recording, because it is clear to me that, as effective as the modern instrument equivalents are, they will pale by comparison to the "originals".

Nonetheless, without that non HIP Czech recording, there would be no recording of any of this music, and I would not know its beauties.

As my beloved Father used to say, "40% of something is better than 100% of nothing."

SLG: The moment you include a harpsichord or lute or start to realise the continuo you've started down the path of Historically Informed Performance!

TNT: Perhaps, but most take only a couple of halting steps down the path or flagrantly violate the rules of the road as they barrel down it!

SLG: You can't put the score for a Mass by Biber or Tolar or even the score for an opera by Rameau in front of a modern unprepared orchestra and say "PLAY!" and expect any sort of logical or meaningful performance.

TNT: It depends on whose definitions of "logical" and "meaningful" you are applying.

SLG: Some level of Historical Information must be conveyed to the musicians. Some of the old I Musici and I Solisti Veneti recordings of Baroque concerti were laughable! Whenever Corelli, for instance, leaves gaps in the music and has the orchestra playing seemingly unrelated chords these groups would literally play the chords and hope for the best! They completely ignored the fact that the orchestra leader was meant to improvise bridge passages in between the chords!

TNT: They may be laughable to you, and some of those recordings are definitely better than others, but for some of us they continue to give much pleasure and much reward. It is a different approach and one to which you are not sympathetic.

I am sympathetic to more than one approach.

As one of my law school teachers put it, the problem with me is I am result oriented.

Part 3


SLG: We are faced with the questions - how much do we care about this music and how can we make it live with grace, style and colour in our time?

TNT: We can make it live with grace, style, and color in our time in any different ways, and we do not need any form of cultural police to tell us what rules and regulations we must follow in order to make it live with grace, style, and color in our time.

SLG: Well, this sounds a little like going back to the 'anything goes' approach which holds little hope of letting this music live with style or grace.

TNT: Once again it depends on who is doing the defining. And I do not want anyone defining either "style" or "grace" for me!

SLG: Rather it turns this music into some sort of grab-bag of music to be plundered
ad hoc by anyone who feels like it.

TNT: Power to the people, as the 60s slogan went!

SLG: Maybe not such a bad thing but if this music is ever to become a permanent part of the repertoire some sort of consistent 'vision' of this music needs to be developed.

TNT: Yes, and you want that "consistent 'vision'" to be your vision and that of those with whom you find yourself simpatico, and to the exclusion of 'vision's that contradict or challenge yours.

As Sam Goldwyn said, "Include me out!"

SLG: Are we willing to do the work and research to make this music live in a way that is congruent with what we know about the time of its genesis?

TNT: I certainly hope so, and I fervently wish that more HIP advocates would stop to consider the implications of the undeniable reality that the basic principles of performance practice on "modern instruments" changed radically and that it changed radically during the 1920s and 1930s. More HIP advocates need to read Robert Philip's Early Recordings and Musical Style and then stop and carefully consider the implications of Prof. Philip's researches. Those implications have the potential of shaking the very foundations of HIP as we know it, for the house may well be built upon the shifting sands.

SLG: If we get lazy and say "What the hell! Anything goes in Baroque music!"

TNT: And I say that it is precisely because people have gotten lazy and are saying, "Well, we know what the basics are for authentic performance practice and we don't need to ponder or refine those basics", that I am so concerned. Have you, who are so passionate about these issues, read Prof. Philip's book, for example, and sought out and listened to any of the recordings that he discusses?

SLG: Then we lose the impetus to strive for better and higher standard recordings on period instruments.

TNT: That conclusion does not follow. That's like saying that if anything goes in the preparation of pasta, we will lose the impetus to strive for new kinds of sauces.

SLG: Or like Chinese food? Which has now become so compromised and bastardised in Western countries that it is hard to find the real McCoy any more!

TNT: And there are so many different local cuisines and sub-cuisines in China itslef that it is difficult to determine what is "authentic" to begin with.

SLG: It is clear that Universal doesn't really care about ARCHIV - they planned to absorit into the DGG yellow label - while they heavily promote their new 20/21 label.

TNT: A rose by any other name. Who cares what color the label is so long as the recordings continue to come out?

SLG: ARCHIV has always had a significantly different and 'classier' way of presentation that the Yellow label - which has more recently become a shadow of its former self.

TNT: Really? They always were the obverse and reverse of the same penny in terms of design and quality.

TNT: And, if the DG newsletter that I received this morning may be taken at its face value, the folks at Universal are still upholding the commitment to early music and are mining the back catalogue as well.

SLG: I suspect that they have done so because many people have blitzed them on their site. Closing the 'Rolls Royce' of Early Music labels would have been a public relations disaster for DG and Universal.

TNT: For some of us "old timers", however, Archiv stopped being Archiv when they did away with the uniform buff covers. And when the Research Period designations disappeared....

TNT: For instance, the Karl Richter Bach "orchestral music" recordings that you alluded to (I find them pretty heavy going myself.) are scheduled for re-release in the next couple of months.

SLG: His St. Matthew Passion has been re-released. I listened to some of it today. It seems very slow and stodgy to me. (I tried to listen with an open mind and I played it through the shop's sound system - my Bach loving colleague thought it was slow too)

TNT: Which one of his three commercial recordings have they republished? Even the first, from 1958, which is the best, is, as you say, terribly slow. I think that the opening chorus of his last recording, from 1980, is the slowest on record, at a little over 11 minutes.

SLG: We need to encourage musicians to learn to play old instruments and stick with them - because there will be audiences waiting for them after all their hard work.

TNT: I hope that you are right, but, if some of the half to two-thirds full small halls that I have seen recently when I have gone to early music concerts are any indication, those audiences might not turn out to be there in the numbers that you and I are hoping for.

SLG: Well, the recordings are doing well enough. Unfortunately, Pop/Rock music is being promoted by the big companies like Sony and Universal at the expense of Classical music.

TNT: As Willie Sutton said when they asked him why he robbed banks, "Because that is where the money is."

The sad aspect is that not as much of the profits from the Pop side seems to be allocated towards the subsidy of the Classical side. Or so it seems.

SLG: To be bitter and sarcastic about a movement that has captivated both performers and audiences around the world is counter-productive and ultimately damaging to the careers of musicians (like myself) and the music of the aforementioned composers.

TNT: There is nothing bitter and sarcastic about lampooning bad music making, exposing hypocrisy and inconsistency for all to see, and fighting the puritanism and the fascism that has infected the HIP movement like Dutch Elm Disease.

SLG: I see no evidence of it.

TNT: They who have eyes see not.

TNT: The only careers that will be damaged are the careers of second and third rate musicians who should be doing something else to begin with. And I assure you that I have always bristled when some HIP-ophobe says that the only reason people are playing period instruments is they can't make a living playing the contemporary ones. There are just as many bad musicians, per capita, playing "new" instruments as there are playing "old" ones.

SLG: True enough.

SLG: I play the cornetto - an instrument that takes years and years of hard work to master. But the rewards are great - the cornetto is an inegral part of a large percentage of Renaissance and Baroque music. Many years ago there were very few skilled cornetto players around and those who did play this instrument were trumpeters using trumpet mouthpieces which substantially alters the sound. So much of the music of composers like Antonio Bertali, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and H. I. F. Biber had to wait until there were players available who could perform this music on the right instruments - cornetti, dulcians, sackbuts, cornettini and mute cornetts.

TNT: I have long admired the unique tone of the cornetto, and I certainly am sensitive to the difference between its sound and that of the "modern" substitutes. In fact, I sang in what may well have been the first performance since Bach's own of O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV 118, in which a cornetto was used. I also have had the pleasure and privilege of numbering Don Smithers among my friends, and for more than 20 years. And we all know how important Don's work has been to the revival of the cornetto.

SLG: Do we seriously want to go back to the time when the music of these composers lived only on dusty library shelves or in vastly compromised or inferior erformances?

TNT: We certainly do not want it to live only on dusty library shelves, but what constitutes a "vastly compromised or inferior performance" is something that will always be the subject of disagreement and dispute.

SLG: Unless the right musicians can be found with the right instruments the richness of timbre of Early Baroque music fades into a blandness.

TNT: And once again, it depends on one's definitions.

SLG: It wasn't too long ago that Schütz was regarded as a 'mini-Bach' - this was because we did not have skilled cornetto, dulcian and trombone players to make his less well known music come to life.

TNT: I am by no means convinced that that is the only reason.

SLG: Sure, play Bach on banjos, synthesizers, steinways and Wagnerian orchestras, but let's make sure that people know that this is experimenting with the music and turning it into something else and is not what Bach expected or imagined or even could have imagined.

TNT: And we should also warn people that Bach's arrangement of the Stabat Mater is not what Pergolesi expected or imagined or even could have imagined.

SLG: Well, maybe that is debatable, but I can't see anything wrong with telling an audience in program notes how far from a composer's ideas and intentions the performers are deviating?
"Bach wrote this for the lute. Tonight we will hear it played on the guitar." Simple.

TNT: Usually the program notes do tell you that, to build on your analogy, tonight Sharon Isbin is playing the Bach Suite for Lute in E Minor, BWV 996, on the guitar.

What the program notes do not tell you, however, is that the pseudo-Baroque performance practice that the X-and-So Ensemble is following tonight in its modern instrument performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 is absolute malarkey and both the audience and the ensemble would have been better off if the piece had been palyed "straight".

So it isn't that simple.

Part 4

SLG: I rest easy at night knowing that as we discover how wonderful the music of a composer like Johann Rosenmüller is, for instance - modern orchestras and modern instrument playing musicians have no inclination or interest in performing his music (that is, if they are even aware of it which I seriously doubt!) and they are content to leave this music to people like me!

TNT: Fortunately, that was not always so. Rosenmüller might still be living on those dusty library shelves of yours had it not be for such enterprising folks as Curt Sachs and Claude Crussard. Here is a list of the Rosenmüller recordings that appeared on 78s and on early LPs:
The Sonata for 2 Violins, 'Cello, and Organ in E Minor was recorded by the Bastian String Trio and Herman Poddick, organ , for Kantorei (Catalogue No.: K-9) about 1932.
The same Sonata was recorded a couple of years later by Claude Crussard and her Ars Rediviva Ensemble. It is a string orchestra performance with a concertino, if you will, of two violins; both harpsichord and organ are used for the continuo. It was a Disque Gramophone release (Catalogue No.: DB-5064). It also appeared on Victor in the USA.
In 1935 or thereabouts, the eminent musicologist and early music sprecorded a Suite in C Major, for string orchestra, for the Anthologie Sonore (Catalogue No.: AS-52). A suite from the J. C. F. Fischer Journal de Printemps is on the "flip" side.
In the early '50s, Helen Boatwright and the St. Thomas Church Choir, New Haven, recorded four Rosenmüller sacred cantatas. And yet another recording of that same E Minor Sonata was made, this time with flute and oboe as the "melody" instruments, rather than 2 violins.
Finally the Saxon State Collegium Musicum made a recording of the Suite No. 9 in C Minor from the StudentenMusik of 1654 for Urania.

SLG: Yes, sigh, the string music gets played because people see the word "violino" in the score - however when will we ever hear the splendid and colourful sacred music of Johann Rosenmüller? For instance his Laudate pueri Dominum concertato con istromenti e tromba scored for SSSSAATTBB, 2 Violini, 2 Violettae, Fagotto (dulcian), Trumpet, 2 Cornetti, 3 Tromboni & Basso continuo???? I doubt that the forces could have been assembled to perform this many years ago - especially if period instruments were desired. The music of composers like Antonio Bertali, Bernardino Borlasca, Johann Joseph Fux, Antonio Caldara, Johann Melchior Gletle, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Andreas Hofer, Johann Caspar Horn, Thomas Selle and Jan Krtitel Tolar cries out to be heard! When can we hear Tolar's Miserere mei Deus? This amazing work is scored for SSAATTBB soloists, SSAATTBB cappella (choir), 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 2 Trumpets, 2 Mute Cornetts, 2 Cornettini, 3 Trombones, Violone and Organ.
How would you score this for modern instruments?

TNT: Scoring what sounds like a fascinating composition for modern instruments would not be my concern. Quite frankly, if I had the wherewithall to organize and subsidize the first modern performances of these elaborate works, I would not want modern instruments or sensibilities involved. I would want the very best HIP forces to give the performances and for the latest in specific knowledge about the performance practice to be followed and followed scrupulously.

This discussion is not about "old" instruments versus "new" instruments.

This discussion is about the very great need for co-existence that too many in the HIP movement deny.

SLG: We also live in a time when cultures are respected and I deeply respect the culture and technological achievements of the 17th and 18th centuries and the wisdom and ingenuity of the composers and instrument makers who lived in those centuries. I also respect the freedoms and limitations inherent in the music of this age and in any society or culture.

TNT: I do not have to, nor will I deign to, defend myself and my performance credo against the implications of that polemic.

SLG: I merely suggest that just as we would respect the culture of Japan and Indigenous Australians and the arts and music of these peoples, we should respect the music, arts and culture of the past - made by people who do not have the benefit of saying "Please, don't do that!"

TNT: Once again, I respectfully decline to entertain a discussion that I do not have to.

TNT: For some people, the form is more important than the substance. I am not one of those.

SLG: I think that this is a very limited way of looking at music. It denies the actual substance of the sound of music - the sound of the voice of an instrument or a human being and the intentions of the composer. I think that it is a very convenient way of approaching music (especially that of Bach) because it does lead to a laissez-faire approach.

TNT: Focusing on the "substance of the sound of the music ... and the intentions of the composer" is focusing on the form that the performance takes instead of on the substance of the notes themselves, and thus on the substance of the music itself. And that applies no matter what, "old" instruments or "new", HIP or non-HIP

TNT: I wholeheartedly agree with the majority opinion from the United States Supreme Court in Helvering v. Horst, in which the Court held that it is the substance of the transaction that governs, not the form that it takes.
Substance is much more important than the form. In other words, what I have come to call Duke Ellington's Law is the paramount consideration: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."

SLG: Needless to say, HIP has given us a way of hearing the swing and improvisation and ornamentation on the instruments the composer expected or hoped for. The more we learn about this music the better we get at performing it.

TNT: "The instruments the composer expected or hoped for?"

Sometimes we know what they expected; rarely if ever do we have any idea what they may have hoped for.

SLG: "Purist"? A pejorative word used by someone who isn't fussy about Baroque music and how it is approached?

TNT: As my beloved Mother's childhood friend Tallulah Bankhead put it, "Darling, I am as pure as the driven slush!" {:-{)}

SLG: I have never considered myself a purist - I listen to too many different forms and styles of music for that label to stick. But I like my pre-Classical music to be pre-Classical.

TNT: Who implied that you are a purist? I was referring to myself, and to myself only.

SLG: A 'philistine', perhaps?

TNT: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

SLG: Well, I, for one, would not argue that Herr Scholl's recent activities have been decidedly dubious - the worst of it is that he is simply wasting his time. Deller did the whole 'countertenor/folk-song' thing far more convincingly decades ago! As did Kathleen Ferrier.
If Scholl wants to perform modern music I would have preferred that he had done some Tippett or Britten or even some Nyman or Glass.
Still, I don't really care. Andreas Scholl's 'fans' would buy a recording of him singing nursery rhymes or Kylie Minogue songs. I am arrogant and snotty enough to consider myself a fan of nobody and sensible enough to usually avoid the dud recordings. I admire many people and enjoy many things in music, but a 'fan'? Never!

TNT: Me? I'm a 'fan', and I am a fan always!!! I love Casals and Landowska. I want to hear all of their recordings, even the "bad" ones. I love Bach, and I love Handel. I want to hear all of their music, good, bad, and indifferent, and to be my own judge about what the scholars say is "spurious". I want to hear it HIP, and I want to hear it on modern instruments.

What I don't want to hear are any performances, whether HIP or non-HIP, that are dull and lifeless, that are emotionally or spiritually dead.

SLG: Steven Langley-Guy
30 Crossley Avenue
Croydon Park
Adelaide
5008

TNT: My musical credo:

1. Duke Ellington's Law: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."

2. Any piece of music may be as validly played in the style of any period subsequent to the period of its creation as it is in the style of the period in which it was created.

My best and my thanks always,

Teri Noel Towe,
c/o Ganz & Hollinger, P. C.,
1394 Third Avenue,
New York, NY 10021-0465



Continue on Part 5


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: ęDecember 3, 2005 ę15:17:08