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HIP (Historically Informed Performance)

Part 6

 

 

Continue from Part 5

Hybrid-HIP

Francine Renee Hall wrote: (September 2, 2002)
I find it interesting and sometimes confusing that Harnoncourt, with his Beethoven Symphony cycle and his newest SMP combine HIP and non-HIP elements. For the Beethoven he uses less strings for greater balance, a natural trumpet and modern instruments played with HIP sensibilities. And his early SMP, a landmark of HIP, uses a boy - adult combination for arias. Now his latest SMP creates a greater balance with arias by using adults. Is this because he feels Bach would have done the same had he a choice? And just for fun, why is the great recording of Bach's KdF played by Phantasm with a consort of viols, something Bach wouldn't do? I enjoy all the recordings I mentioned, though. As a final thought, I also find it wonderful that Gould's KdF played on organ is quite HIP, though played by a great pianist....


Original Instruments vs. Copies

Francine Renee Hall wrote: (September 2, 2002)
Another question I have involves the word "copies" of original instruments rather than "original". We can count on Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Wien, and MAK on 'authentic', i.e., 'original'. But how good are 'copies'? Is there 'quality control' when one claims to use the word 'copies'? Just curious.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 3, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] As a German proverb states: "Papier ist geduldig" ["Paper upon which things are written or printed will tolerate many things" or "You can write whatever you want on paper, it does not seem to matter all."] If Alice Harnoncourt's violin is listed as being an original made by Jakobus Stainer, Absam, 1655 [I am guessing that this is hers since her name is listed first and this is the first violin in the list of violins used] all this means is that this tender, fragile instrument made of pieces of wood, some areas of which are quite thin, went through major reconstruction and possibly replacements of whole sections of parts while adding and reducing what the original once had. It takes an act of faith to believe that this is truly an original instrument, since, as far as I know, no string instruments, particularly violins, survived the c. 1800 threshold unscathed as they were transformed to produce more volume and a different sound. It is much more likely that a viola da gamba was retained relatively unchanged because this instrument went out of favor rather quickly during Bach's lifetime [the shape, flat back, etc. are different from the strings we know], but string instruments that continued to be played had to suffer this 'cruel' fate ['Cruel' as seen from the perspective of the HIP mvt.] It is remarkable just how skimpy is the existing evidence of brass instruments that Bach once used. Recorders, flutes, oboes, (harpsichords, clavichords as well) (perhaps, just because they were evolving very quickly and being radically improved) left behind museum pieces that instrument makers can actually study carefully in order to record their exact measurements and figure out how they were made. Then it is up to the musician to rediscover the playing techniques that were actually used (much of this is guess work - sometimes successful, but at other times quite unmusical - witness the Harnoncourt Concentus Musicus sound in the Bach cantata series.)

My personal guess is that the quality control among the best instrument makers (who create copies of original instruments) is extremely excellent nowadays, however among the strings and the brass instruments, there is mainly indirect evidence to base one's judgement on. This is insufficient to make the claim that these instruments are truly authentic or exact copies of the originals, simply because the evidence that has come down to us is quite skimpy.

I don't think that you can count on Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Wien to have absolutely authentic originals or even reliable copies thereof [referring here to the strings (other than viola da gamba, lute, etc.) and to the brass instruments that they use] because there simply is no such thing once you begin to investigate this matter and scratch to see what is really below the surface of such claims. It would be much more honest for such HIP groups to state that they have tried to the best of their ability to use instruments that might resemble more closely the older instruments than the currently used equivalents and that they have looked into the matter of playing technique so as to be able to present their best educated guess of what the music might have sounded like in Bach's time. Of course, this type of careful assessment is not necessarily what the normal listener would like to hear. It is simpler to create the myth that everything is exactly the same way (perhaps even better, as Schweitzer implied) than it was in Bach's time.

Francine Renee Hall wrote: (September 3, 2002)
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks! You've been quite helpful! Yes, I recall seeing Harnoncourt playing the viola da gamba with a lion's head, I believe, in his Brandenburgs on VHS. I also recall his discussion in his "Musical Dialogue" that he grabbed museum pieces but deplored the lack of knowledge as to how instruments should sound ideally. He is often criticized for his rough and tumble sound but at least we can give him credit for exploring virtually unknown territory.

Robert Sherman wrote (September 3, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I believe it is possible to make very faithful copies of original baroque trumpets, and some manufacturers have done this. Problem is the results aren't all that good, so essentially all of what you hear presented as "historic" has computer-calculated finger-holes and other improvements that are entirely outside Bach's experience. The essential design requirement seems to be just that the instrument look "authentic" to the audience.

Francine Renee Hall wrote: (September 3, 2002)
[To Robert Sherman] Thanks so much for your expertise and oh, so interesting post on reproducing original baroque trumpets. I learn so much, and it's fun too!


"Authentic" instrument Bach and Schelle on Raum Klang

Craig Schweickert wrote (November 4, 2002):
A heads-up and a couple of questions. The following review by John Durate appears in the 2002 Awards issue of Gramophone. Was wondering whether any of you have heard the disk and, if so, whether you agree with JD's verdict. Am unfamiliar with the Raum Klang label; can anyone provide some background? Is it distributed in North America?

BTW, in the same issue, JD declares Hoppy's new Attaingnant disk (which someone was asking about a few weeks ago) a delight, a judgement I can only concur with. All the pieces are miniatures and they would probably sound inconsequential in most lutenists' hands. Smith's exquisite playing reveals them as gems.

BACH Brandenburg Concerto No 1 in F, BWV1046. Musical Offering BWV1079 - Ricercar a 6. Trio Sonata in G, BWV1039. Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord, No 1 in G, BWV1027. Clavier-Übning III - Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, BWV672. Cantatas – BWV 68, Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt - Aria: Mein gläubiges Herze; BWV 76, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre - Sinfonia; BWV 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme - Aria: Wann kommst du, mein Heil? St John Passion, BWV 245 - Betrachte, meine Seele
SCHELLE Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele
Dorothee Mields sop
Gotthold Schwartz bass
St Thomas Church Choir, Leipzig; Leipzig Concert Ensemble
Raum Klang (full priced) RK2001 (73 minutes: DDD)
Texts and translations included

"Of the 27 instruments used in this 'mixed-media' programme, six are held by the Musical Instrument Museum of Leipzig University. Four of these were made by Johann Christian Hoffmann from whom Bach ordered several instruments, and the organ used was tested by Bach when it was located in Freiberg. Most of the others date from times within or close to Bach's lifespan or are copies of appropriate instruments.

"The choir doesnot provide the only link with the Thomaskirche, four of whose church bells frame the joyous psalmkonzert of Johann Schelle, Bach's predecessor there. Bach would certainly have heard them and may well have heard some of the instruments too. The overall object is that of reproducing the sounds of instruments from Bach's time in a variety of settings.

"The instruments are played with a fluency that never evokes any feeling of cliff-hanging unease and their sounds are gentle and rounded. Only in the opening of the First Brandenburg Concerto does this create a soft-edged (but not impenetrable) babel of sound. Of particular interest is the duet from Cantata BWV 140 in which the violino piccolo obbligato is played on an instrument (1729) of the type Bach is known to have favoured and which
remained in occasional use until 1756 when Leopold Mozart declared it to be
redundant.

"The quest for authenticity is both fascinating and frustrating. We can
approach it only asymptotically and can never know when, if ever, we fully
achieve it. In the meantime these wonderfully intimate and beautifully
recorded performances add up to an experience that all lovers of the
Baroque should share."

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (November 5, 2002):
[To Craig Schweickert] I haven't heard the recording, but his comments on HIP and authentic instr. are accurate-authentic instruments are not the answer to historical interpretation, and more importantly, HIP is only as possible as far as we define "informed". This is an idea of constant growth, and change, but we will never be able to ultimately "get inside the composer's head", we can only try.

Dietmar Engelke wrote (November 5, 2002):
< Am unfamiliar with the Raum Klang label; can anyone provide some background? Is it distributed in North America? >
The RaumKlang label is a small label from Leipzig. They focus on recordings in acoustically interesting rooms, using a single stereo microphone to provide a natural sound. I've got a CD of that label recorded in the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Battle of the Nations Memorial) in Leipzig, with baritone saxophone copmositions by Gert Anklam. ( http://home.t-online.de/home/gert.anklam/english.htm ). He plays with the enormous echo in that room - quite exciting. I don't kwnow if it is still available, but there are sound examples of the CD on Gert Anklam's homepage. ( http://home.t-online.de/home/gert.anklam/sounds.htm )

The Label has a homepage ( http://www.raumklang.de ) with a list of distributors. There is a distributor for the US:

USA
Qualiton Imports Ltd.
24-02 40th Ave.
Long Island City
New York, Ny 11101
Osenbergdd@aol.com


On ‘period’ violins

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 7, 2002):
The following extract from a very recent article in the Miami Herald appears to be the general direction that most violinists take when wishing to perform Bach ‘authentically.’ This marvelous transformation can even occur during the intermission at a concert: the violinist, who plays a ‘big-named’ (Strad, Guarnerius, etc.) instrument made during the Baroque period, simply removes the modern strings and replaces them with gut strings, tunes these a semi-tone lower, and perhaps uses a slightly different bow and, voila, the transformation to a Baroque violin is complete. This is a form of tokenism that is rather widespread. It is important for the listener to realize that there is no such thing as an ‘untransformed’ ‘big-name’ violin that has made it unscathed to the present day and that there is no way to ‘undo’ the considerable damage that has been inflicted on these instruments during the time of the great watershed circa 1800.

These comments are not meant to disparage efforts by violinists such as Vengerov to attempt to bow slightly in the direction of ‘period’ instruments in order to uncover musically certain things that might not be available if these slight changes were not undertaken.

Here is the quote:
This same quest for deeper musical understanding is behind Vengerov's recent experiments playing Bach in more authentic Baroque style and his work with children, following the example his mother set in Russia more than two decades ago.
''I was always dissatisfied with Bach played on the modern violin with steel strings and a Romantic-era bow,'' he explains. ''Then [period instruments guru] Trevor Pinock urged me to play a Baroque violin,'' with gut strings pitched lower and stroked with a bow that grasps and accentuates bass lines more easily.
''It enables me to do much more in articulating the bass lines and harmonies. It's the only way I want to play unaccompanied Bach now.''
From the Miami Herald:
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/entertainment/4116277.htm

Pete Blue wrote (November 8, 2002):
Tom Braatz's points about tokenism and baroque violin "transformation" are well taken, and the smugness and shallowness of Vengerov's remarks are striking. It's discouraging that in the year 2002 we still read such, and such points still have to be made.

It may be instructive to quote Sergiu Luca from his liner notes to the very first (AFAIK) recording of the Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas played on a baroque violin, written way back in 1977. Luca's research seems exceptionally thorough for a performer who was looking for practical results and was not primarily a scholar, and are revelatory even 25 years later:

"What is a baroque violin? There is no one answer to that question. Unlike their later counterparts, Baroque instruments and their fittings were rarely much alike. Standardization in the adjustment and fittings of the violin came only with J.-B. Vuillame (1772-1834). Previously each instrument was made specifically to suit the person who ordered it, the use for which it was destined, and the type of chamber in which it was likely to be played (salon, concert hall, church, or private home).

"The instrument and bow used in this recording borh date from before Bach's birth. The violin was made in 1669 in Cremona by Nicolo Amati .... The body of the violin ... survives unaltered. It is one of the very largest patterns this master used and has small pieces of wood (called 'wings') added to the back to adapt his standard cut of wood to the larger pattern . The arching departs from Amati's usual design both in its flatness (most Amatis have a higher 'belly') and its fullness.

"The revolutionary shape and noble sound of this violin suggest that it may have been made either on special order for a virtuoso requiring a suitable instrument, or as an experiment to satisfy Amati's own curiosity concerning the extreme limits of his art. The instrument's striking golden-orange hue also contrasts dramatically with the lighter colors usually encountered in violins by this maker. Together with the scroll, the original varnish has survived over 300 years in a remarkable, almost perfect state of preservation.

"The remaining parts and fittings, however -- e.g., the neck (connecting the scroll to the body), the fingerboard, the bridge, the tailpiece, the type of strings, the bass-bar (glued parallel to the G string on the inside of the top), and the soundpost -- have been altered several times since the insrument was made. As it is ... played in this recording, the violin has been restored to approximate its 17th-century condition and adjustment.

"The bridge, quite different from today's design, is patterned after one that has survived intact on a Stradivarius instrument (the 'Tuscan' viola) dating from 1690. The fingerboard (which differs from its modern counterpart in its characteristic wedge shape) and tailpiece are of matched pieces of maple with an ebony veneer. A neck of Baroque design has been joined to the body of the instrument along the same axis as the top (rather than at an angle, as is standard on the modern violin), with the necessary angle being formed by thefingerboard .... The soundpost has been reduced to about two-thirds the thickness of a modern one and has been placed quite far away from the bridge. The bass-bar has been made thinner and lighter. [etc., etc.]

"What do all these alterations accomplish? The aim of the restoration was to reduce the various tensions within the instrument, thereby enabling its parts to vibrate more freely. The resultant sound is characterized by a rich panoply of overtones and a longer resonating time. A major advantage of playing the Bach Sonatas and Partitas on a original instrument is that the increased resonance, and longer ringing of the bass notes, clarifies and amplifies the individual strands of the complex musical fabric. At the same time, the purity and lack of shrillness of the top gut strings, together with the cushioning effect resulting from the lowered tension, allow the performer to play with abandon and to push the insrument to its limits without producing anachronistic sounds."

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 8, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] Thanks to Pete Blue for sharing this information given by Sergiu Luca in his notes for Bach's Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas. Much of this information confirms the bits and pieces that I have come across during the past few years. The only part of Luca's description that I have difficulty with is his description of the body where he seems to be clutching at straws:

"The instrument and bow used in this recording both date from before Bach's birth. The violin was made in 1669 in Cremona by Nicolo Amati .... The body of the violin ... survives unaltered. It is one of the very largest patterns this master used and has small pieces of wood (called 'wings') added to the back to adapt his
standard cut of wood to the larger pattern . The arching departs from Amati's usual design both in its flatness (most Amatis have a higher 'belly') and its fullness.<<

Without having the 'wings' properly dated by dendrology or carbon dating (the latter method probably be too imprecise), there is no definite proof that Amati actually undertook this strange type of modification. Such a master of his craft would have no reason to create such an imperfect body with 'wings' or wedges that are used to correct a major imperfection. It is much more likely that this major modification was made almost a century later, at the time of the great violin 'watershed.' If such information were confirmed (that the added 'wings' were actually a later modification,) the value of this instrument would definitely suffer. It is much safer to maintain that Amati created this instrument this way with its unusual size and evidence of serious modification from the start and leave it at that.

What I would now like to see in print somewhere is a precise description of the wood in the back and the top of famous-name violins built during the Baroque era. It will not be helpful for someone to make all of the micrometer measurements to ascertain the present thickness of the wood. This has already been done and written up in the Scientific American many years ago. It will be much more important to ascertain the addition of wood, wood that was added on and glued to the original like plywood and subsequently sanded down. This type of process has been observed in Strads (and probably will apply to other famous violin as well) because the original instruments had much thinner wood, particularly on top (the tension on the gut strings was less at the lower pitch, the weight of the bow on the string not as great) and because, toward the end of the 18th century, string players wanted greater volume from their instruments. The violin makers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, faced with restoring these instruments and modifying them for the new demands of the 19th century, took the original tops and bottoms (which were too thin to withstand the higher tension and greater pressure) and glued additional wood directly upon the original and then proceeded to sand this wood down according to new (their own - a century later) specifications which certainly were not those of the original instrument makers. These were irreversible changes!

My own guess is that the thin sound that we hear in 'period' instruments (violins and other stringed instruments) today is due to the fact that these modifications to the major body of the violin have not been reversed (who in his/her right mind would hand over a valuable instrument from the Baroque era (modified as it is) to a violin maker and say: "I would like you to make this instrument have much thinner wood so that I will get the authentic sound of this instrument.") But it is just such a thinner wood that would allow for a fuller, louder sound to emerge. The thicker the wood, the less sound that can emanate from inside the violin. So-called 'period' violins today do not become and sound considerably softer just because the pitch has been dropped by a semi-tone and gut strings instead of wire strings are used. It's all that extra wood that was added later that encumbers the creation of a full sound.

As I write this, it almost seems like a terrible contradiction between the early 19th century efforts to increase volume and strength by adding wood, since adding wood would diminish rather than increase the projection of sound, and the truly original instruments of the early 18th century that should have had a louder sound. Perhaps this obvious discrepancy is due mainly to the use of the bow which underwent a radical transformation toward the end of the 18th century (these violin bows have not changed very much since that time.) Imagine Paganini, who was almost 20 years old at the turn of the 19th century, using this relatively new bow on violins that had not yet been 'fortified' to withstand the type of playing for which he was noted! This new manner of playing demanded an instrument that could withstand incredible forces that were inflicted upon it. Perhaps the increased bow pressure overcame the deficiency in volume cause by the thicker wood that was used.

There must be some sort of connection here with harpsichord construction as well. Brad (or anyone else who can help), can you confirm for me that a thinner sounding board on a harpsichord (with less varnish as well) equals a louder sound just as a thicker one (with more varnish) means that some volume is lost?

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 8, 2002):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: There must be some sort of connection here with harpsichord construction as well. Brad (or anyone else who can help), can you confirm for me that a thinner sounding board on a harpsichord (with less varnish as well) equals a louder sound just as a thicker one (with more varnish) means that some volume is lost? >
I'm a harpsichord player, not a builder...but I can say at least:

(1) A thinner soundboard is going to resonate more than a thick one, everything else being equal. Of course, other factors such as stringing and voicing and the plectrum material all contribute here, as well. "All things being equal" the thinner soundboard is likely louder, as long as it's thick enough to be structurally sound....

(2) Harpsichord soundboards don't have any varnish on them, that I've ever heard or seen anywhere. The wood might be treated in some way, perhaps, but there's no glossy varnish of the type a violin would have.

(3) Italian-style harpsichords are often more resonant than others because of the exceptionally light case: the instrument's whole body resonates more than a heavier harpsichord would do.

(4) The builder adjusts the soundboard's thickness to provide the desired frequency response for all the available notes, at the pitch where the instrument is designed. This is of course an extremely delicate task. One doesn't want individual notes to stick out with a tone that doesn't match the others. If the instrument is retuned to some pitch other than the optimal pitch for the soundboard, the instrument's overall tone is compromised in some way or another. (Transposing harpsichords usually do so by sliding the keyboard over to play different strings, then adjusting the temperament, rather than retuningthe whole instrument to a different pitch level which would alter the tensions of everything too much.)

As with any fine piece of machinery, a harpsichord works best when kept in optimal condition according to the design: the right pitch, temperature, and humidity; and the right types of replacement materials when something breaks. Good builders know what they're doing, and all these factors are finely balanced. One can't go changing them willy-nilly and still expect good results. If an instrument sits unused and untuned in a closet for a year, it's going to sound awful until multiple tunings and plenty of playing bring it back into shape. Instruments get ill and atrophied from disuse, just like any organic being. And they are "happy" when kept in optimal condition, regularly played.

When I bought my current harpsichord, used, it has taken almost a year of playing and care to get a strange musty smell played out of it. And it has a personality, of sorts. Every fine instrument does: it has a dialogue with the player, suggesting things it wants to do with the music. (I've played quite a few harpsichords that are better than mine, and it's even more so with those: such outstanding instruments sound remarkably different depending who's playing them, offering more of that dialogue with the player, more expressive options. Some instruments inspire the player to want to play for hours and hours, without getting tired; others wear out their welcome in a few minutes.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 10, 2002):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< I'm a harpsichord player, not a builder...but I can say at least:

(1) A thinner soundboard is going to resonate more than a thick one, everything else being equal. Of course, other factors such as stringing and voicing and the plectrum material all contribute here, as well. "All things being equal" the thinner soundboard is likely louder, as long as it's thick enough to be structurally sound.... >
I am glad that you could confirm this point for me.

< (2) Harpsichord soundboards don't have any varnish on them, that I've ever heard or seen anywhere. The wood might be treated in some way, perhaps, but there's no glossy varnish of the type a violin would have. >
I have experienced both types, with and without varnish. The purpose of the varnish is to protect the wood against the adverse effects of high humidity. I have personally seen cracks appear in an unvarnished sounding board of a harpsichord.

< (3) Italian-style harpsichords are often more resonant than others because of the exceptionally light case: the instrument's whole body resonates more than a heavier harpsichord would do. >
It is interesting just how much the size and structure of the case influence the production of sound.

< (4) The builder adjusts the soundboard's thickness to provide the desired frequency response for all the available notes, at the pitch where the instrument is designed. This is of course an extremely delicate task. One doesn't want individual notes to stick out with a tone that doesn't match the others. If the instrument is retuned to some pitch other than the optimal pitch for the soundboard, the instrument's overall tone is compromised in some way or another.
(Transposing harpsichords usually do so by sliding the keyboard over to play different strings, then adjusting the temperament, rather than retuning the whole instrument to a different pitch level which would alter the tensions of everything too much.) >
I have never experienced a transposing harpsichord. It sounds as though there still would be quite a bit of tuning necessary after shifting, although not the massive change of tension that would otherwise be necessary.

< As with any fine piece of machinery, a harpsichord works best when kept in optimal condition according to the design: the right pitch, temperature, and humidity; and the right types of replacement materials when something breaks. Good builders know what they're doing, and all these factors are finely balanced. One can't go changing them willy-nilly and still expect good results. If an instrument sits unused and untuned in a closet for a year, it's going to sound awful until multiple tunings and plenty of playing bring it back into shape. Instruments get ill and atrophied from disuse, just like any organic being. And they are "happy" when kept in optimal condition, regularly played.
When I bought my current harpsichord, used, it has taken almost a year of playing and care to get a strange musty smell played out of it. And it has a personality, of sorts. Every fine instrument does: it has a dialogue with the player, suggesting things it wants to do with the music. (I've played quite a few harpsichords that are better than mine, and it's even more so with those: such outstanding instruments sound remarkably different depending who's playing them, offering more of that dialogue with the player, more expressive options. Some instruments inspire the player to want to play for hours and hours, without getting tired; others wear out their welcome in a few minutes.) >
Most truly sensitive musicians have experiences of this sort with their instruments. To an outsider it might seem to indicate sentimentality or a wild imagination on the part of the musician, or, at least, a lack of scientific knowledge that would preclude 'this type of nonsensical thinking.' What really occurs between good musicians and their instruments is of an esoteric nature. The time may come when scientists may attempt to prove your theory by creating a mechanism like an exercise machine that would mechanically tune an instrument and play a limited series of pieces on it everyday, then compare this with an instrument that has remained unused. The results may well show the beneficial effects that you have written about without human beings involved directly in the process. Personally, however, I believe that there will still be some subtle effects that can not be accounted for in this way (mechanical exercise without human intervention.) It will be the human interaction with the instrument on a daily basis over considerable time that will make a seemingly dead instrument take on some living, spiritual qualities that come from the person who is playing the instrument. In a sense, such an instrument will have become spiritualized. Although I know it will be going a bit too far to actually personalize the instrument as some musicians have done by giving the instrument a name and talking to it (somewhere in all of this a line between imagination and reality will need to be drawn), the fact is that the instrument becomes an extension of oneself as thoughts and emotions create sounds that extend into the world. The spiritual energy of the musician permeates the material of the instrument and makes it more amenable to the wishes of the musician. In this continuing process the instrument is transformed in some not so easily provable way. In this I can certainly agree with you, Brad.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts,



Continue on Part 7


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

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Last update: ýDecember 3, 2005 ý15:23:27