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HIP (Historically Informed Performance)

Part 9

Continue from Part 8

Expressively Neutered HIP Performances

Brad B. wrote (May 2, 2003):
I am particularly heartened to hear that Matthew and ClassicsToday are as turned off by the McCreesh SMP (BWV 244) as I am. The next question has to be "Why does the British musical press so consistently laud such bland performances and why do they seem, on the whole, to detest more expressive ones?"

I think there are some cultural imperatives, such as the pathological avoidance of "bad taste" and "vulgarity" in musical performance by many British artists, at work here. If somebody can point me to the document in which a British HIP musician decries the general lack of gestural expressivity and calls for greater intensity in HIP performance, I will eat my hat.

Otherwise, I stand by impressions I have formed by listening, literally, to thousands of HIP recordings made in Great Britain. Their dominance of the HIP recording industry has led to a flattening out of the expressive potential of early music, plain and simple.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 2, 2003):
[To Brad B.] I probably should have added that this recording is in fact a grave exception among the Brits, and of McCreesh himself. I can't say if any British HIPers have talked the talk that would force you to have lunch from atop your head (yes, I'm aware that it's an idiom), but Parrot, Gardiner and except for this recording McCreesh all walk the walk.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 2, 2003):
Brad B. wrote: >>I am particularly heartened to hear that Matthew and ClassicsToday are as turned off by the McCreesh SMP as I am. The next question has to be "Why does the British musical press so consistently laud such bland performances and why do they seem, on the whole, to detest more expressive ones?"

I think there are some cultural imperatives, such as the pathological avoidance of "bad taste" and "vulgarity" in musical performance by many British artists, at work here. <<
It could have to do with characteristics which are often attributed to the British, like the "stiff upper lip" and the "tongue in cheek". There is always the danger of generalisation and even insult, but I would say that generally speaking the British are afraid or unable to show emotions in public. I have read somewhere that some people atribute these characteristics to the education in British boarding schools, where restraint is the first commandment.

>>If somebody can point me to the document in which a British HIP musician decries the general lack of gestural expressivity and calls for greater intensity in HIP performance, I will eat my hat.<<
I'm afraid you have to eat your hat. I can remember several remarks by McCreesh - of all people - in interviews complaining about a lack of expressiveness in British performances. He will believe - of course - that his recording of SMP is erxpressive. I haven't heard it yet, so I can't tell whether the critics are right or wrong, but I was very disappointed by McCreesh's recordings of Bach's Magnificat and Easter Oratorio. On the other hand, the Epiphany Mass was a lot better.

< Otherwise, I stand by impressions I have formed by listening, literally, to thousands of HIP recordings made in Great Britain. Their dominance of the HIP recording industry has led to a flattening out of the expressive potential of early music, plain and simple. >
There are so many groups and musicians from Italy these days that I don't think that dominance still exists. It could seem that way because the British record on the major labels, whereas Italian ensembles often appear on smaller (Italian) labels which are not easily available everywhere.

Charles Francis wrote (May 2, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: I'm afraid you have to eat your hat. I can remember several remarks by McCreesh - of all people - in interviews complaining about a lack of expressiveness in British performances. He will believe - of course - that his recording of SMP is erxpressive. I haven't heard it yet, so I can't tell whether the critics are right or wrong, but I was very disappointed by McCreesh's recordings of Bach's Magnificat and Easter Oratorio. On the other hand, the Epiphany Mass was a lot better. >
The McCreesh SMP is very dramatic, well sung, but insensitive to the text - corrupting the 'affekt'. But its pleasant enough to listen to, very high quality elevator music, and certainly something for opera lovers meeting Bach for the first time.

BTW, I agree with your characterisation of the Epiphany Mass versus the Magnificat / Easter Oratorio.

Peter Bright wrote (May 3, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: It could have to do with characteristics which are often attributed to the British, like the "stiff upper lip" and the "tongue in cheek". There is always the danger of generalisation and even insult, but I would say that generally speaking the British are afraid or unable to show emotions in public. I have read somewhere that some people atribute these characteristics to the education in British boarding schools, where restraint is the first commandment. >
What on Earth are you talking about? Your point is bollocks, pure and simple. Like most other Europeans, I can think of demeaning well known generalisations about other European nationalities, be they Dutch, French Irish, German etc. Please note that I choose not to make such prejudiced remarks as you do, not because I am unable to show emotions, but because it is unnecessary, misinformed and smacks of ignorance.

Gene Hanson wrote (May 3, 2003):
< Brad B. wrote: I am particularly heartened to hear that Matthew and ClassicsToday are as turned off by the McCreesh SMP as I am. The next question has to be "Why does the British musical press so consistently laud such bland performances and why do they seem, on the whole, to detest more expressive ones?"

I think there are some cultural imperatives, such as the pathological avoidance of "bad taste" and "vulgarity" in musical performance by many British artists, at work here. >
I agree. I used to use the Penguin Guide quite often, but I found many of their recommendations too bland, and they are definitely biased in favor of English orchestras and prejudiced against American orchestras. Where I do find the Penguin Guide useful in in steering me away from bad performances (which I occasionally purchased through record clubs, much to my disappointment), and usually their rosette selections are pretty much on the mark.

< If somebody can point me to the document in which a British HIP musician decries the general lack of gestural expressivity and calls for greater intensity in HIP performance, I will eat my hat.

Otherwise, I stand by impressions I have formed by listening, literally, to thousands of HIP recordings made in Great Britain. Their dominance of the HIP recording industry has led to a flattening out of the expressive potential of early music, plain and simple. >
I think you're probably correct here too. Indeed, the performances sometimes seem prissy. On the other hand, there are some fine performances by modern Englich orchestras. So maybe it is partly inherent in HIP performances, because of the nature of the instruments compared to modern instruments.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 3, 2003):
< It could have to do with characteristics which are often attributed to the British, like the "stiff upper lip" and the "tongue in cheek". There is always the danger of generalisation and even insult, but I would say that generally speaking the British are afraid or unable to show emotions in public. I have read somewhere that some people atribute these characteristics to the education in British boarding schools, where restraint is the first commandment. >
While this is rather discriminatory, it also has nothing to do with my displeasure of the recording. It definitely has nothing to do with being HIP, and to a lesser extent, has nothing much to do with being OVPP (at least consciously, but I can't be sure of my subconscious here). Again, it just doesn't do it for me. Plain and simple. I can't specifically say why, except for it being quite bland, which readoesn't explain my reason for not liking it. However, the same cannot be said (i.e. bland, or "doesn't do it for me") for most, if not all other HIP recordings I've heard (I haven't heard much Harnoncourt), and even for some OVPP recordings. I've mentioned before that I especially love the Parrot recordings of BWV 232, BWV 244, BWV 11 and BWV 249 from the Virgin Black Box series. I just think McCreesh's direction in this case doesn't move me the way that most other recordings, especially HIP (or rather, my "HII" idea) ones, which definitely include McCreesh recordings. His Purcell Ode to St. Cecilia and Biber Missa Salisburgensis are splendid, beautiful recordings.


Jack Botelho wrote (May 3, 2003):
[To Gene Hanson & Johan van Veen] So delicately stated on a subject so prone to emotional explosion. Superb! Thanks for this!

Gene Hanson wrote (May 3, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: It could have to do with characteristics which are often attributed to the British, like the "stiff upper lip" and the "tongue in cheek". There is always the danger of generalisation and even insult, but I would say that generally speaking the British are afraid or unable to show emotions in public. I have read somewhere that some people atribute these characteristics to the education in British boarding schools, where restraint is the first commandment. >
You might be interested in reading E.M. Forster's essay, Notes on the English Character.

Gene Hanson wrote (May 3, 2003):
[To Peter Bright] I don't know about that. There is some validity to national stereotypes. There is a delightfully amusing passage in War and Peace about this. Also, consider the difference between Heaven and Hell: In Heaven, the police are English, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, and the mechanics are German. In Hell, the police are French, the cooks are English, the lovers are German, and the mechanics are Italian.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 3, 2003):
[To Peter Bright] I don't see any reason to get upset. I am fully aware of the fact that any typification of a 'national character' is potentially dangerous and insulting - like I said before I gave my typification. But if there is the opinion that representatives of a nation share certain characteristics - like in this case the tendency to prefer 'bland performances' - there is nothing wrong with trying to find out why that is the case.

It strikes me that characteristics like 'stiff upper lip' and 'tongue in cheek' are considered insulting. In fact, being a huge Anglophile myself ever since I went to Britain for the first time as a teenager, I consider these qualities admirable under many circumstances. Often the British are said to have a great sense of humour. That is a generalisation as well, as there will be exceptions to that rule. But that generalisation is never seen as an insult. So it seems whether some characteristics are considered an insult depends on whether people consider the mentioned qualities 'good' or 'bad'.

I could perhaps add something to what I said before. British tend to take themselves not too seriously. In fact, one often wonders if there is anything they take totally seriously. Is that bad? That depends. This attitude, which is a generalisation as well, is often like a breath of fresh air, if one compares it with the habit of Germans to take themselves very seriously all the time. That is another generalisation, which is shared by many Germans BTW. And most Germans agree with the general opinion here - where people can watch both German and British TV - that German comedy series are generally very unfunny, in contrast to British comedy series, which are very popular over here. And many Germans agree that their comedy series are not very funny most of the time.

I sincerely believe that the differences between German and British music have to do with the differences in 'national character'. The Germans tend to be very serious, philosophical and profound. In that respect Bach is a very German composer. But then take Purcell: often audience start laughing during the choruses of the witches in Dido and Aeneas. One wouldn't expect something to laugh in a tragic story, so me immediate reaction is: they simply don't understand what's going on. But: Purcell is British, so one can never exclude the possibility that this is meant to be funny - with the British you never know...

Where do these differences come from? All kinds of things, I suppose: history, culture, language, religion etc.

Returning to the tendency to preferring 'bland performances': the British themselves wouldn't call these performances 'bland' of course. So the typification of these recordings as 'bland' tells something about the user of the term as well. Nevertheless, even when people disagree about whether a recording is 'bland' or not, they more or less know what kind of recordings are meant. The question remains: why do the British - generally speaking - tend to prefer that kind of performances? I just tried to mention a couple of factors that could explain that preference. I don't see what's so bad about that.

And if you want to give some generalisations of the Dutch, go ahead ... I don't care.

Peter Bright wrote (May 3, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: It could have to do with characteristics which are often attributed to the British, like the "stiff upper lip" and the "tongue in cheek". There is always the danger of generalisation and even insult, but I would say that generally speaking the British are afraid or unable to show emotions in public. I have read somewhere that some people atribute these characteristics to the education in British boarding schools, where restraint is the first commandment. >
I now realise I was laying it on a bit strong. But I still stand by my feeling that generalisations about the personality of particular nationalities are generally unhelpful and almost always wrong. For example, in my small research group in Cambridge we have one Dutch, one Greek, one Canadian, one Croatian, one Portuguese, one South African, one American, one Italian, one Japanese and four British researchers. The subject of national stereotypes recently came up while we were in the pub (a common situation here...), and everyone agreed that the idea of British being too reserved, the French being arrogant, the Germans being authoritarian etc. etc. should all be resigned to the dustbin. They are simply not true and can lead to dangerous opinions about race, culture, national identity, etc.

With respect to music, you are right, I don't believe that the British are too reserved in performance because I don't believe the fundamental basis of the argument: that there are such sweeping national differences in personality. This is totally different to the standard of cultural practices such as cookery and wine making (my preference is French and Italian), movie making (my preference is British and American independent), literature (I favour British, Czech and Russian), etc. But I don't believe
that these cultural strengths and weaknesses reflect personality differences beyond having to adhere to the current political climate. Otherwise, we could class the Central and Eastern European character during the Communist era as somehow being different to Western European character - I can only see such labels as demeaning.

With respect to the British "stiff upper lip", whether a positive or negative trait, the general consensus among my friends is that such a perception existed through the 1930s and up to the late 1950s but has long since faded as the country has become more integrated, both with the rest of Europe and beyond.

Taking the subject of music once more, if we turn to rock music, I don't think the British style could possibly be though of as less expressive or more reserved than the European counterpart (true from Beatles and Stones, through the Clash and the Sex Pistols to Radiohead and beyond). In classical music I really can't say because I don't consider such issues - like most people I don't spend much time considering the nationality of the conducter or the ensemble. There are conducters try to preserve the German tradition of German music (whatever that is taken to be at present) and those who don't, there are those that favour a more experimental approach and those who don't, those that may appear to conduct in a very reverential manner and those who throw caution to the wind. Throw these variables into a factor analysis along with nationalities and I don't think they will form particularly meaningful clusters....

Bob Henderson wrote (May 3, 2003):
Dear friends, I thought we had done away with national stereotyping a long time ago. Different cultures have produced artifacts which others can enjoy. But all Frenchmen (and women) are not good cooks. I recently attended a concent in Boston where before the performance Christoph Wolff pointed out that we were hearing Lutheran music in a Catholic church performed by Japanese forces. The soloists were Dutch, German, British and Japanese. What of Suzuki? Is there anything "Japanese" in his Bach? A friend pointed out, upon my complaining of the slow pace of his cantata releases, that a slower pace might indeed be more associated with Eastern culture.....An English friend has told me that there was a time (his youth) when to grow up in England was to grow up singing in a chorus. Thus the great choral tradition and the great choruses of the English people. But many Englishman cannot sing. Cultural artifacts provide opportunities within culture. They do not apply to individual personality nor determine group behavior.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 3, 2003):
Bob Henderson wrote: >>>What of Suzuki? Is there anything "Japanese" in his Bach? <<<
Stereotypes are always generalisations, so it isn't that difficult to mention exceptions to the rule. And sometimes other characteristics, like someone's knowledge of a foreign culture or commitment to a religious conviction, can be stronger than someone's 'national heritage'.

But I believe there is something Japanese in Suzuki's performances. It is often said that Japanese musicians are technically perfect but lack emotion and passion. From my own experience I tend to agree with that judgement (it doesn't mean that there are no exceptions, of course). And as much as I admire the technical brilliance of Suzuki's performances, in my view they do lack passion and emotion. I am just never moved by anything I have heard from Suzuki so far.

Peter Bright wrote (May 3, 2003):
< Bob Henderson wrote: Cultural artifacts provide opportunities within culture. They do not apply to individual personality nor determine group behavior. >
Thanks Bob - this was one of the points I attempted to make but you have done so with far greater clarity than I did.

Back to Bach and speaking of Suzuki, I notice that volume 21 of the Cantata series has just been released (in the UK at least). Has anyone heard this yet? Comments? I know that Piotr Jaworski has got it. Come on Piotr - what's it like???

Steven Guy wrote (Maay 4, 2003):
It strikes me that there are some rather dull recordings from all sorts of places - some HIP, and some from the modern crowd. Here are some recordings and my reactions to them -

Psalmen Davids by Schütz - Cantus Cölln & Concerto Palatino - dull and polite
Psalmen Davids by Schütz - The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge & His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts - exciting and dynamic.
Vespro della Beata Vergine by Monteverdi - Les Arts Florissants / William Christie - routine and meagre
Vespro della Beata Vergine by Monteverdi - Monteverdi Choir / His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts / English Baroque Soloists / J. E. Gardiner - exciting, expressive and magnificent
Mass in B minor (BWV 232) by Bach - Chorus & Orchestra of Collegium Vocale / Philippe Herreweghe - routine and uninspired (the 1989 recording – the later Herreweghe recording was a vast improvement)
Mass in B minor (BWV 232) by Bach - Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists / J. E. Gardiner - exciting and expressive.
Song by John Dowland - sung by Andreas Scholl - unconvincing, in my opinion.
German Baroque cantatas - sung by Andreas Scholl - overwhelmingly moving and exciting.
Händel - Opera arias - sung by David Daniels - very exciting and expressive.

In addition to these I would like to suggest that many non-HIP recordings of Baroque music I've heard are very dull indeed. Karl Richter's Kapellmeister-ish recordings of Bach seem very dull and inflexible to me! His B minor Mass (BWV 232) is either too loud or too maudlin and sentimental. I Musici and I Solisti Veneti used to play Vivaldi, Albinoni and Corelli in a very prosaic way - one could easily believe the accusation that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto six hundred times. Yet many modern orchestras have learned from the early music movement and now play this music in a much more imaginative and historically informed way. I doubt that I will ever bother with Bach played on the modern piano - in spite of all the pro & con arguments. Steinways and the 18th century just don't mix in my book. Mind you, I wouldn't want to hear Messiaen's piano music played on a harpsichord either! There are early music groups I don't care for - the Tallis Scholars come to mind. I find their recordings very pretty and polite but lacking in passion. Their recording of Brumel's Missa et ecce terræ motus conjures up little more than a polite burp rather than an earthquake! - at least in my opinion! We know that Lassus performed this work with around fifty singers - possibly with trombones and cornetts playing along with the voices! The recent Concerto Vocale / René Jacobs recording of Monteverdi's Il ottavo libro de madrigali is possibly a little too expressive at times! One of the European tenors sounds like he is on speed or steroids! It is a good recording but it seems to be trying too hard in places.

I'd like to know what the stereotype Australian performance is supposed to be like!

There are good and bad recordings from many countries. It is just as silly to say that English HIP recordings and performances and dull and staid as it is to suggest that English non-HIP recordings and performances are prosaic and overly polite.

I'll shut up again now!

Bart O'Brien [Stolzel] wrote (May 11, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] Well they write rather long emails. (Just my little joke. Or is it?)

Gene Hanson wrote (May 11, 2003):
[To Bart O’Brien] No.


Upper Lip Stiffness

Brad B. wrote (May 4, 2003):
I hasten to point out that my point about British HIP stiffness (which sounds like it is located mostly in upper lips and never in parts south) was made on the basis of extensive listening to British HIP recordings, not on crude anti-British sentiment. I do feel one should try to explain the general aversion to gestural expressivity among HIP Brits in order better to understand it. Other questions asked from a nationalist perspective are also interesting. For example, why did Germany produce so many DGG thumpers who insisted on rigidity in early music performance and then spontaneously spawn Reihard Goebel, one of the most gesturally expressive musicians I have ever heard? Why did the Italians enter the HIP movement so late? Why are their efforts, which accord so much better with 17th and 18th descriptions of gestural expressivity in music performance of the day, often brushed off with scornful, tongue-clicking epithets such as "so modern" or "so vulgar?" These are the terms that I have heard many Brits use to describe Il Giardino Armonico. Why is it that I have never heard an Italian musician use such wilting sarcasm with respect to gestural expressivity?

One more question, which has already been asked, but deserves amplification. Why is it that the British theatrical scene and the British main-stream musical scene are so vivacious and expressive, when the HIP scene seems like such a cold fish? No anti-British sentiment there. Just an honest question based on a certain resentment I feel, having spent thousands of dollars on British HIP recordings I played once or twice and then filed away out of sheer boredom.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 4, 2003):
Brad B. wrote: < Why is it that the British theatrical scene and the British main-stream musical scene so vivacious and expressive, when the HIP scene seems like such a cold fish? >
B
ecause that my friend, is you personal opinion, and as you know not shared by myself and possibly others. However, I guess I'll finally relent to myself and admit that your opinion is just as valid (I guess a small error on my part for failing to do so-sorry!) as mine is.


SCRATCHY violins

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 7, 2003):
I see that my opinion about the sound of some of the HIP orchestras created some stir so here is my answer to all of you who were offended by my comments. I never used any names and never said that any baroque violin soloist is bad. Quite the contrary - I am a great fan of chamber music recordings made with original instruments and you can't be closer to the sound of violins than that (well, solo violin music which i am not very fond of - just a personal taste). What I was referring to was a general sound of some HIP orchestras - none in particular (though i will give a few examples in a moment) so please don't misinterpret my words.

I still think that the 'out of tune' and 'scratchy' sound of violins in many orchestras is one of the main reasons I can't listen to them. My example #1 is Musica Antiqua Koeln whose sound is aggressive and rough and the violins sound often as if they were played by amateurs. I simply can't listen to this but i made an effort last night and listened to some of my MAK recordings (Bachiana II and two von Otter's recitals. I have some other Bach stuff but I wasn't in a mood for more suffering). McCreesh's orchestra is quite unbearable too. Other groups are Minkowski's Musiciens du Louvre who struck me as terribly amateurish when I heard them in NYC a year ago playing Bach, Händel and Rameau (I didn't stay for Rameau - my ears had enough). I love some of their recordings though (mostly French stuff).

I wonder why I don't hear the HIP sound in Gardiner's EBS, in Concerto Köln and a few other - also quite young - ensembles? It is not the instruments that make the out-of tune noise then but the way you play them. I am sure it has much to do with the esthetic views of the conductor but also with the level of the players. I do not play the violin but i know that it is a very tricky instrument and it is easy to make it sound awful. But some people apparently like this sound. I don't....


Authenticity and "Authenticity"

Brad B. wrote (May 7, 2003):
"Well, that would mean that the Swingle Singers and Wendy Carlos perform Bach 'authentically'?"
Yes, exactly! On two counts: 1) as Taruskin has pointed out, authenticity lies also in performances that fully enter into the spirit of the music through fully-owned performances, even though they may violate the letter of the law, and 2) the kind of rhythmic swing and gestural expressivity embodied by the Swinglers and Walter/Wendy brings them, in my mind, a good deal closer to Bach performance practice than those who perform with dead rhythm and no palpable sense of gesture on the "correct" instruments.

I loved the old Sol Babbitz illustration of Bach's portrait with a sewing machine stitching right across poor J.S.B's face, bearing the caption "No Sewing Machine!" OK, I know all of you will scream in unison that I am totally out of touch and that no major Bach performer plays that way any more. But know that I hear dead rhythm and zero sense of gesture from "world famous" harpsichordists all the time.


Are these HIP characteristics?

Neil Halliday wrote (May 15, 2003):
Recently I heard Cafe Zimmermann on stereo radio performing Bach's Concerto for Oboe d'amore (Allegro), but I turned it off before the finish. Why?

The extremely short staccato in the writing for upper strings "broke the spell of the music" as Tom put it. I cannot think of any baroque music played on modern strings that shows this characteristic, or which I react to in a similar way (ie, turn it off). Is this extremely short staccato from the violins not a HIP characteristic, which can be heard in many period ensemble performances?

OTOH, I heard the Duet from BWV 78 ("We hasten with weak but eager steps..") performed by Joshua Rifkin and the Bach Ensemble, with Julianne Baird, soprano, and Allan Fast, alto.

This was an enchanting and captivating rendition; my only previous exposure to this movement was Richter's version, with which I have never been happy.

This duet is scored for the 2 vocalists, organ, cello, and pizzicato violone, but in Richter's recording, the 2 stringed instruments are drowned out by a loud organ playing the bass eighth notes all in an equally detached manner.

With Rifkin, I heard the lovely effect of the pizzicato violone (quarter notes), which underpinned the well-phrased eighth notes on the cello. The organ generally played legato, quietly and in good balance with the whole ensemble. (The organ has no new harmony to add to the other performers' parts). The two versions have the same tempo.

So I would say: "Here is a charming HIP version" of this movement, much better than the only 'non-HIP' version I know.

Where is the prejudice in the use of these terms?

Generally, the major problem I have with HIP is a 'weakness' along with articulation such as < >, and short staccato in the upper strings; if the strings don't feature, as in the two beautiful arias in BWV 115, I greatly enjoy Harnoncourt's HIP performance, for example. Another astounding HIP example is Andrew Manze with the Academy of Ancient Music playing the last movement of Bach's A minor violin concerto; here the strings have a degree of vigour amd power which I never heard when this ensemble was presided over by its previous director (who was he? Trevor Pinnock?).

I don't like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing Haydn symphonies, where the period strings and articulation tend to produce a chamber music sound, rather than a full symphonic sound, which Haydn responds to so well. I don't like forte-piano versions of Mozart's piano concertos (early piano technology); I don't like shortened notes in the secco recitatives; nor the staccato dotted notes and uniformly fast tempos, from the period ensembles, in the French overture style, so dramatically shown in the BWV 119 examples, in which I listed the timings in a previous post.

I do attempt to always refer to the particular characteristic I dislike, if using the terms HIP, or non-HIP; I have no objection to people listings their particular dislikes to characteristics of non-HIP - it boils down to expressing an opinion.

I do want to see a continuous search for better and better recordings of Bach's music on modern instruments, and presume those who like period instruments wish for new and better recordings. Sometimes listeners will equally admire the the results from both 'traditions'.

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday]
1. The Richter version does not have a loud organ part. The organ NEVER covers the two ladies singing. This was a Leipzig tradition:to add an organ line with an independant melody. If you hear Kantor Mauersberger version you will note the same improvisation.
2.Rifkin has another focus that I like too...

Both are valid musical interpretation of this dueto.

OBOE CONCERTO:
Please give me the BWV number of this piece.Then I can answer you, based on what you tell me. NOne...

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 15, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: Recently I heard Cafe Zimmermann on stereo radio performing Bach's Concerto for Oboe d'amore (Allegro), but I turned it off before the finish. Why?
The extremely short staccato in the writing for upper strings "broke the spell of the music" as Tom put it. I cannot think of any baroque music played on modern strings that shows this characteristic, or which I react to in a similar way (ie, turn it off). Is this extremely short staccato from the violins not a HIP characteristic, which can be heard in many period ensemble performances? >
When was the last time you listened to the Britten/ECO recording of the Brandenburgs (1969), or Marriner in any of the Bach/Vivaldi/Händel orchestral w, or Karl Richter in the Brandenburgs/suites/harpsichord concertos? In those recordings, everybody's playing almost all of the notes short. Chop, chop, saw, saw, chop, chop, toot, toot, all the notes the same. It was a popular and "standard" thing to do in the 1950s-70s in 18th century music played on modern instruments, as a default sound....

=====

If you're talking about the oboe d'amore concerto reconstructed from the harpsichord concerto in A major, BWV 1055: check out this recording on modern instruments by Lorenz and Guttler: http://shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921517264
That's my favorite recording of this piece on any instruments!

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] That is what I said is a reconstruction... No BWV number, so do not get upset for the melodic line or stacatos or legatos...It is a different way of doing it. All valid but I understand you have your taste and preference. Thanks.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 16, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] You said: "The Richter version does not have a loud organ part.
The organ NEVER covers the two ladies singing."
In fact, I decided the organ part was too loud only after hearing the Rifkin. You are correct - I should have said something like: "Richter gives us a conception in which the organ plays a major role, while Rifkin gives a performance in which we hear more orchestral detail from the stringed instruments. Richter's version sounds mono-chromatic (one-colour) in comparison with Rifkin."

It's a complex 'art', this business of music criticism. Thanks for your comments.

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 16, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Richter adds one intrument to the ensemble, adds color too.It is not needed but makes it more orchestral if you like the word.Kantor Mauersberger is a little agressive if you like but still sounds like an organ obligato piece. Listen to the cantata BWV 169: Gott soll mein Herze haben (God will have my heart). It is a cantata for organ obligato (not very common, there are only a few,I do not remember the others) Richter did not record this one but other's did and it sounds really beautifull we have arias were you can take the organ out and still be beautiful, so Bach added the organ to make it better, let us say....

Listen please to this cantata even the few bars. The first movement is the first movement of a cembalo concerto...played on the organ of course.... After you listen to this BWV 169 give me your review.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantata BWV 169 - Discussions

Neil Halliday wrote (May 16, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, you wrote (of pre 1970's baroque orchestral 'modern instrument' recordings):
"In those recordings, everybody's playing almost all of the notes short. Chop, chop, saw, saw, chop, chop, toot, toot, all the notes the same."
I think the main clue here is in the words "all the notes the same".

I was listening to Marriner's recording of Händel's Concertos for Wind and Strings Opus 4, and, yes, plenty of detached notes occur throughout the score, but what you call "all the notes the same", I perceive as a 'no nonsense' rendition of the score, which enables easy comprehension and enjoyment of the musical genius inherent in
the score. Marriner's violin playing is beautifully phrased, has little vibrato, (a cause of complaint, re modern violin playing, for many people, especially lovers of HIP) and is well-balanced with the other instruments. There is none of the distraction caused by a < and >, on period strings of 'sharp timbre'.

In any case, we are certainly agreed that there IS a difference in the two stylistic postulates (HIP and non-HIP) which we are discussing.

It's not easy to judge Amazon samples, but I can see the variety in the articulation (pointed contrast between stressed and unstressed notes) which would appeal to you, in this reconstructed Oboe d'amore Concerto in A (Allegro), recorded by Lorenz and Guttler. As to how much I would enjoy it on my good sound system (not the computer), I find it difficult to say. (Naturally, I do not regard all modern instrument recordings with equal enthusiasm).

I, and others I'm sure, would be interested in your views of, for example, Harnoncourt's BWV 119. I have lamented Herreweghe's detached/staccato approach (which I labelled 'HIP') to the dotted notes - do you take it as a given that this is the only 'correct' way to perform the dotted rythmn sections?

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (May 19, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: Chop, chop, saw, saw, chop, chop, toot, toot, all the notes the same. It was a popular and "standard" thing to do in the 1950s-70s in 18th century music played on modern instruments, as a default sound.... <
Could you explain how this would not be a prejudice, unlike Thomas Braatz's inquisitions against what he calls the "Harnoncourt Doctrine"?

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer]Yes Alex

What about Prof. Helmut Walcha he called him a typist...

I think that ...

Better not to tell you

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] For context, here's the paragraph from which that quote originated:

"When was the last time you listened to the Britten/ECO recording of the Brandenburgs (1969), or Marriner in any of the Bach/Vivaldi/Handel orchestral works, or Karl Richter in the Brandenburgs/suites/harpsichord concertos? In those recordings, everybody's playing almost all of the notes short. Chop, chop, saw, saw, chop, chop, toot, toot, all the notes the same. It was a popular and "standard" thing to do in the 1950s-70s in 18th century music played on modern instruments, as a default sound...."

Alex, go listen to those same recordings, if you care to, and tell us how YOU would describe the articulation the performers used.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] It was an oblique reference to the movie "Throw Momma From the Train": a teacher of creative writing evaluates someone's unimaginative work by admonishing, "This isn't writing, it's typing!"

That's how I feel about Walcha's recording of the WTC. It strikes me as a wooden unimaginative non-interpretation, and it suggests to me that Walcha did not understand the harpsichord at all. I spent another half hour on it a few days ago, giving it one more chance, but hated it. Get over it. If you like it, and want to spend your money and your time on it, fine. Nobody's stopping you.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Remember the 'momma' figured out the word for the creative teacher's first line: the night was 'sultry'! (lol) Yes, I find Walch a bit wooden myself, but I attributed his extreme metronome type playing from blindness. I did like the works he picked from Bach's opus and his use of stops.


HIP, nonHIP and authentic

Dick Wursten wrote (May 19, 2003):
Good old Albert Schweitzer not only was a medical doctor, organist, Bach-specialist, he also was a academic theologian. He wrote a major book about the "history of (re)search for the 'real life of Jesus'" (Geschichte der Leben Jesu Forschung).

In this book he showes convincingly that the very popular hobby of writing books like: "the real life of Jesus" or: "the real Jesus" or "Did Jesus think he was Christ?" etc.. from a scientific point of view was not to be taken serious, because those questions can never be answered in a way that you can say: this is the once for all objectively and independently established truth. Why not ? Because we know too little facts and we are too strongly involved in the matter.

Schweitzer proved his point by showing that alle authors ended up with an image of the historical Jesus which reflected exactly their philosophical, theological, ecclesiastical and existential views. This was true for both the conservative christian and the anti-clerical atheist who wrote about the subject.

They found what they were looking for.Schweitzer concluded that this branch of theo-historresearch had to be closed or that the authors should publish their studies as 'novels' in the category fiction.

In the discussion about Hip, hipper, hipst I many times thought: Oh Albert, were you only there to write another book: 'The history of the search for the historical Bachperformance'. I'm sure he would develop his thoughts about this matter along the same lines. The past cannot be grasped by the present, exactly because it is/has passed.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 19, 2003):
Dick pondered: "Oh Albert, were you only there to write another book: 'The history of the search for the historical Bach performance'. I'm sure he would develop his thoughts about this matter along the same lines. The past cannot be grasped by the present, exactly because it is/has passed."
I've always thought that Bach's musical 'vision', which is infinite, is the significant factor; the finite machines (instruments) used to realize this vision are of secondary importance. This is why a quasi-religious devotion to the exact 'authentic' instruments and styles used in the 18th century is misguided - rather, a commitment to Bach's vision should be the guiding factor.

I have just purchased Rilling's CD of BWV 91 - 93; it's wonderful to hear the sound of modern instruments in these works - even the recitatives are musical.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 19, 2003):
Dick Wursten stated: >>The past cannot be grasped by the present, exactly because it is/has passed.<<
Goethe stated a similar thought in his “Faust”:

Wagner:

Verzeiht! Es ist ein groß Ergetzen,
Sich in den Geist der Zeiten zu versetzen….

[Excuse me, but there is great pleasure to be derived from imagining yourself as part of the spirit that existed in the past (and thinking that you can feel and understand what it was like back then)….]

Faust:

Mein Freund, die Zeiten der Vergangenheit
Sind uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln.
Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heißt,
Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist,
In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln.

[My friend, the times of the past are for us a book of seven seals. That which you call the ‘Spirit of the Times’ is in reality only your own (current) spirit in which the times of the past are being reflected.]

Schweitzer was definitely influenced by thoughts such as these! Yet, in his major published work on Bach, Schweitzer did attempt to reverse the course (and excesses) of Romanticism. Among other things, he was the recognized father of the now much maligned "Orgelbewegung," a movement toward returning to building organs as they were in Bach's time (and also returning some existing organs to what they were like before they were modified to suit romantic tastes.)

So it appears that Goethe and Schweitzer (on his real life of Christ research) are sending necessary warning signals that we should not allow our present-day arrogant views color our understanding of the past. It does not prevent us from engaging in historical research, it only warns us of the dangers that easily present themselves when we think we have 'a lock' on what people in an earlier period really thought and felt (for instance, how the members of the congregation attending the Leipzig church services might be 'bored out of their minds' if Bach did not dream up wildly dramatic 'gestures' to wake them up out of their stupor.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: (...) So it appears that Goethe and Schweitzer (on his real life of Christ research) are sending necessary warning signals that we should not allow our present-day arrogant views color our understanding of the past. It does not prevent us from engaging in historical research, it only warns us of the dangers that easily present themselves when we think we have 'a lock' on what people in an earlier period really thought and felt (for instance, how the members of the congregation attending the Leipzig church services might be 'bored out of their minds' if Bach did not dream up wildly dramatic 'gestures' to wake them up out of their stupor.) >
There are also dangers when people make arrogant assumptions about authenticity, and arrogant assumptions about what the performers are trying to accomplish.

Look. I really don't care very much about how the people in Leipzig c1730 thought and felt; they are dead. I don't care to try to reproduce the sounds they heard, either, other than as a rather morbid museum curiosity. We live in a different time, a different place, and all those people are dead. The past is gone. If they were bored, that's their problem. If they were moved to ecstasy, good for them. Nifty. But they're still dead now.

I'm saying, and have been saying all along: when we perform this music today it needs the clear gestures if it is to get through to people who are not sitting there with scores and libretti, that is, ordinary people. (And it also gets through better to people who DO have the scores and libretti, nudging them to listen with their ears first rather than their eyes.) If we want the music to sound 'alive' and relevant today, it must be put across vividly...vividly, 'alive', with attentiveness to the gestures that are in the music, rather than downplaying them (making them too subtle). Vif, life. The musical term vivace does not mean "fast," it means "lively," with life. The music comes across as a living thing, happening right there in the moment. All music of consequence is vivace whether the composer has troubled to say so or not. Even the music that is adagio ("at ease") must still be alive, vivace; a relaxed person or animal is still breathing and moving. The music is alive, and the listener responds to it with attention, as if it were a person or animal right there in the room. Animal, anima, life, with a soul. A piece of music is a living thing. Living things move and breathe and are flexible and irregular and they react to stimuli. Dead things are ossified, stiff, frozen in time, unchanging, unresponsive. They have no dynamics: they don't move. Things in museums, if they were ever alive, are definitely dead now.

Historical research (in performance practice, music theory, composition, organology, biography, aesthetics, ...) is of value insofar as it suggests expressive possibilities that may not have occurred to the performers otherwise. It gives the performers a bigger toolkit of imagination to work with, and a broader selection of materials, and a more useful collection of instruction booklets. Performers are not REQUIRED to use those particular tools or ideas, the ones contemporary with the work; but the selection of those tools and the appropriate instructions often make the task of communicating the work considerably easier.

Things are easiest to build when the appropriate materials and tools are used, and when the instructions (if available) are followed, and when the finished product is supposed to serve some clear function; and best results are obtained when the builder works with the materials/tools/instructions with experience and creativity to fit the given situation, exactly. Everybody knows that. Every situation is different, and the builder must be flexible enough to adapt to the requirements, if the work is to fulfill its function. Everybody knows that. It doesn't change if we're building music, as opposed to putting together a set of shelves.

Something "authentic" speaks to us today. Something "authentic" speaks to us TODAY. It is authentic for TODAY's people. Something authentic gives people a real experience, moves them, gives them something memorable to take home. Hardware and style are merely ways to get there. Something "authentic" speaks to us TODAY. Authenticity is not dusting off some projected museum idea of how work W sounded to person X in year Y sitting in location Z, and handing it to somebody else. That's not authenticity, it's fossilization; and it's idolatry, an assumption that the work is somehow "better" if perceived under its original conditions (which is impossible, anyway).

Authenticity is: the work has something in it that is relevant to us, and the performer has helped us to perceive that "something". We are moved by the high quality of the work,and by its message. We are moved by something that is alive in the room with us. Call it spiritual, call it metaphysical, call it whatever: the music is a living thing, and if it's authentic we are compelled to care about it.

When a performer does only a half-assed job, not sufficiently projecting the features THAT ARE IN THE MUSIC, the features that bring it to life, the features that distinguish it from all other works and all other moments, the features that raise it above the generic...it moves only the people who already know the piece, or who believe they do, anyway.

This is not about a performer showing off, drawing attention to himself/herself; it is about putting across the music as vividly and as selflessly as possible, getting the listener to focus on how moving the work itself is. The thing that should impress us is the wonderment at the work itself; not the composer's reputation, or the composer's cleverness, or the performer's reputation, or the performer's cleverness, or anyone's diligence.

In a performance that is adequate or better, THE WORK makes an impact, moves people, presents itself as a living thing. Anything less than that is (in my opinion) just a bad performance, or perhaps a work that does not offer many relevant possibilities, or both...a work and/or a performance that have little of authentic relevance to say. They are dead. Stick them into the garbage can, or flush them down the toilet like a dead goldfish, or bury them, or feed them to some other living being, or put them on display in a museum if you care to, but they are dead. Dead things are not interactive. It takes quite a spectacular museum presentation to make a dead thing seem interesting. Would a three-year-old rather go to the petting zoo, or a museum? The zoo, of course, because everything is alive and interactive, right there. Three-year-olds know what moves them: reality. Life. If a performance of music can't sustain the attention of a three-year-old, even for 30 consecutive seconds, something is wrong. Such music might be pretty, but it's dead.

Some performers dodge this responsibility by thinking they really are nothing more than museum docents. And some listeners might assume there's nothing more to performing than that, just keeping things tidy and dusted off and giving a small bit of explanation to the curious. And some listeners can see only the performer (or the composer), and be either so gaga or so annoyed that they miss the work. Some performers have no clue how to care for and groom and keep alive a living thing. Some performers have no clue how to put the music on the center of the stage, instead of themselves. And some listeners (the kind who have forgotten what it's like to be three years old) wouldn't know how to react to a living piece of music even if it bit them in the ass; they'd just be bewildered that it went against their expectations, and stand there stunned.

The music, if it's of any relevant value, if it still has some life in it, deserves the best presentation and reception that are feasible: vividness that is immediately apparent, and listeners who are engaged by and responding to every moment. When it's going well, there is no chance of the mind wandering; everybody is right there, marveling at how the nice horsey (er, I mean, the music) is licking someone's hand, or eating, or taking a crap, or walking around, or whatever: every move is fascinating. It's alive. It's moving under its own power. It's real. It's wonderful. It's thrilling, even when it's just standing there looking elegant and gently breathing, for the moment. It's alive. Or if the music is already dead, stop trying to flog the life back into it, it ain't gonna happen.

Charles Francis wrote (May 19, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: I have just purchased Rilling's CD of BWV 91 - 93; it's wonderful to hear the sound of modern instruments in these works - even the recitatives are musical. >
Controversially, Rilling performs recitatives as Bach scored them. This may explain their musicality.



Continue on Part 10


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