May 6, 2013 at 3:07 PMThe repertoire of the 17th and 18th century contains some of the most magnificent, exhilerating and ravishing music ever written, yet, it is roped off to modern players. I LOVE playing on period instruments, but I LOVE the music more, and as in all repertoire, the instrument doesn't play the music, YOU do. An honest look at this music, free of superficial gimmicks, will open you up as a musician and player in ways you can not even imagine. One thing about that time was that it was expected that there be a unique performance every time the music was heard! So no, you couldn't refer to a recording to hear how the "music goes". You make it go!
For more information of the study of early music please on modern instruments please visit my website at: http://modernearlymusic.org/
Meanwhile, let me know if these myths sound familiar.
5 MYTHS OF BAROQUE STRING PLAYING
1. DON'T VIBRATE
2. DON'T SUSTAIN OR PLAY LEGATO
3. SWELL ON LONG NOTES
4. PLAY OUT OF TUNE
5. GET A STUDENT VIOLIN, PUT GUT STRINGS ON IT, REMOVE THE CHINREST, BORROW A BAROQUE BOW AND SURVIVE A BACH FUGUE
1. DON'T VIBRATE: Trying to play beautifully by eliminating your most immediate expressive tool is like eliminating soy sauce from Chinese cooking to make your recipes “French.” French cuisine doesn't use soy-sauce, so shouldn't that work? Not only are your new dishes not “French,” but you have diminished the quality of your old dishes. Trying to play beautifully and expressively simply by modes of subtraction is well, daft.
2. DON'T SUSTAIN OR PLAY LEGATO: Baroque music was born from vocal music. Have you ever heard a song? All songs, especially those from the 17th and 18th-centuries contain lots of legato and long tones. Often the notes the violin plays are exactly the same notes as a singer who is singing vowels! Legato, lyrical, beautiful playing and singing was PRIZED in the 18th-century. So was phrasing, dynamics, articulation, in?ection, stress, rubato, accelerando, good intonation, varied bow strokes, passion, drama, emotion...sounds like they liked expressive music back then!
3. SWELL ON LONG NOTES: Its called Messa di Voce. Basically, forget about it. The ?rst early music scholars misunderstood 18th century bowing exercises which instructed string players how to develop their sound to make LONG SUSTAINED TONES (see no. 2). We owe a great debt to those scholars who opened up a world of information for us, but they got some things wrong. Messa di Voce is a beautiful, and very organic ornament that can be used if the moment really calls for it (just like a mordent, a tierce de coule, or a shot of vibrato...). But, the ubiquitous use of it is simply the confusion of this ornament with a bowing exercise, it was not something to do on every note. So extreme swelling? Take ibuprofen, it doesn't belong in early music.
4. PLAY OUT OF TUNE: As it turns out, 17th and 18th century string players were expected to achieve extremely detailed pitch accuracy. YES, REALLY! They understood that tuning one key perfectly (with pure intonation) on a keyboard will make other keys unusable. They devised various 'temperaments' making all keys usable, with some sounding better than others. In this way, each key had a unique quality and character. They reveled in those differences and players were expected to be able to display those tonal distinctions. Early violin primers suggested teaching major and minor semi-tones in the second lesson (i.e. d - eb, vs d - d#.) The French theorist, Joseph Sauveur, suggested limiting musicians to a 50-note octave in the “interest of practicality.”; a whole step should be divided into only 5 semi-tones (d,d#,d##,ebb,eb,e.) Equal temperament was the ingenious method of making everything equally out of tune and uniform. People were scandalized by it! So, it can be challenging when at ?rst working with wind and keyboard instruments at different temperaments, but in the end, this trial can hone your intonation to a new level of perfection. Try measuring the breadth of your beautiful vibrato. You might discover it spans several double sharps and ?ats.
5. GET A STUDENT VIOLIN, PUT GUT STRINGS ON IT, REMOVE THE CHINREST, BORROW A BAROQUE BOW AND SURVIVE A BACH FUGUE: Yes, It is expensive to buy a whole new instrument, but if you simply put weird strings on your ?second' violin and try to play it with a strange bow with no chin or shoulder support, you have only succeeded in playing a handicapped violin. Just because something looks a bit like something else, and feels different, its not the something else. Ever taste those beautiful, realistic fake sushi rolls? And, as towering and magni?cent a composer JS BACH was, he was one of hundreds of composers during that period. Ever wonder why you haven't heard of the others? Were they all bad?
ALL KIDDING ASIDE, WHAT IS BAROQUE PERFORMANCE PRATICE?
First, lets start with the understanding that there is no such thing as a single “baroque style.” There was as much, if not more, diversity of performance traditions between 1600 - 1800 as there were in the following two-hundred years. Of course, there was no internet or recordings, which meant there was no such thing as disembodied music. If you lived in Venice, you heard the music being played in Venice ON THAT DAY. Maybe you got to hear a touring soloist from Paris, but the performance was the music and the player was the ONLY vehicle through which the music could be heard. Music was an event, not a product. Furthermore, any composer who heard someone play had to rely on his memory to recapture what ?that other music' sounded like. If he wanted to incorporate this new style of music into his compositions, it was 100% ?ltered through his own point of view and memory. Think of JS BACH writing French overtures. He had heard French music (ie Couperin) performed when he was studying in Luneburg at the age of 15. Where do we look to understand how to play those overtures? Do we just study his scores? French music? Couperin? There are so many layers to this story, and so much to learn and think about and experiment with!
Every composer was unique, a product of their locality (not simply their nationality) time period and cultural environment. Communication among themselves was limited. However, they did write books and, it is mostly through these treatises that we can establish certain commonalities of notational and performance conventions of their time. But, these books are starting points. Every note is its own unique case, the books and scores left to us can't tell us the whole story.It turns out, Historical Performance Practice is a pretty extensive study. It is a wide array ?of varied languages, replete with immeasurable and nuanced expressions. Applying a few simple gimmicks to your current playing only cheapens an exquisite body of work by an important group of composers.?.?If you approach the study of early music with the same seriousness and integrity that you approached learning later music, the study will reward you with a world of personal, musical eloquence you may not have known lived within you. It was all about the expression back then. Is that really any different from now?
For more information on the study of early music on modern instruments,
please visit my website: http://modernearlymusic.org/
Not long ago there was a lively discussion here about Stradivari and plate tuning. It was shown conclusively that pitch was all over the place in the early periods - sometimes quite a bit higher than today, and certainly never standardized to A=415 as is so often done by today's so-called "period performers". I ended that thread thus:
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on April 8, 2013 at 11:38 AM
As we bring this thread to a close, a few thoughts of summation come to mind.
1. When thinking about classic instruments and pitch it's pretty inevitable that ideas about period performance should arise. I tried to limit myself on this thread in this regard, as I've commented extensively on the subject in the past. But here are just a few points aside from pitch issues that may come as a surprise to some, based on my own research:
a. Many early music proponents believe in limiting or even eliminating vibrato. There are actually references to vibrato in string playing as far back as the 1500's. I'm not saying that it is the same vibrato that Wieniawski or Kreisler started to popularize. But unless we find recordings from that era, we'll just never know exactly what they sounded like. Simple good taste suggests that even in some passages in Brahms and Sibelius it is a good idea to limit vibrato, and there are many shades and nuances to choose from. It's not a simple yes or no proposition. There have always been those who favored more or less vibrato usage, but it has been around for centuries. Leopold Mozart, writing a treatise about violin playing in 1756 - the year his soon-to-be famous son, Wolfgang was born, and just 6 years after Bach died, said that there are players who vibrate so much and so constantly, you'd think they had a palsy!
b. We associate 18th cent. orchestras with small numbers. Yet composers from Handel to Mozart were thrilled to use very large groups when they were given the resources to do so. These numbers sometimes exceeded modern symphony orchestras, with as many as 40 violins!
c. Bach particularly was happy to transcribe Vivaldi's music and his own from one medium and one key to another. That should make one think about how important it is or is not to keep to what we think may have been the original medium and pitch. Bach was actually not only aware of the early fortepianos, but sold some! So much for it being a sin to play Bach on the piano. (And I happen to like the harpsichord.)
d. Here is a kind of paradox: the very idea of trying to being as true as possible to the practices and presumed intentions of much earlier eras would have been a foreign concept in the 18th century. This is actually a concern of mid-20th to early 21st cent. thinking Whether we think of it as an improvement or not, think how freely Mozart added clarinets to the score of Handel's Messiah. And how authentic is it to hear early music on any sort of recordings? What about the audience for this music? Most of us wouldn't qualify for admission, and those who would, might - if they acted authentically - behave with what we would consider to be awful decorum today. Where do we draw the line in authenticity? I mean, that's what they experienced. Who is to say they didn't like it that way? Sitting quietly? Not eating? Who do these performers think they are, who are little better than kitchen help to the aristocracy? The period people make many convenient compromises. But I don't think that they are too open about it.
e. Having a certain medium - eg a violin with what we'd call now an early set up, and a Baroque or transitional bow - and believing that this is the best of all possible media which should always be used for this music are very different things. Again, Bach was open to the early piano.
f. When all is said and done I really, really dislike the kind of sounds that I hear from early music groups such the Concentcus Musicus and the English Concert - though even the latter use some vibrato. Particularly the exaggerated, whiny 'messa de voce' sounds just awful to me. What is even worse is that some conductors such as Christopher Hogwood, have carried some of this sort of phrasing even into Schumann! On the other hand, I will concede that some soloists that I've heard, such as Simon Standage at least bring a lot of verve to their playing, whereas so many groups that I hear on the radio sound like tired squeeze boxes.. As to chamber groups for Baroque music, I'll take The Virtuosi di Roma, Il Musici, the English Chamber Orchestra and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields any day.
g. I think it's a terrible trend that modern players seem to have been made to feel defensive against the highly debatable practices and recommendations of what I feel should be fringe groups at best, who'd fit in most appropriately playing in places like Colonial Williamsburg. Should, be, but are not. I'm reminded of those Burmese Pythons in South Florida who are all but destroying that area's ecology. Even if they've got it right - and I don't believe they have - we are living today, have heard all the music composed since then, have lived through all the changes good or bad in technology, medicine, society, etc. Going to such extreme lengths to recapture the media and supposedly some of the phrasings, sounds very artificial and often leaves the essence of great music behind.
Somehow, period performance has taken on the aura of political correctness. But think about it - what could be more reactionary and fundamentalist? When it comes to Shakespeare, no one bats an eye when it is re-interpreted again and again - often in modern dress. From the reading I've done, older styles of acting would seem laughable to us today. But imagine a sizable and ever more influential minority trying to get back to that style and insisting that Shakespeare only be performed at the Globe Theater, with boys playing the female roles, etc. etc. After all, that's what Shakespeare and his contemporaries experienced.
Well, I don't think so. It is not period Bach but Bach, period, that hopefully will prevail.
2. A little closer to the thread. The amazing thing to me is how well the best and healthiest of the classic instruments continue to sound so well, whatever pitch Strad used, and through changes in necks, bass bars, bridges - and even sometimes surviving re-graduation! It's remarkable how well some of these instruments still meet today's needs and sound so glorious in Romantic and modern music. Beethoven, commenting on his late quartets to someone who confessed to not understanding them, said "Oh, they're not for you; they're for a future generation." I don't think that Strad and del Gesu thought liked that. But how lucky for us that it worked out that way!
One thing to think about, particularly in relation to the ensembles you mentioned, Concentus Musicus and the English Concert, etc. -- the HIP movement (to the extent that there is such an entity) is evolving and changing constantly. Twenty or thirty years ago, there was a messianic fervor about authenticity, and the players seemed to make a point of exaggerating the differences from the mainstream, often to the point of ugliness and even absurdity. I think that those folks have, to put it bluntly -- grown up. They have stopped trying to preach and have started to play with more musical sensitivity. One outstanding example is Harnoncourt whose recent performances are much more beautiful and much less didactic. the HIP approach has become integrated into the mainstream, with artists such as Viktoria Mullova, Maxim Vengerov and even Yo Yo Ma, incorporating some of it's features.
Let me add that last June I attended Liz Field's Institute for Early Music on Modern Instruments. It was musically and intellectually one of my most satisfying experiences. The atmosphere was one of inquiry, growth and experimentation, trying out new things, venturing into unexplored territory, and tapping into our musical feelings and instincts, unencumbered by the constraints that we usually impose upon ourselves or that are imposed by the profession. I recommend it heartily.
Raphael, yours is a very interesting post and I agree with many of your points. However, as one who has devoted a lifetime to the study of early performance practice I do take issue with a few of your comments.
!. The concept of "authenticity" has long ago been given up by serious interpreters of early music for all the reasons you state. It is only amateurs and uninformed marketers who throw that term around as propaganda. It is an unattainable and useless goal. The true goal has always, and has only been, in finding and performing with deep and meaningful expression. There is no doubt in my mind, that the more study, exploration and practice I do with both primary written sources and primary tools (original instruments) the more insight and ability I gain for playing this incredible repertoire expressively. This serious look into the past cannot be underestimated or undervalued. it is inconceivable that early composers thought, “well it sounds lousy now, but just wait, in 250 years, it will sound great! “ They composed for their current forces and musical language and they expected performers to understand the written shorthand they used that we blithely refer to as musical notation.
Having said that, there definitely are period players today who are learning to play in a superficial style without much reasoned thought, and who perform with the arrogance of the minimally informed. Truthfully, I too would rather hear a sincere performer on modern instruments than these glib interpretations. But period instruments should NEVER sound whiny, and as I mentioned in my article, messa di voce hasn’t been used as default tone production since the 1950’s. Please, do not throw the efforts away of those of us who have worked so hard to make you cry, sigh and laugh the way early composers hoped you would at live performances of their music.
2. The real elephant in the room is JS Bach. The problem with JS is that the fundamentals of his compositions (the rhythms and pitches) are so good, they have survived brilliantly through infinite translations of living performance traditions. That is why he is the dominant "baroque" figure of our time. His music is the least dependent on expressive conventions of his own time to sound meaningful to us. For that reason, he is an atypical baroque composer. I will dare to suggest that JS BACH’s music is the only music by a great historical figure that can be played through a computer, absent of all human expressive intervention, and still retain its greatness. This simply doesn't hold true for the music of Purcell, Biber, Shmeltzer, Campra, Couperin, Torelli, Lully, Guillemain, Aubert...etc. I could go on and on. These are not well-known composers because they DO need tools of original expression to be fully unleashed. When understood and interpreted fully, their beauty rivals the best of JS Bach. But you can't get that beauty without work and the original instruments and performance conventions are more intrinsically tied to their expression.
3. The piano. The fortepiano you refer to that Bach saw was made by Gottfried Silberman. It was one of the first fortepianos ever made (Bartolomeo Cristofori made the first) and it was essentially a harpsichord with hammers. JS was unimpressed when he first saw it in 1730. However, he was subsequently invited to Potsdam by Frederich the Great (where his son CPE was employed) in 1747 (3 years before his death) to sanction Frederich’s recent purchase of a brand new Silberman fortepiano. JS was said to have approved of it, which not surprisingly, greatly pleased the monarch (wink, wink). There is no evidence that Bach ever composed anything for it after that though, or came to believe that now the true worth of his music would finally be known. Having said all that though, I will confess to still loving JS Bach played beautifully on a Steinway. I also like it played well on plucked strings, brass instruments, the saw, and spoons... Basically, whether JS knew it or not, he wrote timeless and durable compositions. To a lesser extant and limited to a few select compositions, the same can be said of Handel and Vivaldi. But, I think it is a HUGE stretch for Purcell, Lully and hundreds of others to be performed on a modern Steinway, and IMHO I have never heard it done convincingly.
So, I do sympathize with your resentment of the period instrument world, but there is real value there and I would ask you to stay open minded, especially in exploring the music of composers other than JS Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. The real goal should not be about the instruments, but when done well, it might just transfix you.
Here is a little rogue tidbit btw, Paganini played on a pre-modern (aka Baroque) violin with a very light transitional bow of minimal camber. In many ways the techniques he used are similar to those of much earlier composers but employing a much greater range of the fingerboard. He certainly did not use a chinrest though. It wasn’t invented until the last decade of his life.
With less vituperation, here is an excerpt from my own liner notes in my 2nd CD, that includes the complete Bach D minor Partita:
"My approach too, is very interested in an historical awareness, and would never confuse Bach with Tchaikovsky. However, this awareness is but a starting point to a partnership between the composer and performer that makes the music live and ring convincingly in our own time. I feel that not ‘period Bach’, but Bach – period – will continue to elude any sort of final, ‘authentic’ interpretation, while challenging and nourishing mind and spirit."
To me, while being historically informed is certainly important, the texture of the music, itself is far more important than when it was written in this sense. If Bach. Purcell and Brahms all happened to live at the same time, their music would cry out for differing respective approaches. I agree that Bach seems to 'survive' any medium it goes through - even a synthesizer, at least for certain kinds of pieces such as two-part inventions. I wouldn't want to hear the St. Matthew Passion on the synth.! I personally prefer to hear solo keyboard Bach on the modern piano. With concertos, I still have a slight preference for the piano - though in the 5th Brandenberg, I definitely prefer the harpsichord as I do when a keyboard is used within the orchestra realizing the figured bass. With Bach, the medium was definitely NOT the message. Bach was also called upon on a number of occasions to test out organs and was sometimes critical of them. Whether he specifically wrote for the early fortepiano or not, I can't imagine that he objected on the grounds that it simply wasn't the medium he'd used in his earlier compositions.
Now when it comes to a composer like Couperin, I really want to hear it on the harpsichord, with all its filligrie, etc. And I also agree that Purcell is a different case. And I'd hardly want to hear Renaissance music on the modern concert grand. I recently played as co-soloist in the Bach Double, which went very well. The conductor was very well informed, and we all learned a lot from him. But he never objected to vibrato and his approach to messa de voce was reasonable - and musical. Elsewhere in the program I was also called upon, along with the other principal strings, to double the electric harpsichord in accompanying a singer in 2 Purcell songs. Without anyone telling me what to do, I found myself playing in a way that would not be out of place in a more 'period' setting!
That said, I still cringe when I have the radio on in the car, and yet another member of what I like to sarcastically call collectively "The Collegium Mosquitum" - because they do remind me of mosquitos! - gets on the air, and dutifully plays half a tone below modern pitch, with predictable messa swirls, almost no vibrato, and a tired squeeze box effect. If the movement has changed, many of these groups with their latest CD's don't seem to have gotten that message. I know that movements do evolve. But what changes less in my experience is that in any given juncture I get the implied message "this is it, and you must go along with it". That's certainly how so many of my colleagues blindly accept it. And while I think it's fine to experiment with period media, there's no question that the mainstream has been getting more intimidated and more marginalized. And to insist on going back - accurately or not -as much as possible and staying there, and insisting that this is THE way to play late Baroque music is fundamentalism masquerading as an odd and self-righteous political correctness. As much as any particular sounds, this is what irks me and so many people I've talked to.
I'd forgot to respond about Paganini. I re-read a lot about him while preparing 3 of his caprices for my recent unaccompanied recital. From what I've read that after his death, they found 2 extant bows of his that were indeed late transitional. But I feel that with so many instruments in his collection, he must have owned a lot more bows than that. He also endorsed Vuilliaume's experimental steel bow - though he may have only felt it OK for 'ordinary' performers. Yes, he played w.o. a chinrest which seems to have been invented or endorsed by his colleague, Spohr. Ruggiero Ricci has made a lot of this in his so-called 'glissando technique'.
When you spoke about phrasings, upbeats, how you feel one should or should not make a long line etc. one phrase played would be worth 1,000 words. I just looked you up on Youtube where I saw you speak a bit but did not demonstrate much. So at the risk of obscuring the issue more - or possibly clarifying it - how would you describe how you would phrase the first 4 notes of the Bach A minor concerto - E to A, E to F? My approach, in common with almost everyone I can recall, of various persuasions, would be to give some space to the E's - sort of like singing 'bop Baam, bop Baam' rather than 'la Laaa, la Laaa'.
On to Bach A minor. Where to start. I completely agree with your bop Baam, vs la Laaa approach. Despite what I said above about upbeats, there is no doubt that these eighths ARE upbeats and there is virtually no way to play them that would obscure that fact. It is such a given though, that the discussion needs to go beyond that. What I particularly like about your syllabic representations (both the la and bop version) is that the up beat is clearly less strong than the DB. That may seem obvious, and its an organic choice, but you would be surprised how often this concept is not a conscious decision. More interesting, is that your choice of bop vs la is a hard vs soft consonant that requires articulation. All great. I am going to now make a suggestion which might immediately make you recoil, but give it time and a try, and you might begin to consider its merits.
The strongest beat in the opening is the silent DB before the first e. If you play 3 measures of articulated eighth notes: E, e,e,e / A,a,a,e/ F,f,f,d/ with the DB being the strongest note and the subsequent 3 notes rebounding off that DB and filling out out the half-note gesture, you will find the last eighth to be a perfect execution of an upbeat that leads, but does not go over the bar line. It belongs to the previous DB, not to the next one. It's a subtle distinction, but a hugely important concept in this music. While there clearly is direction, the notes don't tumble forward making unending, premature arrivals. The rhythmic surety of hanging the melody on the larger rhythmic pulses and playing note groupings (analogous to making words) instead of individual notes (analogous to articulating letters) allows for much greater expressive freedom. It also promotes hierarchal phrasing over larger phrase groupings; In this case 4 bar phrases. DBS can be different lengths and inflections, and, small notes can have variety and be non-metronomic. You can, and should, compress (yes the deadly compression) groups of 16ths, contouring them to their melodic shape, the same way we articulate letters and syllables in every word differently. Think about that analogy. Imagine if we spoke every syllable perfectly evenly! The compressed figure though, cannot invite the next big beat to come in early. The next beat comes exactly where it should be in this larger framework. This can also mean that a line of notes, for example, even an upward scale that resolves on a DB, can diminuendo and leave a slight space before the resolution. It still sounds like the scale is leading to the resolution which gives it direction, but it also permits the new DB to be the beginning of a new impulse, not merely the end of an old one. But, this only works when the the big beats are the foundation of the rhythmic skeleton and the structure is not about arriving at the end of the phrase. It is defined by the bass line and, more importantly, cures the ubiquitous problem of always feeling the "other person is rushing".
I have witnessed this fight so many times by great players, I know you have also lived through it. This happens when the bass line does not set down big beats, the treble feels like they have to "catch up", the bass line player hears fast notes and plays faster! This causes a chicken and egg un-winnable race. Then the bass player says : " I just have steady eighth notes!" As soon as I hear that sentence, I know I can't play with that person again. You cannot play this music with any expressive freedom with unshaped, ungrouped and uninflected eighth notes. You especially can't play with a bass line that is always leaning forward and obscuring the foundational quality of the DBs. The only choice becomes attaining perfect ensemble, lining up every 16th note and producing what I call graph paper music. The joke is, as I implied before, graph paper Bach does still sound fantastic. Graph paper Shmeltzer however, sounds ridiculous...
Anyway, This is very difficult to describe in words. Did you go to the website for my DVD "Performing the Score" that I made with Malcolm Bilson? [http://knowingthescore.com/pts/index.php] I think there are some longer clips of us playing and discussing these issues.
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