Historically informed performance
Does anyone have any suggestions for resources (books, YT videos etc.) on historically informed performance? I have no desire to be a HIP specialist, I just want to make sure when I play something that its stylistically appropriate.
Thanks in advance!
Can you be specific about what repertoire you are interested in? Baroque? Classical? Bach only?
From two experts:
And get Manze's Baerenreiter editions of Bach.
Susan, anything that falls umbrella. Anything and everything really
Seconding Gordon, HIP is cherry-picking. We cannot fully get back to the 18th century fully, nor should we attempt to do so: our hygiene, belief systems and way of life, to name a few impediments, stand in the way.
I was curious about HIP and I found myself at a music camp last summer so I asked one of the teachers there to give me a few pointers. Within two 15- minute sessions, I think I grasped the basics. He's a violist and I had my viola along so I had my "HIP lesson" focused on the first two movement of the first gamba sonata. I appreciated what I learned, but I'm really not interested in pursuing HIP any further than that.
HIP styles evolve.
Actually Landowska's harpsichord was the quiet subtle instrument hence the term whisperchord, modern accurate copies are much louder and fuller in tone.
Wanda Landowska's recordings of Domenico Scarlatti achieve that guitar-like quality that evades so many pianists. Her style of harpsichord is also the right (authentic) sound for the Manuel de Falla concerto. Falla attended concerts that she gave in Granada in 1922.
Landowska's harpsichord was made by Pleyel, a piano manufacturer, they are horribly inauthentic instruments, but appropriate for de Falla, some orchestras rent them for 1920s harpsichord concertos
Barthold Kuijken, The Notation Is Not the Music: Reflections on Early Music Practice and Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).
HIP is a bit of a moving target. Probably the rallying cry that best sums it up was an exchange between Landowska (full disclosure: a relative of mine) and Casals when disagreeing over how to play a trill in a Bach piece they were rehearsing. After they could not agree, Landowska said: "that's fine, dear. You play Bach your way and I'll play Bach his way." The problem is that "his way" is not easy to summarize, and there is plenty of disagreement among specialists. The instruments were different from modern instruments, e.g., baroque bows and the setup, and that can make a big difference in playing style. There were a number of conventions that seem to have been somewhat widespread, e.g., more use of open strings. Tuning was all over the map. And, that's just the beginning. How far to take HIP, if you are not trying to be what passes for totally authentic, is a fraught question; there is plenty of room for choice. Good luck!
Tom, round here you could dine out on the connection!
I agree with Richard. When you watch HIP groups perform, the violinists are always very kinetic. Not so much the cellists, of course. I believe they are trying to create kind of a "minstrels of yore" vibe for their audience. I'd wager they don't practice like that, swaying gaily and smiling at each other all the time.
Violinists might also be interested in the following:
Back 20-30 years ago, HIP was called ‘period performance.’ It’s hard to know exactly what these composers wanted, so I do think the term ‘historically informed’ is a little presumptuous.
I think "historically informed" is a pretty good term. It means the performers have taken historical information on board but don't necessarily believe that their performance is correct or "authentic" (very bad term!). An actual "period performance" of course is unachievable.
When I was 11 I had a house tutor who was a recorder virtuoso, and he told us to pay attention to Bach Goes to Town (or something very much like it was in the charts round about then), as baroque music was meant to swing. That's probably all you need to know about HIP.
HIP is 100% cherry picking -- this is a basic tenet within Early Music. Which national style do we pick, from which time period? We don't snip off body parts anymore to create castrati. Hmmm. Is the HIP community broadly performing in a created amalgam of choices that would probably sound foreign to listeners of the past? Very likely.
Sure, Dorian, but a well-timed kick can help with some of those high notes.
Dorian, I like your thinking!
I may be wrong about the composer and the violinist, but I vaguely recall an anecdote about (I think) Brahms, who was in the audience for a performance by a famous violinist (Sorry, I don't remember who) of the Concerto. After the performance he said to the violinist: "So, it can be played that way, too."
It's telling that the HIP movement has so far paid little attention to the earliest period for which actual acoustic evidence exists, e.g.
hi Steve, I don't think that playing sounds so anachronistic, except for the slides? there is a continuous vibrato, for example. and a very full tone.
@Jean - it's the slides that nobody would dare do today. I can see why because they aren't convincingly "vocal" and don't seem to have any musical justification when applied so liberally. Surely there must be a HIP violinist out there who's not afraid to camp it up in the name of "authenticity"?
I am surprised there has been no mention of primary sources.
Michael - the primary sources are important but limited in many ways, in particular, the problem of variation in practices depending on location. I think the term "cherry-picking" captures the issue nicely. Leopold Mozart did write a book about violin practice, but who knows how well it captures general trends. It is certainly his view of violin playing during that era, but what did they do in Paris, London or Rome? For that matter, what did others in Salzburg do? There is certainly some evidence, and it is fair for HIP musicians to rely on that evidence, but there has to be some humility in the process, a recognition of the limitations.
From the late 19th century into the early years of the 20th Jan Kubelik, along with Ysaye, Joachim, Sarasate, and Kreisler, was one of the outstanding virtuosi of his day. He was a pupil of Sevcik at the Prague Conservatory, practicing 10 hours a day (hint!). On his recordings, several of which are on YouTube, he played his Guaneri or one of his two Stradivari, which in those days would have been more accessible than they are today. He was the father of the conductor Rafael Kubelik.
Jan Kubelik's slides tell us that performance practices that were accepted, even admired in one era may be considered ridiculous in another. Unfortunately to my ears it seems that some present day HIP specialists are happy to sound grotesque. I came across an example on BBC Radio 3 just a few hours ago. Many may disagree, but it shows there's only a short hop from the beautiful (in the estimation of listeners as well as performers) to the hideous.
It occurs to me that there is the possibility that slides in the old days could have been a result of the absence of our modern add-ons, specifically
Steve - can you give some detail about the Radio 3 grotesqueries? No need for names, a description of the HIP practice that offended you would be interesting.
Steve, can you give me the approximate time of broadcast of the Radio 3 example to which you referred, please? With that information I should be able to listen to it on the BBC's playback feature "BBC Sounds".
I don't think I can answer both questions without disclosing crucial clues as to the identity of the performers! Richard - turning on the radio in the midst of a performance by a piano trio I really thought I was listening to some parody concerning a cat. The wailing violin sound (of course without a trace of vibrato) started with an exaggerated attack and continued with a huge bulge towards the end of every long note. After a minute or so it dawned on me - this is Beethoven!
Thanks for the vivid description Steve. Yes, it sounds somewhere between horrific and comic. The vibrato issue is an interesting one, and it sounds as though your 'Katze Trio' should not (yet?) have mounted that bandwagon. By way of pleasant contrast though, I recently heard the Cuarteto Cosmos in Schubert, Ravel and Othmar Schoeck, and they seemed to use a light, judicious vibrato that highlighted their impeccable tuning. In all honesty, if I practise without vibrato, I am much more in the school of your piano trio.
Fire away, Steve. If they're pros they don't care about our opinions anyway.
Re: Steve Jones, who said, "Jan Kubelik's slides tell us that performance practices that were accepted, even admired in one era may be considered ridiculous in another. Unfortunately to my ears it seems that some present day HIP specialists are happy to sound grotesque. Unfortunately to my ears it seems that some present day HIP specialists are happy to sound grotesque ..."
Like it or not, nobody slides like that today! I see a marketing niche for someone.
It's a very interesting discussion.
Ritchie's "Before the Chinrest" is less useful as a summary of what is known about period performance practice than it is as a documentation of the personal approach of an individual who has been highly influential on HIP bowed strings in the US.
Singers and instrumentalists in the past centuries didn't vibrate as constantly with wide amplitude as we do today — the father and son Mozarts would probably be bewildered listening to Itzhak Perlman, perhaps saying, "Nobody uses vibrato like that in our time!" just like Steve saying about Kubelik et al., "Nobody slides like that today!"
I think the evidence from the baroque period is that vibrato was used as an ornament, not on every note, also there's plenty of historical evidence for how the ornaments were meant to be played, and it is quite different from the modern interpretation. The other thing is that the music was quite free on the beat, not a strict every note equal length but rather notes delayed and speeded up to add a beat to the music, baroque music is very rhythmic oriented and influenced by dance movements, to ignore all this and interpret say Bach by modern standards is the epitome of ignorance and stupidity.
I feel curious discontinuities between 18th and 19th century.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 18th century writings on music, including his Dictionary of Music, are available for download on IMSLP. In the dictionary, I looked for a mention of violin vibrato, but I couldn't find one. He included an entry for "Tremblement", a tremolo effect where the same note would be beated several times with the same stroke of the bow, creating a sound that would imitate the tremulant of an organ. But he indicated that the technique was no longer in use in his time.
Groveling apology - somewhere up above I said terrible things about a broadcast of a HIP performance of Beethoven. Today, listening from the start rather than tuning in at a random moment, it sounds fine!
Raymond - I’m wondering whether your “tremblement” is a violinistic imitation of the “gorgia” effect in renaissance singing. I can’t find anything about this ornament in books I have here, and no mention in my music dictionary, so I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve dreamt the whole thing. Additionally, I have a question about whether baroque organs have a tremulant. I rather think that’s introduced with the mechanical blower system, much later, sort of César Franck era.
To rectify an element of exaggeration in the above...I have myself employed a gorgia in Caccini’s “Amarilli mia bella”.
In the Harnoncourt's two books that I mentioned above, there are brief descriptions about tremblement as a bow technique within the context of baroque and classical era. It looks like related to the organ register. Sorry again, I have only these Japanese editions.
Sounds like a nervous bow-arm affliction known here as "the purlies".
I've just remembered I have a copy of de Candé's Nouveau Dictionnaire de la Musique. Tremblement isn't in it.
My recommendations to start to get into it would be:
Tarling is a must-have book if you're going to dive deep into this. Hard to say whether it's a good choice in the OP's situation.
At the moment I'm reading Sheila M Nelson's The Violin and Viola. It's a Dover re-edition of a 1972 book with an update by the author in 2003. It's pretty dry, but it's fine and cheap.
I hope it’s not too late to reanimate the discussion on slides. I looked up Olive Fremstad on YouTube to follow up her name being mentioned in Alex Ross’s “Wagnerism”. Ross is not discussing her from the point of view of style, but I realized I had no idea what she sounded like. Among other things, I found a recording dating (according to the notes) from 1911, of Puccini’s Vissi d’arte, and was immediately struck by how cleanly, almost ecclesiastically, she sang the entire aria. I couldn’t find a modern soprano who sang the opening phrase without some sliding/scooping. This led me to listen again to Alessandro Moreschi’s version of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, which is I guess from the same era, where huge and alarming slides only serve to increase the whole tragic effect that the Moreschi recordings symbolize. I am wondering how such a wide variety of stylistic choice comes about, and whether there were violinists from early in the C20 who eschewed sliding.
If you want to play in a historically informed manner, get a baroque bow.
Exactly. A baroque bow works very well by itself.
Hajiime - as you have previously indicated, holding a regular bow somewhat above the frog (shortening it, in effect) allows one to approximate the effect of a baroque bow. Obviously, not perfect or authentic, but it is fairly close.
Alessandro Moreschi -- yes! Fascinating case of last castrato on recording.
Dorian - if you are going to become a baroque nerd, you obviously want a baroque bow. If you are playing in a community orch, and you have a baroque piece such as the Messiah, using a regular bow in the manner suggested works fine.
I remember very well a performance in Berkeley by the Philharmonia Baroque orchestra earlier this century where some of the violinists held their bows further from the frog (in the manner described above).
@Hajime Eda "I feel curious discontinuities between 18th and 19th century."
Trevor, thanks for your mention of my previous post. I want to add the names of the two composers, Beethoven and Paganini.
To my mind, the 'discontinuity' between 18th and 19th centuries is probably less than people think it is.
Thank you Chris. It's a cogent comment. I want to study more.
I disagree that playing without a shoulder rest does anything, especially if someone is used to using it. In that case, it will make them tense, not relaxed.
Scott, I agree. And if not using a shoulder rest is a requirement, that shuts out those of us who must use one.
@Scott @Ann - Amen! I would hope that HIP is more than about having equipment that precisely conforms to that used during the Early Music/Baroque period. What I know of as the main elements of the period, e.g., use of a baroque bow, use of gut strings, use of open strings, performance of ornaments in certain ways, has very little to do with the instrument itself.
And then don't forget also to saw off the last couple of inches of your fingerboard.
Tom, I would think that the important things would be ones that affect the sound such as bow and strings. I don't think my leaving off my shoulder rest would affect my sound other than making the instrument unplayable (though some of my neighbors might think that's a good thing, ha ha).
Paul, Ow! Short scale Hildie screams!
Trevor — yes! I do play without a chin rest or shoulder rest as a baroque violinist. In fact I often perform with the violin below the collarbone or on the arm for late-Renaissance or early-Seicento music. It's remarkably freeing and one hears differently.
I like to use no shoulder rest and use a stuff around a tailpiece(e.g. chinrests or tied cloth) for the stability of downward shifts and vibratos. But I guess it depends on body types to some degree.
Re. vibrato, it's hard to really say what 18th Century ears would think of Itzhak Perlman's style (nor does it really matter since many 20th and 21st Century ears are quite pleased with it)... but worth mentioning that I remember reading Geminiani advocated continuous vibrato, and Leopold Mozart complained about people who used it (suggesting that there were some in his area also playing that way). 'Cherry picking' is the right term!
Yeah, a lot is said about vibrato (on both 'sides' of the debate) that isn't that interesting or helpful.
A big factor in whether or not to use vibrato is projection and the size of modern concert halls. Most modern soloists must play concerti to make a living—you can’t play loudly without vibrato.
the whole point of HIP performance is to try not to incorporate moderns style but to be true to what we know about period practice, of which we know quite a bit
From another viewpoint, I feel a kind of difference of chemistry between bow types(material, length...) and vibrato types.
One aspect of HIP practice that is accessible to all is to present performance with more, bounce, crispness, athletic spring....I’m reaching for the right term...at least for renaissance and baroque music. Less accessible, because more expensive, is the need for different instruments and bows, as this short video illustrates. The solution of holding the modern bow short is practical for amateurs certainly, but I have also seen it in symphony orchestras that want to keep Bach, Handel and Vivaldi in their programmes.
Do orchestra pros really choke up on their bows when it's Baroque stuff on their stands?
"1) The modern approach of 'everyone should do continuous vibrato on everything' dates from roughly the 1920s, and was probably brought about by early broadcast and recording technology"
Paul, I’ve seen it a couple of times, both in Haendel, coincidentally. Unless it’s my eyes deceiving me.
@Hajime - are you referring to the bowhold those players are using? I think that's the regular 'Russian school' bowhold, not anything Baroque-specific. Though I may be wrong...
I sometimes do this on bad, clumsy mornings when my heavier bow wants to thump the strings. (My lighter bow only
I am in the unusual situation of being an adult learner of violin who decided almost from the start to focus on baroque music, especially 17th century. I wasted about 4 years "teaching myself" but then found a fantastic violin teacher who specializes in early music. After only a few monthly lessons, the covid shutdown also shut down my lessons, until a few months ago when I stopped resisting zoom lessons so now we have a weekly lesson. Next month will be my first in-person lesson since 2019!
Will, there are existing Suzuki-like books ("methods"?) for Fiddle (Wicklund), Americana (O'Connor), and probably other genres, so I don't see why a baroque-oriented pedagogy shouldn't work too. Of course the Suzuki sequence is already heavily baroque-oriented (lots of Bach ditties from the Anna Magdalena Notebook, etc.), so your teacher would have to distinguish her pedagogy from that. Inasmuch as vibrato is not generally introduced until the learner is pretty well along (a couple of years or more for most children), I'm not sure what else would be different at the beginner level.
Note that Suzuki relied exclusively on music that was public domain at the time. That's why the Suzuki books are so heavily baroque-oriented.
I remember that I don't like to hear vibratos used on wind instruments. So I 'm not surprised that the vibrato usages are affected by string types and bow types.
Thats an interesting point Andrew. That never occured to me before!
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