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Performance Practice – Performance as Discipline 1.There is now some 1,000 years of notated music in the Western Art Tradition. 2. But for the music to.

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Presentation on theme: "Performance Practice – Performance as Discipline 1.There is now some 1,000 years of notated music in the Western Art Tradition. 2. But for the music to."— Presentation transcript:


2 Performance Practice – Performance as Discipline 1.There is now some 1,000 years of notated music in the Western Art Tradition. 2. But for the music to be brought to life as the composer intended we need to go beyond the written message. 3. It is this interpretation of tradition, or lack of it, that constitutes performance practice 4. Has developed as an important subject area with its own literature in the last 100 years.

3 Back 100 years to the late Romantics With music from the high romantic period which has been continuously played since being composed we are on fairly firm ground. Brahms and generations following him. The music is annotated with directions to the performer as to how the notes are to be played. The instruments he composed for and the musical language he used are still in use. The tonality the composer assumed was based on 12 equally spaced notes to the octave, giving access to all 24 minor and major keys on an equal basis. There are recordings from the 1890s. However they do show how differently the music was interpreted just a 100 years ago.

4 Back 300 years to the Baroque and Handel Go back 300 years to Handel and the baroque and problems are greater. We must consider the musical world he knew and the instruments at his disposal as it was within these constraints that he composed. Harmony was more restrictive than that of Brahms, but within the smaller number of keys in which he wrote his ear was more sensitive to inaccuracy of tuning. Each of the 12 semitones were not equal – more consonance in a smaller range of keys. Minimal performance directions of speed, phrasing, dynamics. Today’s performers need recourse to period treatises and musical commentaries as well as surviving instruments to recreate a reasonable picture of the musical world Handel inhabited.

5 Back 600 years to Dunstable and late Medieval Late medieval world and the problems are of an altogether greater magnitude. Tonality was different again (Pythagorian) and the notation very different. Performance conditions utterly different – no concept of `a concert’ in late medieval period. We have little idea how instruments were included in the performance of polyphonic music, if at all. We have now to fall back on pictorial evidence, accounts and chronicles to throw light on performance practice.

6 But is there more we should do? At a deeper level we may wish to consider how the composer intended his music to be performed. Public concerts were unknown before the late 17 th century. Composers may have intended to the music to fulfill a function – ritual, religious, accompaniment to dance, etc. Are we undermining the composers intentions if we ignore these assocations. E.g. Satie’s Furniture Music

7 The Stuff of Performance Studies Primary Sources – the music as notated, instruments, iconography, treatises and literary accounts, editions, contemporary tastes. Understanding of style – national idioms, articulation, melodic inflection, tempo, ornamentation, extemporisation and improvisation. Conditions and practices – pitch, temperament, vocal styles, venues and programmes, orchestral constitution and placement, direction.

8 Is this going a bit far? Given that we cannot recreate the music as the composer intended, should we try? Can we assume that a composer would want his music heard today in the way that he conceived it? Most people would allow that a composition can benefit from a variety of interpretations. So does anything go? Composers are often pleased to adapt their compositions to the needs of specific performances. So license to do it your way?

9 Case of Glen Gould Gould believed Bach would have wanted his music played on a modern grand had it been available to him. He felt Bach would have preferred it. Why should we deny composers the benefits of modern technology just because it was not available to them in their own time?

10 Development of Historical Awareness. There has now been over 100 years of development in the historical performance of music (theory and practice) and it is now part of the mainstream. Ideas of `authenticity’ developed in the performance of early music and now arguably affects all music performance. There have always been critics – Leopold Stokowski – believed in musical progress and in a continuous tradition that did not need interpretation by experts.

11 The Current Scene Up until the 1980s the precepts of historical performance practice were unchallenged. Conspiracy of silence. Then `early music’ specialists started to tackle baroque, classical and romantic repertoires the debate hotted up. Some saw the `historical/academic’ approach as lacking in expression and too often indulgent towards poor standards. Lose of something vital – of a living culture?

12 The arguments against Lawrence Drayfus suggests … `that the authentic musician acts willingly in the service of the composer, denying any form of self- expression, but attains this by following the text-book rules for `scientific method’ with a strictly empirical programme to verify historical practices. This is then magically transformed into the composer’s intentions. Richard Taruskin `I am convinced that `historical performance’ today is not really historical; that a thin veneer of historicism clothes a performance style that is completely of our own time, and is in fact the most modern style around; and that the historical hardware has won its wide acceptance and above all its commercial viability precisely by virtue of its novelty, not its antiquity.

13 More Thoughts Peter Kivy took the philosophical argument a step further by arguing for several categories of historical authenticity, relating to a composer’s original conception, restoration of sound materials, the performer’s individual expression and the meaning attached to a piece by its audience. The efficacy of historical performance has continued to divide musical opinion with a dedicated opposition. A last word from Pinchas Zuckerman on historical performance `asinine stuff … a complete and absolute farce … nobody wants to hear that stuff. I don’t.’

14 How does it affect me? I just want to play. It is not possible to be an innocent. You have to make a stand. You cannot plead ignorance. Awareness of ideas on performance practice are so much part of the mainstream that to ignore them will place you in the anti-historical camp by default. These concerns get more pressing the older your music – but it affects all performance practice – including 20 th century. If you are a performer you must, at the very least, be informed.

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