Authenticity: Idle Thoughts

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For me, the term “historically informed performance” (let alone the glib shortening HIP) has all the culturally loaded overtones of “intelligent design” in the assumptions it makes and in implying that otherwise we are uninformed or badly informed. This is not to say I don’t enjoy performances on instruments “of the period” (although often they are only approximately so), I do, and I appreciate that practice of this type has influenced conventional performance in producing a more analytical and less homogenized sound in (say) early romantic music, which can be an advantage.

Here are a few thoughts that bother me about it:

Many composers were striving after a fuller sound with more developed instruments and would have been astonished, now that we have them, that we are going back to more primitive ones (I use the term in its neutral sense).

We may listen to “period instruments”, but we do not hear them in “period conditions” (physical and emotional) or with “period ears”, nor can we erase from our minds the developments that have occurred in the intervening period.

It has given rise to all sorts of political correctness in musical performance, such as the tedious observance of every repeat in sight (this ruins the highly-praised Mackerras performances of Mozart’s last symphonies for me).

I realize that this sounds reactionary and in a way it is, but I have to say that in its place period performance has a lot to offer (in Bach, for example, I much prefer small-scale performances on older instruments; less so in Handel).

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2 Responses to “Authenticity: Idle Thoughts”

  1. Albert Wm Says:

    Suppose that’s one of the things I enjoy about choral music. Trying to produce the harmonic sound of voices long gone from great cathedrals in them today. The sound of monks chanting the psalms!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Albert. An excellent point.

    For me, the most memorable musical performances are those that were heartfelt rather than merely accurate.

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