Classical and Romantic Performing Practice, 1750-1900 & The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction.
The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction. By Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell. (Cambridge Handbooks to the Historical Performance of Music.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. [xiii, 219 p. ISBN 0-521-62193-3 (cloth); 0-521-62738-9 (pbk.). $54.95 (cloth); $19.95 (pbk.).]
In 1999, a relatively hushed period in the scholarly discourse on performance practice came to an end. Two new books on the subject appeared, both dealing with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but with rather different aims and somewhat divergent approaches. These two volumes show the extent to which thinking has changed and research has proceeded in this field since the lively debates of the eighties; they also show the tenacity of certain cherished ideologies linked to historically informed performance ("HIP"). In uncovering many areas for future research while leaving others enticingly undiscussed, Clive Brown, Colin Lawson, and Robin Stowell call for others to join the conversation.
The authors turn to their subjects in a spirit of careful, cautious investigation. Their approach is perhaps due in part to the decidedly moralistic tone of past debates over HIP. They emphasize the process of inquiry into performance practices rather than engaging in a discussion of philosophy and aesthetics. Brown's study of selected issues for the period 1750-1900 centers on notation and what it might reveal of composers' "intentions, expectations, or tacit assumptions" (p. 1) regarding the performance of their works. His substantial book, which presents many new findings and demonstrates new approaches, is aimed at scholars and performers (string players in particular) with a thirst for detailed discussion of both theory and practice, especially concerning accentuation and articulation. Lawson and Stowell's book, dealing with the period 1700-1900, is at once broader in scope and less detailed, as befits a concise inaugural volume to the series Cambridge Handbooks to the Historical Performance of Music. T hese authors are more concerned with summarizing past scholarship than with presenting new research. Their goal is to provide students and performers with an historical basis for artistic decision-making which has as its goal the re-creation of performances as close as possible to the composer's original conception" (p. xii). To this end, they give an overview of the historiography of HIP, an outline of source-study procedures, and introductions to both small- and large-scale performance-practice issues, from accentual inflections to room acoustics.
Lawson and Stowell provide many insights into period instrumental technique, particularly wind and string practices. Their discussion is intended as an introduction to the more detailed treatment found in the volumes for individual instruments that follow in the Cambridge series. Brown, too, has contributed greatly to our understanding of period technique, especially for string instruments. Yet both volumes would have benefited from a more nuanced treatment of this topic. For example, the authors omit discussion of the contrasting performative ideals developed by pianists in England and those in Germany and Austria in the late eighteenth century. Although Brown cites Johann Peter Milchmeyer (Die wahre Art das Pianoforte zu spielen, 1797), who has traditionally been thought of as the first to describe legato as the basic key board touch (p. 172), Bart van Oort ("Haydn and the English Classical Piano Style," Early Music 28 : 78-79) has pointed Out that the finger technique Milchmeyer describes, in conjun ction with the Viennese instruments he was writing about, would not have produced a perfect legato. While the basic touch in Vienna remained non-legato until well after 1800, in England, Muzio Clementi's Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Pianoforte (1801) was the first to describe legato as normative.
Brown repeatedly emphasizes the necessity of dealing with performance-practice issues for this period on a case-by-case basis. His work successfully models a rigorous procedure of first considering the wealth of (often conflicting) information provided on a given issue in theoretical sources, and then turning to numerous specific case studies drawn from a range of genres and composers. Facsimiles from autographs contribute greatly to this discussion. In the case studies, Brown suggests the course that future research might fruitfully take. Yet in negotiating the tricky tension between theory and practice, he could at times have proceeded further with his own invaluable advice to "develop a more finely tuned awareness of the different schools and stylistic traditions that were associated with particular composers and genres" (p. 632).
For example, in chapter 7, Brown zeros in on what is to be his central issue here: modern players' "anachronistic" use of springing bowings in works from the classical era (p. 259). He presents strong evidence of a general emphasis on legato bowing style among the followers of the French violin school. Yet one must also take account of the following: the enthusiastic comments of Mozart and Beethoven on the styles of players like Ferdinand Franzl Franz Clement, and Joseph Mayseder, known for their use of light strokes or their divergence from the French style; the documentation of off-string strokes for soloistic passages and the soloistic nature of many of Haydn's first-violin lines in the quartets; Pierre Baillot's use of a Haydn quartet to exemplify a bounced bow stroke, and his appreciation of HIP; and the possible influence of the aesthetic ideals of lightness and clarity for contemporary Viennese fortepiano articulation. This list could be continued, so that the "weight of circumstantial evidence" (p. 2 76) Brown mentions can by no means be used to place off-string strokes in the periphery of the classical chambermusic tradition, as he suggests.
Lawson and Stowell also make use of the case-study approach, which allows them to show concisely how many different types of evidence might be used in practice. Here, though, a persistent problem in this area of research surfaces in the concern of these authors with "faithfulness" to composers intentions for "the work" (Werktreue). Lawson and Stowell neatly summarize past debates over HIP while tending to perpetuate their ideology. For instance, regarding the
Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz's own ideas about the program changed over time, and he himself sanctioned a certain flexibility with respect to the instrumentation. Thus Lawson and Stowell's claim that the composer's "rigid 'historical' view places extra responsibility on performers to reproduce faithfully Berlioz's intentions" (pp. 125-26) crumbles; yet the weakness lies not so much in the absence of Berlioz's necessarily immutable intentions, but rather in the authors' adherence to an increasingly questioned concept of Werktreue. As was asked in the e ighties, even supposing we could know them, are the composer's intentions necessarily the best for all time?
Reading in part through the established ideological lens of the "autonomous artwork," Brown, Lawson, and Stowell see the notation of the late eighteenth century as "incomplete" or "skeletal" in places, becoming more "precise" or "prescriptive" in the nineteenth century. They could, however, usefully have gone further in motivating their discussions of reading the notation during this time via the eighteenth-century concept of performance as an essentially rhetorical (that is, a listener-oriented, persuasive) act, and via the continued focus on performance as utterance in the nineteenth century. With the performer reading for the rhetoric, so to speak, scores need no longer be viewed as "deficient," measured against some abstract, fully notated ideal. Rather, they can be seen to provide a wealth of detail in the form of harmonic, melodic, textural, and rhythmic cues on the ways in which the musical discourse might most effectively be delivered. HIP can thus be seen to involve discovering and employing past mo des of both "reading," as an act connected with playing and listening, and "writing," in the sense of constructing the musical work in one of its many possible forms.
One of the strengths of Brown's book is his presentation of evidence that the greater notational detail in scores of the nineteenth century is something of a trap for the unwary reader today. A facade of notational detail, he notes, may serve to obfuscate the significance of subtle unwritten aspects of performance--nuances such as portamenti and ornamental vibrato--that were arguably essential to this past musical soundscape. Considering late-eighteenth-century modes of reading the notation, the "written-out rubato" in Mozart's A-Minor Rondo, K. 511, or the second movement of Haydn's String Quartet op. 54, no. 2, need not be viewed as having "restricted the performer's freedom," as Lawson and Stowell claim in the case of the former (p. 74). Rather, contemporary sources (see the writings of Baillot and Daniel Gottlieb Turk, for example) suggest that such works require great skill on the part of the pianist or first violinist as "orator," in order to create successfully the illusion that performance is coexten sive with composition.
Works such as these raise the interesting idea that certain composers of the late eighteenth century might well have been artfully "composing against the grain" relative to the theoretical norms, expecting the skillful performer to realize such effects implicit in the notation. Brown refers to this idea in a brief but highly suggestive section (see pp. 145-46), raising questions for HIP that will undoubtedly repay further attention. Certain nineteenth-century theorists, for example, might have seen bounced bowings as incompatible with the "purity" of classical quartet style as they conceived it. Yet it could also be argued that classical chamber music might play on the contemporary tension between a performative ideal of unmediated "source utterance" and the "intrusion" of the material aspects of performance. One could take, for instance, the exuberant rhetoric of the first-violin part in the third movement of Haydn's String Quartet op. 77, no. 1, as the composer's cue to the player to render the part as a " soloist"--spiccato and all. The strokes under slurs in this part, which Brown points Out (pp. 250-51), are but one factor in the reading of the notation.
Lawson and Stowell repeatedly urge caution in weighing up the various lines of evidence, citing Frederick Neumann, who invokes jurisprudential evaluation of testimony in this regard (p. 23). With mention of the possible "dangers" of research into performance practices, the quest for historical "accuracy," and the possibility of historical "truth distortion," Lawson and Stowell's writing sometimes evokes the moral tenor of debates over HIP in the eighties. Such language, like Neumann's legal metaphor and the battle imagery these earlier debates inspired, seems almost to legislate or fight for an unrealistic, unattainable, unique historical Truth. In a scholarly climate of Werktreue, where historically informed performance means morally informed performance, one might well ask whether the "supreme legacy" of the HIP movement that Stowell and Lawson refer to is not so much "the enhancement of stylistic awareness" (p. 160), but rather increasing stylistic wariness. Historiographers have, in the past, further dar kened the picture by taking modern-day preoccupation with HIP as symptomatic of the absence of a truly living musical culture.
Both of these books, however, briefly mention two lines of evidence that help provide a more nuanced perspective on recent HIP, and they suggest how we might now loosen the moral grip on discourse about this subject. A wealth of evidence, much of it largely unexplored as yet, suggests that active interest in earlier performance practices extends back at least to the late seventeenth century, both in England and on the Continent. Lawson and Stowell provide a brief overview of this topic, which, while thought provoking, bypasses important developments in this regard in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France, for example. Using such evidence, HIP may be seen at least partly as an ongoing part of musical life rather than a decidedly modern-day alternative to (or retreat from) contemporary music. Further, Brown, Lawson, and Stowell sometimes ignore their cut-off point of 1900 in welcome, albeit brief, discussions of the evidence provided by modern sound recordings. Such study is invaluable in revealing the his torical contingency of all performance acts; in particular, we see how the performance of earlier music has always been updated to the taste of the time.
The healthiest view of HIP celebrates the fact that it is necessarily informed by contemporary culture as well as its potential to open up new vistas for performance options today. Hence, after a decade to mull over the state and status of HIP, Brown's timely call to "ponder whether we might not experiment with more radically different and audacious approaches to the performance of familiar repertoire" (p. 632) could well be articulated in more lively terms. Implicit in this recent scholarship is an additional call to open up yet further the canon of works considered appropriate subjects for HIP. Indeed, the title of Lawson and Stowell's volume implies a broader scope than the temporal bounds they actually set for their discussion. Further, Brown's many insights into late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century performance suggest how we might proceed in exploring performance practices for not-so-familiar--or indeed unfamiliar--repertory, and for music post-1900. Thus the challenge is not so much to produce yet a nother Ninth, this time more in tune with HIP, but rather to appreciate Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Bebung, Clementi's legato, and portamento in Louis Spohr's Fifth, not to mention the tempo rubato of Willem Mengelberg's Mahler.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2001|
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