The End of Early Music: Chapter 2 (part 2)

The End of Early Music is a 2007 book by the late great historical oboist Bruce Haynes. Subtitled "A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century," this book was in many ways the inspiration for Musicker. In this series of blog posts, I'm re-reading the book, offering chapter-by-chapter recaps as well as some of my own thoughts and reactions. The subsection titles are Bruce Haynes's. This fourth offering covers the second half of chapter 2. All Recaps

Mind the Gap: Current Styles

Prophets of the Revolution: Dolmetsch and Landowska

After the disorienting and wonderful dive into Romanticism, the second half of this chapter explores the roots and initial flowering of Rhetorical style. Two iconoclastic early-20th-century musickers laid much of the groundwork, but are sadly neglected today: Arnold Dolmetsch and Wanda Landowska

Wanda was a world-class keyboardist, and starting in 1905 performed mainstream repertoire (Bach, etc.) on a Pleyel harpsichord. Haynes cleverly points out that the Pleyel was a decent metaphor for Wanda herself - concerned with honoring the spirit of the past but not overly interested in recreating it. The sturdy metal frame and long sustain of the Pleyel were distinctly inauthentic and give it a metallic 20th-century sound. Listen to Wanda performing part of Bach's Goldberg Variations:

Arnold, on the other hand, was much more concerned with authenticity and much less concerned with practicing. He seems to have been a Renaissance man - a Google image search turns of photographs of him playing keyboards, lutes, and wind instruments, and he not only performed but built all of them. With his interest in the instruments and performing styles of the past, he was a spiritual successor to the later HIP pioneers. It's too bad that Arnold and Wanda didn't get along - they would have made a formidable team.

The Authenticity Revolution of the 1960s

In the post-war era, revolution was in the air across wide swaths of society, and music was no different. In 1950, the well-known composer Paul Hindemith wrote that

Bach felt quite comfortable with the vocal and instrumental types that were available to him, and if we care about performing his music as he himself imagined it, then we ought to restore the performance conditions of his time.

Hindemith specifically mentions constructing wind instruments with historical tunings, gut strings, etc. and given what subsequently happened it's easy to miss how revolutionary this idea was. Finally, Dolmetsch's ideas were coming to fruition. The 1950s and early 1960s seem almost like a space race - ideas and instruments were appearing left and right, and the effect was profound. Listen to Gustav Leonhardt perform that same bit of the Goldberg Variations that we heard from Wanda Landowska - the first of these two recordings is Gustav in 1953, the second Gustav in 1965:

The first version, to my ears, is following in the footsteps of Landowska - rather sincere, profound, heavy, even. The second version is much lighter, free-er, and lilting - almost dancing. This is the result of 12 years of Leonhardt's personal experimentation and growing, but also the publication of primary source research such as Dart's Interpretation of Music and Donnington's Interpretation of Early Music

Chain Reaction

As the "authenticity" movement swept the musical scene in the 60s, and historical instruments became more widely available, it became practical to apply the concepts to larger forms requiring more musicians: orchestra and opera. The first recording to really break that barrier was Nikolaus Harnoncourt's performance of Bach's St. John Passion with the Concentus Musicus of Vienna (1967). This performance all but settled "HIP 1.0" - most of the common elements that dominate Rhetorical Style to this day can be heard, at least a little bit, in this recording. Here's the opening:

The Dutch crew, Brüggen, Bijlsma, Kuijkin, and Leonhardt, along with Harnoncourt and others, took the new research and instruments and basically created Period Style. To a huge degree their influence can be found in period performances to this day, which is partly a testament to their genius but partly a matter of timing - José Bowen shares an insight into the development of the style of a jazz tune which is totally relevant:

Every musical performance makes us reconsider our concept of the musical work. The effect of each performance, however, grows smaller as the tune develops a tradition. The initial performances have the ability to shift the "center of gravity" farther than can later versions, which literally have more tradition to move.

Hard to argue.


The End of Early Music: Chapter 2 (part 1)

The End of Early Music is a 2007 book by the late great historical oboist Bruce Haynes. Subtitled "A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century," this book was in many ways the inspiration for Musicker. In this series of blog posts, I'm re-reading the book, offering chapter-by-chapter recaps as well as some of my own thoughts and reactions. The subsection titles are Bruce Haynes's. This third offering covers the first half of chapter 2. All Recaps

Mind the Gap: Current Styles

Three Abstractions: Romantic, Modern, and Period Styles

There have been three dominant styles in the performance of rhetorical music in the 20th century. As the century began, Romantic Style held sway, but as the century ended, Romantic Style was all but extinct, and could be heard only on recordings. What evolved from and eventually replaced Romanticism as the musical mainstream? Modernism, with its emphasis on precision and relative emotional restraint. These days, if we go to a performance of Bach's Matthew Passion (canon, hello) we're likely to hear a Modern style or a Period style performance, Period style having splintered away from Modern style around the 1960s.

That's all well and good, but this is all crying out for musical examples. Luckily, I just learned how to embed Spotify tracks! Here are two representations of today's dominant styles:

Pretty different, right? The first track, by the way, was Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, recorded in 1988. The second track was Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, also recorded in 1988. Modern, Period. Cool. Now give this a shot:

The first two recordings are different from each other; this third sounds like it could be from another planet. That's Willem Mengleberg conducting Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir in 1939 - but the style goes back further than that. Mengelberg conducted the Matthew Passion every Palm Sunday starting from 1899.

Listen to as much as you can - personally, the further in I get, the less insane it sounds - portamento and wild tempo fluctuations seem to amplify the emotion of every. single. moment. Check out the lead-in to the recap ~4:20 - 4:52, and compare to Solti ~3:30 - 3:58. It's a style from another era, but it's certainly not bad.

"What unique importance it is to every musical message, that the melody shall hold us without cease." -Wagner

"What unique importance it is to every musical message, that the melody shall hold us without cease." -Wagner

In the next section, Haynes goes on to examine some of the characteristics of Romanticism and how it subtly influences musicians to this day. This is a luxury - for the first time, musicians of one period are able to closely examine music from an older, extinct style thanks to the advent of recording technologies towards the tail end of Romanticism (late 19th, early 20th century). He points out a certain melody-centrism that leads musicians to make decisions without fully considering the lower voices; particularly the bass line which is so vital to all rhetorical music. He also points out Werktreue, the idea that the true ideal performance is somewhere in the ether, and the related phenomenon of the transparent musician (the musician is only a vessel), and the reduction in improvisation.

OK, that got kind of wonky - sorry. On to more great Romantic wackiness:

Recordings That Document the Heart of Romantic Practice

Listening to these early 20th century recordings - especially those of musicians at the ends of their careers - is like a window into another world. In this passage, Haynes calls out a number of recordings of soloists, and it is initially confusing - these recordings sound so individual and free and expressive that the Werktreue philosophy seems unimaginable. It seems clear that "Romantic Style" wasn't a static thing, or perhaps that the ideals of the style were different for soloists than they were for orchestras. Joseph Joachim was probably the preeminent violinist of the second half of the 19th century, and staunchly anti-Wagner. Listen to his spare yet flexible performance of Brahms's Hungarian Dance #1:

Joachim's style reminds Haynes of another rarity - Alessandro Moreschi, the "last castrato" who recorded the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria in 1904. The extreme and obvious emotion in this performance is almost hard to listen to for modern ears:

Glenn Gould is perhaps the most "Modern" of all 21st century pianists. For reference, just listen to a few seconds of Gould's Bach:

Gould, predictably enough, opined about these old recordings:

how very high the level of whimsicality and caprice, how very flirtatious and extravagant the range of dynamics...

It certainly begs the question: What would Joachim and Moreschi have to say about Gould?


The End of Early Music: Chapter 1

The End of Early Music is a 2007 book by the late great historical oboist Bruce Haynes. Subtitled "A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century," this book was in many ways the inspiration for Musicker. In this series of blog posts, I re-read the book, offering chapter-by-chapter recaps as well as some of my own thoughts and reactions. The subsection titles are Bruce Haynes's. This second offering covers chapter 1. All Recaps

When You Say Something Differently, You Say Something Different

"Style Is That Which Becomes Unstylish"

Coco Chanel: La mode, c'est ce qui se démode

Coco Chanel: La mode, c'est ce qui se démode

As in fashion, musical style changes at a rate roughly corresponding to its formality. The most formal dress for a fancy event has changed very little in a hundred years, just as the appropriate music for a graduation or a wedding has changed very little. On the other hand, casual weekend wear style changes every season, as does much popular music. Haynes compares the canonism of contemporary classical music with business wear - changing only in minute details like lapel width and number of vents - but in essence the same suit and tie from 100 years ago. Before Romanticism and Canonism, however, concert music was much less stable.

I like the clever implication that Bruce makes here. If "style is that which becomes unstylish" and we currently have a situation where the dominant style of musicking is largely unchanging, that's basically the same as not having a dominant "style" at all. Contrast with the pre-Romantic approach, which was ever-changing and therefore Stylish!


In the pre-Romantic era, the appetite for the new and different was insatiable. In Italy in the late 18th century, music was barely printed, since it would be out of fashion by the time it was ready for publication. In 1773, Charles Burney wrote that J.S. Bach, just 23 years deceased, was a figure from

the Gothic period of the grey contrapuntists.

Mattheson was happy to criticize Corelli, and Von Uffenbach was skeptical of Lully. It's tempting to look back at these writers (really, these Musickers) and laugh at their irreverence for the great masters but the clear overarching story is that innovation was king for hundreds of years before the Romantic revolution. J.S. Bach, one of those great masters himself, is on record being astonished by the rate of change in musical taste.

As an aside... I'm really, really tired of hearing that classical music was "the pop music of its day." This little tidbit comes up so often, particularly in educational programs, and I just don't know that a.) anybody from this day and age cares, or b.) that it's actually, you know, true. In any case, music from the rhetorical era was constantly changing, as is the pop music of today, so score one (but only one) for that annoying saying...

More Beethoven-y than you. (Kidding, Leon!)

More Beethoven-y than you. (Kidding, Leon!)

Back to business: after the 18th century, Romanticism was the dominant style (can we call it a style?) and mainstream musicians to this day emphasize the conservation of this great romantic tradition. We even learn it in conservatories (all founded in the 19th century). More than a few pianists make a point to trace their "lineage" back to Beethoven. Innovation takes the back seat.

Bruce Haynes ends this section with an intriguing little insight that is destined to be expanded upon - that the Romantic tradition of performing is much less pure than most musicians assume, and that it is helpful to call out the 1960s as a rough inflection point. Around that time, music started to splinter - increased ethnomusicology raised awareness of geographical style, the beginnings of HIP raised awareness of rhetorical style, and the mainstream thoroughly embraced a style Haynes differentiates from the Romantic, and instead calls "modern."

Eating the Cookbook

The way a piece of music is heard is highly dependent on the performers and the specific performance of that music. As obvious as that may be to musickers, it is not a universal belief. The Grove Dictionary of Music defines improvisation as

the creation of the final form of a musical work as it is being performed

but Haynes points out, and I must agree, that it is difficult to imagine any kind of music that doesn't fit that description. I need to quote his follow-up, since it refers back to a confusing moment in the Introduction:

I would guess that whoever wrote these words believed, like a number of theorists these days, that a piece could reach its final form without being performed. It is amazing that anyone could mistake a piece of paper for music, but that's what happens when you get super-literate.

Ouch. But we've come around again on universal literacy causing canonism and text-fetishism. Marks on a page being confused for music. Those marks on a page aren't music, just as a recipe in a cookbook isn't dinner. Performers (and chefs) matter.

Chronocentrism: "Music as Tradition"

It was the dominant view from the Romantic revolution at least through to the 1960s, that music was an unbroken lineage. The musicians of a time would have inherited certain traditions from their teachers, and their teachers' teachers, and had a sense of ownership and a certain freedom with the music of the past. This is how Mendelssohn came to lead a massive force of 200 performers in Bach's St. Matthew Passion or how Wagner came to make multiple (sympathetic) corrections to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The tradition was there, so how could it be a problem?

I love the next circle-about by Bruce Haynes: the fact that ethnomusicology and historically-informed performance both took great leaps forward in the 1960s was no coincidence. Both reflect a wider trend in society towards pluralism - a common interest and sensitivity toward countries, cultures, and times not our own. The fact that traditionalists remain is clear, but their "mainstream" is shrinking rapidly as a whole plethora of new areas are expanding. The historical approach - that of questioning and inquiry and expansion of knowledge - is growing, while the "inherited tradition" isn't. It's an exciting time!