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!


The End of Early Music: Introduction

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 first offering covers the introduction. All Recaps


Universal literacy and the canonism and "text-fetishism" that came with it led to a separation of composing and performing. Musicians from the pre-Romantic era composed and performed as a matter of course, and improvisation formed a bridge between the activities. As a result, written music was intentionally "thin," or sparsely notated, to allow for the necessary (but changeable) final ingredients to be added by the performer.

Bruce Haynes

Bruce Haynes

I'm with you, Bruce, on the composition-improvisation-performance continuum in rhetorical music, and it makes sense that written music would be "thin" in that kind of environment. I wish, however, that you'd expanded on how and why exactly universal literacy led to canonism. It's the opener of your book, and understanding the origins of canonism would be really helpful. Perhaps you'll circle back to it later.

The Romantic Revolution:

Romanticism is the barrier separating contemporary musicians from Baroque. From 1789 (the French Revolution) through about 1840, major changes in instruments and approaches amounted to an abrupt break from the previous tradition.

Canonism and Classicism

The Romantics brought music into line with literature, architecture, and graphic arts, which all held models from Classical antiquity (ancient Greece and Rome) as ideal. However, since no actual Classical music, in the ancient sense, existed, a new canon was begun, and we've called it "classical music" ever since. Evidence includes the appearance of concert halls in the 19th century lined with busts of the "great" composers. Musicians were transformed from craftsmen into heroic artists. The "Classical Canon" today is pervasive, even in HIP circles - look at the number of Messiahs that take place every year - and is built around the idea of performing a small number of works over and over again. Even the concert dress and performance venues are straight out of the Romantic era.

I must quote Bruce's excellent list of the "basic assumptions of Classically oriented musicians:

  • great respect for composers, represented by the cults of genius and originality,
  • the almost scriptural awe of musical "works,"
  • an obsession with the original intentions of the composer,
  • the practice of listening to music as ritual,
  • the custom of repeated hearings of a limited number of works."

All of these tendencies are clearly derived from a Romantic-era urge for canonization, and particularly when applied to pre-Romantic music, are anachronistic. Which is not to say they are bad - I've found wonderful insights into all kinds of music in my career by approaching works in this way - but it is rather shocking to see myself so thoroughly called out.

Musical Rhetoric

The pre-Romantic system of making music was fundamentally different from that which we use today, and can be summed up in one word: rhetoric. Rhetoric, in the public speaking sense as well as the musical, is the way that a performer can move an audience, as well as himself, to experience specific emotions. Much like today's popular culture of movies, television, and music, rhetorical music was intended to be ephemeral - affecting and moving but not necessarily returned to again and again. Romanticism, by contrast, tends to dramatize intense personal moments experienced by the artist-composer, which are observed and appreciated by the musicians and the audiences.

"Scare Quotes" for Authenticity

The word "authentic" was a common one in the first decades of HIP (beginning in earnest in the 1960s) but after many insightful Richard Taruskin articles in the 1980s, it usually appears now in quotes, as if to acknowledge its futility. That a HIP ensemble, attempting to revive performance practices extinct for 200 years, should have higher claim to the word than a symphony orchestra which has been continually performing the same music for 200 years, is of course dubious. The difference, however, is in the attempt at authenticity - the results of various attempts have a chance of being truly serendipitous.

Haynes rejects Taruskin's objection to HIP's apparent moral high ground. Different music from different times requires different approaches and sometimes different instruments, in contrast to the mainstream contemporary approach of one style fitting all music. Is "one style fitting all music" a bit of a harsh verdict on contemporary music-making? Bach harpsichord concerti are performed and recorded regularly on concert grand pianos - is this any less ridiculous than performing a Brahms piano concerto on a harpsichord?

Serendipity - the surprising and delightful discovery of something that works - is they key. In HIP that chance at serendipity comes only from repeated attempts at something that seems impossible. That moment of realization - of going far enough away from one's comfort zone that things start to work again in an entirely new way - is as worthy a goal as any level of authenticity to a period.

The End of Early Music

It is silly that we qualify the instruments in HIP with modifying names - baroque flute, baroque bassoon, and particularly baroque violin. The instruments already existed and then evolved (or didn't, in the case of the violin). There really isn't anything "Early" about Early Music, so Haynes claims a more appropriate, more descriptive term for pre-Romantic music and performing style: Rhetorical Music.

I will be following Haynes's model and will refer to pre-Romantic music as "Rhetorical music." It's such a simple and clear and honest term; I hope it catches on to wider use.


Christopher Small coined the term "musicking" in 1998 as an activity that includes

all musical activity from composing to performing to listening to a Walkman to singing in the shower - even cleaning up after a concert is a kind of musicking.

Haynes finds the term particularly useful when considering Rhetorical music and the Rhetorical era, when performers were also composers and teachers and writers and theorists, and the same Rhetorical principles infused all of this musicking. I like the term enough to name this project after it.