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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Period Instruments

From:

William Hong <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 13 Mar 2000 21:45:27 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (76 lines)

"Charles L. L. Dalmas" wrote:

>The argument about period instruments has raged almost as long as the
>instruments themselves have been around.

Like 300 years?:-)

>Personally, I think it takes more than just a budget able to afford the
>instruments to be successful at it.  Very few people (Trevor Pinnock and
>the Aston Magna group come to mind) can do it well.

How "well" is a subjective notion, of course.  But your short list
sounds a bit Anglocentric.  Have you heard any of the French and Italian
ensembles, such as Les Art Florissants, Il Giardino Armonico, Europa
Galante, Les Concerts des Nations? These are not exactly hack bands,
and frankly my feeling is that they can play rings around most modern
instrument ensembles who would try the same repertoire.  I say "most",
of course, using the same level of precision as the term "very few"....

>One thing that people often forget in their quest to hear "How it sounded
>to Bach/Mozat/Charpentier, or whoever, is that generally, back then,
>orchestras were largely terrible since second and third parts were played
>by people who were not skilled enough to play the first part.  It wasn't
>until the orchestra at Mannheim (in their experimentation) changed all that
>be requiring all musicians to be virtuosic.

Frankly, I'm surprised that you would say this.  Documentation?  Of course,
we can't *know* how well the music was played in those eras, but then we
don't really *know* how well Chopin and Liszt played either, if you want
to only rely on written descriptions and what's in their music.  But based
on the Brandenburg Concerti, would you figure that the Cothen ensemble had
a bunch of slackers in the 2nd and 3rd sections?  Or that the back side of
Lully's Violons du Roi were not able to reach a minimal level of competence
to please a Louis XIV?

Of course,there does come to mind the old tag line that if we were to
really perform Bach Cantatas the way he did, we'd probably spank the boys
in the choir afterwards and send them to bed without supper:-D

>So, it's not at all how the composers from the past would have heard it
>(temperament was different as well).  I don't think the recordings would
>sell if they were played the way the orchestras were playing them 300 years
>ago, or if they were full of mean tone or Werckmeister tuning vicissitudes.

The problem I have with your logic is that: a) "orchestras" 300 years ago
don't mean the same to me as a modern symphony; they are simply different
animals, in terms of size, and the way the sections were arranged.  Most of
the time, the proportions were more like an augmented string quartet with
continuo and some winds.

How many modern orchestras today would even bother with Purcell, or Biber,
or Charpentier? How do they handle the continuo question, other than to
plunk a harpsichord in the middle of a massive string section and "carry on
with business as usual" (paraphrasing a review I read years ago criticizing
a Boston Symphony performance of some old music).

And while I don't have a list with me, there are recordings made of older
music using meantone temperaments.  Will they sell in the same numbers as
the latest Andre Rieu album? Probably not, but they still sell, I'll bet,
because they still show up in the catalogs.

>Purists, I have found, are more interested in their own narrow views than
>in the betterment of music as a whole (not anyone in particular on the
>list, mind you, just purists in general).

Yes, purists are human too;-)

>I've been called a barbarian for liking the Beecham Messiah.  I didn't
>appreciate it.  comments?

It's great fun.  The person who called you that lacked a sense of what
made Beecham tick, and projected that onto you.  It's called difference in
taste.  I'm sure you can deal with it, even though it never happens on this
List, right?

Bill H.

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