History, Imagination, and the Performance of Music

By Dolata, David | Notes, December 2004 | Go to article overview

History, Imagination, and the Performance of Music


Dolata, David, Notes


History, Imagination, and the Performance of Music. By Peter Walls. Rochester, NY: Boydell and Brewer, 2003. [xiv, 184 p. ISBN 1-84383-005-1. $70.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

Until twenty or so years ago, many traditional performers and musicologists viewed performance practice (a.k.a. Historically Informed Performance or HIP) with suspicion, despite its official designation as one of musicology's subspecialties. Recently the gap between the two camps has begun to narrow, partly due to the realization that the "authenticity police" do not represent mainstream HIPsters, but also in some measure as a result of recent works by well respected scholars and performers who address specific performance practice issues in a balanced and thoughtful manner. Among the most notable of these practical sources are Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell's introduction to The Historical Performance of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Performance Practice (for music before and after 1600), edited by Howard Mayer Brown and Stanley Sadie (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), and the Early Music America series of performance practice guides for Medieval, Renaissance, and Seventeenthcentury Music edited respectively by Ross Duffin (A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 200O]), Jeffery Kite-Powell (A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music [New York: Schirmer, 1994]), and Stewart Carter (A Performer's Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music. [New York: Schirmer, 1997]), the last two with revised editions in preparation. To this list should be added Clive Brown's Classical and Romantic Pmforming Practice from 1750-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Several other books treat the broader philosophical controversies that performance practice seems to excite. These include Nicholas Kenyon, et. al.'s Authenticity and Early Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), Richard Taruskin's Text and Act (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), Paul Henry Lang's Performance and Musicology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), and Peter Kivy's Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995). Two other volumes directly address the charges of those who feel threatened enough by performance practice that they go so far as to question its value: John Butt's Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), and the book under review here, Peter Walls's polemic, History, Imagination, and the Performance of Music.

The book is based on a series of lectures Walls presented in 2000 under the auspices of Magdalen College and calls to mind the conversational style of Stravinsky's lectures, Poetics of Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947), and other such similar collections. While Butt's Playing with History appeals to the musical philosopher, Walls's book, by no means lacking in philosophical perspective, is directed toward the performing musician, the person at thecenter of the vortex who must ultimately make the decisions. Full of wit, humor, and clever turns of phrase, the book is a pleasure to read. Walls's direct personal style and engaging manner draws the reader into his world, and the copious musical examples bring abstract issues into sharp focus, even if many of the facsimiles appear blurred as if they were actually faxed across the ages.

In his introduction, Walls evenhandedly articulates the main criticisms leveled at HIP. The chapters that follow, relatively concise, to the point, and well-organized, are devoted to detailed individual discussions of various aspects of the debate. Through an examination of Johann Sebastian Bach's Adagio from the G Minor Sonata for Solo Violin, BWV 1001, the second chapter, "Escaping Tradition, Embracing History," demonstrates the role changing personal taste plays in reception history. …

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