The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the 21st Century

The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the 21st Century

The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the 21st Century

The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the 21st Century

Synopsis

Part history, part explanation of early music, this book also plays devil's advocate, criticizing current practices and urging experimentation. Haynes, a veteran of the movement, describes a vision of the future that involves improvisation, rhetorical expression, and composition.

Excerpt

In matters of Antiquity, there are two extreames, 1. a totall
neglect, and 2. perpetuall guessing …

(Roger North, 1728)

Literacy

In music, we give the highest status to our “art” musicians in formal dress who perform the kind of music to which we give the name “Classical.” But because our society is exceedingly literate, these Classical musicians have evolved in a curious way: they’re so good now at reading music that their natural ability to improvise has atrophied. Most of them have no choice but to perform from written pages (in the memory or on the stand).

Literacy has created a preoccupation with the “repertoire” or Canon of great works, and a text-fetishism that does not allow performers to change any detail of the “masterpieces” of the past. There are many researchers who devote their lives to finding out the “intentions” of composers. So it’s not surprising that Classical musicians don’t improvise much. In fact, few of us can improvise at all. We even write out our graces and cadenzas (which were originally developed as fenced-off areas reserved for improvization).

Please don’t misunderstand me: as musicians, we are as good today as the musicians of the past. But our training has become overspecialized, directed as it is toward playing written music. Derek Bailey puts our current situation in a nutshell:

One reason why the standard Western instrumental training produces
non-improvisors (and it doesn’t just produce violinists, pianists, cellists,

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