Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers

Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers

Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers

Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers

Synopsis

The attempt to play music with the styles and instruments of its era--commonly referred to as the early music movement--has become immensely popular in recent years. For instance, Billboard's "Top Classical Albums" of 1993 and 1994 featured Anonymous 4, who sing medieval music, and the best-selling Beethoven recording of 1995 was a period-instruments symphony cycle led by John Eliot Gardiner, who is Deutsche Grammophon's top-selling living conductor. But the movement has generated as much controversy as it has best-selling records, not only about the merits of its results, but also about the validity of its approach. To what degree can we recreate long-lost performing styles? How important are historical period instruments for the performance of a piece? Why should musicians bother with historical information? Are they sacrificing art to scholarship? Now, in Inside Early Music, Bernard D. Sherman has invited many of the leading practitioners to speak out about their passion for early music--why they are attracted to this movement and how it shapes their work. Readers listen in on conversations with conductors Gardiner, William Christie, and Roger Norrington, Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars, vocalists Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4, forte pianist Robert Levin, cellist Anner Bylsma, and many other leading artists. The book is divided into musical eras--Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classic and Romantic--with each interview focusing on particular composers or styles, touching on heated topics such as the debate over what is "authentic," the value of playing on period instruments, and how to interpret the composer's intentions. Whether debating how to perform Monteverdi's madrigals or comparing Andrew Lawrence-King's Renaissance harp playing to jazz, the performers convey not only a devotion to the spirit of period performance, but the joy of discovery as they struggle to bring the music most truthfully to life. Spurred on by Sherman's probing questions and immense knowledge of the subject, these conversations movingly document the aspirations, growing pains, and emerging maturity of the most exciting movement in contemporary classical performance, allowing each artist's personality and love for his or her craft to shine through. From medieval plainchant to Brahms' orchestral works, Inside Early Music takes readers-whether enthusiasts or detractors-behind the scenes to provide a masterful portrait of early music's controversies, challenges, and rewards.

Excerpt

Medieval composers rarely expected their sacred music to be listened to for its own sake. They designed it to accompany church services--events of solemn meaning for medieval worshippers, but not for modern concert audiences. On top of that, they set texts with little appeal or resonance for most modern listeners. For these reasons, their music translates to the modern concert hall with difficulty. Anonymous 4 have been unusually successful in this act of translation; my discussion with Susan Hellauer focused on how the group approaches it.

We also discussed their extraordinary popularity, their appeal to a "crossover" audience whose usual interests do not include medieval motets and sequences. Popularity, the group told me, was something they had neither sought nor expected. At the time of the interview, February 1994, their first two CDs were bestsellers, and they had appeared on Garrison Keillor's radio show and in an interview in USA Today, a publication not known for the height of its brow. But it wasn't until a few months later that the four singers, all veteran performers of medieval music, felt secure enough to at last become full-time musicians. Their musicianship deserves no less; but what exactly was its largescale appeal? Their pure, celestial sound might be at least a factor. I discussed that sound, too, with Hellauer.

Historians writing about American beliefs at the end of the second millennium may note that in 1994 at least a score of angel books were published, that two of them made the New York Times bestseller list, and that angelic im-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.