Historically informed performance

Historically informed performance

Historically informed performance (also referred to as period performance, authentic performance, or (HIP)) is an approach in the performance of music and theater. Within this approach, the performance adheres to state-of-the-art knowledge of the aesthetic criteria of the period in which the music or theatre work was conceived. Whenever this knowledge conflicts with current aesthetic criteria, the option of re-training the listener/viewer, as opposed to adapting the work, is normally followed. Music is usually played on instruments corresponding to the period of the piece being played, such as period instruments for early music. Historical treatises, as well as additional historical evidence, are used to gain insight into the performance practice (the stylistic and technical aspects of performance) of a historic era. Corresponding types of acting and scenery are deployed. Historically informed performance has originated in the performance of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music, but has come to encompass music from the Classical and Romantic eras as well. Quite recently, the phenomenon has begun to affect the theatrical stage, for instance in the production of Baroque opera.


Traditional musical practice

The gradual and still ongoing historical evolution in the construction of instruments and in the training of musicians, as part of the evolution of aesthetic sense, has produced a corresponding evolution in sounds and styles.

Early instruments

Historically informed performance needs to access musical instruments corresponding to the period of the music being played. This has led to the revival of musical instruments entirely gone out of practice, and to a reconsideration of the role and structure of instruments also used in current practice. The discussion below (see also Organology) covers examples of instruments that had to be revived entirely, followed by examples of instruments whose earlier form was rediscovered. See also List of period instruments.


Ruckers-Taskin harpsichord, (Paris, Musée de la Musique)

Among keyboard instruments, the most dramatic disappearance was that of the harpsichord, which gradually went out of style during the second half of the 18th century. The fortepiano became more popular by such a degree that harpsichords were destroyed; indeed, the Paris Conservatory is notorious for having used harpsichords for firewood during the French Revolution and Napoleonic times.[1] Composers such as François Couperin, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the harpsichord, clavichord, and organ, or sometimes for a generic "keyboard" (German Klavier), but not for the fortepiano, which was invented around 1700, but only widely adopted at about 1765.[citation needed]


The lute was one of the most relevant instrument during the Renaissance and Baroque eras.[citation needed]


A vast quantity of music for viols, for both ensemble and solo performance, was written by composers of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, including Diego Ortiz, Claudio Monteverdi, William Byrd, William Lawes, Henry Purcell, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, J.S. Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Marin Marais, Antoine Forqueray, and Carl Frederick Abel. However, viols were largely abandoned by the end of the 18th century, having been overtaken by the violin family.

Many composers wrote complex polyphonic part music (early chamber music) for viol consort, an ensemble of differently sized viols (typically held vertically) with a varying number of viols in it.

From largest to smallest, the viol family consists of:

  • contrabass or violone
  • bass viol (about the size of a cello)
  • tenor viol (about the size of a guitar)
  • alto viol (about the size of a viola)
  • treble or descant viol (about the size of a violin).

Among the foremost modern players of the viols are Paolo Pandolfo, Wieland Kuijken, Jordi Savall, John Hsu, Vittorio Ghielmi, and Guido Balestracci. There are many modern viol consorts.


Recorders in multiple sizes (contra-bass, bass, tenor, alto, soprano, the sopranino, and the even smaller kleine sopranino or garklein) are often played today in consorts of mixed size. Handel and Telemann, among others, wrote solo works for the recorder. Arnold Dolmetsch did much to revive the recorder as a serious concert instrument, reconstructing a "consort of recorders (descant, treble, tenor and bass) all at low pitch and based on historical originals."[2] For a number of important modern exponents of the recorder, see Recorder player.

Instruments that have undergone reconsideration

(See baroque violin)

From the heavy rigging of the early-to-mid-19th century, the tendency shifted to using lighter strings for an easier playing technique and more soloistic brilliance. Since 1900 the average string tension has been lighter than in most Baroque traditions except for 18th century France, but the longer strings and the more compact material (including, in our days, steel E strings) has led to a more brilliant and short-range penetrating tone with a greater acoustical emphasis on the even overtones.

The flute of the 18th century was typically made of wood rather than metal.

Early brass instruments did not incorporate keys or valves until the late 18th century.


The human voice is a biological given, but can be trained in different ways. For example, singers in historically informed performances may aim at a less loud tone, with less vibrato and different use of dynamics, to match the use of different accompanying instruments.[citation needed] A few of the singers who have contributed to the historically informed performance movement are Emma Kirkby, Julianne Baird, Nigel Rogers, and David Thomas.

Modern countertenor singing was pioneered by Alfred Deller, and leading contemporary performers include David Daniels, Terry Barber, Derek Lee Ragin, Andreas Scholl, Michael Chance, Drew Minter, Daniel Taylor, Brian Asawa, Philippe Jaroussky.

Compositions intended to be sung by castrati present a problem. The 1994 movie Farinelli: Il Castrato, about an 18th-century castrato, used digital effects to create the voice by mixing the sound of a countertenor with a soprano singer.


Historic pictures,[3] layout sketches and sources are giving information about the layout of singers and instruments. Three main layouts are documented:

  • Circle (Renaissance)
  • Choir in the front of the instruments (17th–19th century)
  • Singers and instruments next to each other on the choir loft.

Johann Mattheson: "The singers must stand alltime in front".[4]


see also String section

Recovering early performance practices

Interpreting musical notation

Some familiar difficult items are as follows:

  • Early composers often wrote using the same symbols as today, yet in a different meaning, often context-dependent. For example, dotted rhythms (where the first of two notes is three times the length of the second) to mean instead a time ratio of 2 + 1, in a context where triplets are present elsewhere in the musical line.[citation needed] The opening line of the last movement of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #5 is a good example. Or, In a French overture, it is often held that dotted notation was meant to indicate double dotting; that is, a duration ratio of 7 to 1 instead of 3 to 1.[citation needed] Two well-known examples are the overtures to Handel's Messiah, and the Suite in F of Water Music: both often played in the double-dotted manner by historically informed performance specialists. Or, again, what is written as an appoggiatura is often meant to be longer or shorter than the notated length.[5]
  • The notation may be partial. E.g., the rhythm may be omitted altogether[6]
  • the music may be written using alternative, non-modern notations, such as tablature. Some tablature notations are only partially decoded, such as the notation in the harp manuscript by Robert ap Huw.
  • The reference pitch of earlier music cannot generally be interpreted as designating the same pitch used today. For discussion, see History of pitch standards in Western music.
  • Various tuning systems (temperaments), are used. Composers always assume the player will chose the temperament, and never indicate it in the score.
  • In most ensemble music up to the early Baroque, the actual musical instruments to be used are not indicated in the score, and must be partially or totally chosen by the performers.
  • Issues of pronunciation, that impact on musical accents, carry over to church Latin, the language in which a large amount of early vocal music was written. The reason is that Latin was customarily pronounced using the speech sounds and patterns of the local vernacular language; see Latin regional pronunciation.

Mechanical music

Some information about how music sounded in the past can be obtained from contemporary mechanical instruments.

Tuning and pitch

In the 18th century, circulating temperaments, famously called for in Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, were used.[citation needed]

The baroque oboist Bruce Haynes has extensively investigated surviving wind instruments and even documented a case of violinists having to retune by a minor third to play at neighboring churches.[7][page needed]


Generally acknowledged motivations for historically informed performance can be characterized as follows.

  • Historically informed instruments, in association with a historically informed playing technique, offer a balance of musical elements, such as timbrical contrast and contrapuntal clarity, that differs from non-informed performances.
  • Such balance is structural to the agogic and idiomatic constituents of the culture surrounding the composer, no less important in delivering the musical content than the culture surrounding the listener.
  • Incorporating in the performance cultural elements of the composer, as opposed to omitting them in total favour of the listener's culture, results in a stronger and deeper performance rendition.

While normally accepted in literature (early poetry or prose is not re-written in modern language), in the performing arts historical respondence is of difficult implementation, both practically (how do we do it?) and conceptually (what meaning and function should be attributed to aesthetic elements that have evolved?). Prior to audio and video recording, no direct record of performing arts survives. Opinions on the implications of the aforementioned motivations and on how they should translate into criteria for historically informed performance vary.

At the beginning of the Early Music Revival, a common misconception was that historically informed performance implied lack of interpretation, such as vocally expressed by Virgil Fox: "There is current in our land (and several European countries) at this moment a kind of nitpicking worship of historic impotence. They say that Bach must not be interpreted and that he must have no emotion, that his notes speak for themselves. You want to know what that is? Pure unadulterated rot! Bach has the red blood. He has the communion with the people. He has all of this amazing spirit. And imagine that you could put all the music on one side of the agenda with his great interpretation and great feeling and put the greatest man of all right up on top of a dusty shelf underneath some glass case in a museum and say that he must not be interpreted! They're full of you-know-what and they're so untalented that they have to hide behind this thing because they couldn't get in the house of music any other way!"[cite this quote]

Even within such Early Music Revival, awareness of the pitfalls was clear. Though championing the need (for example in his editorship of Scarlatti sonatas) for a thoroughly-informed approach, not least in understanding as fully as possible a composer's actual wishes and intentions in their historical context, Ralph Kirkpatrick, pioneer in the harpsichord rediscovery, highlights the risk of using historical exoterism to hide technical incompetence: "too often historical authenticity can be used as a means of escape from any potentially disquieting observance of esthetic values, and from the assumption of any genuine artistic responsibility. The abdication of esthetic values and artistic responsibilities can confer a certain illusion of simplicity on what the passage of history has presented to us, bleached as white as bones on the sands of time."[8][page needed]

Yet, the acceptance of the concept is rapidly evolving. Today, performing an Early Baroque opera, such as Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo without, at the very least, full historical awareness, would be inconceivable.

Classical recording producer Michael Sartorius writes: "While the debate on authenticity in baroque performance will continue, certain essential characteristics should be present, if the performance is to reflect the true baroque spirit."[9]

See also


  1. ^ Making Way for Beautiful Music
  2. ^ http://www.dolmetsch.com/Dolworks.htm
  3. ^[Full citation needed], Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.
  4. ^ Mattheson 1739,[page needed].
  5. ^ C.P.E Bach, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen; Teil 1, Section 2 Par. 5, Berlin 1753
  6. ^ L. Couperin, unmeasured preludes
  7. ^ Bruce Haynes, "Pitch Standards in the Baroque and Classical Periods" (diss., U. of Montreal, 1995).
  8. ^ Ralph Kirkpatrick, Interpreting Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984)
  9. ^ Michael Sartorius, "Baroque Music Performance: 'Authentic' or 'Traditional': A Discussion of the Essential Issues Involved", http://www.baroquemusic.org/barperf.html.


  • Badura-Skoda, Paul. 1993. Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard, translated by Alfred Clayton. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198161557 (cloth); ISBN 0198165765 (1995 pbk reprint). (Translation of Bach-Interpretation: die Klavierwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs. Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 1990. ISBN 3890071414.)
  • Dart, Thurston. 1954. The Interpretation of Music. London: Hutchinson and Co.
  • Dolmetsch, Arnold. 1915. The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries Revealed by Contemporary Evidence. London: Novello.
  • Robert Donington. 1963. The Interpretation of Early Music. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Hubbard, Frank. 1965. Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press ISBN 0-674-88845-6.
  • Kenyon, Nicholas (editor). 1988. Authenticity and Early Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816152-2.
  • Kivy, Peter. 1995. Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801430461.
  • Leech-Wilinson, Daniel. 1992. "The Good, the Bad and the Boring". In Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music, edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows,[page needed]. London: J. M. Dent.; New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0460046276 (Dent); ISBN 0028712218 (Schirmer). Paperback reprint, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-816540-4. Paperback reprint, Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997. ISBN 0520210816.
  • Mattheson, Johann. 1739. Der vollkommene Kapellmeister, das ist, Gründliche Anzeige aller derjenigen Sachen, die einer wissen, können, und vollkommen inne haben muss, der eine Kapelle mit Ehren und Nutzen vorstehen will. Breslau: [s.n.]; Hamburg: Herold. Facsimile reprint, edited by Margarete Reimann. Documenta Musicologica Reihe 1: ruckschriften-Faksimiles 5. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1954. Study edition with newly typeset text and music examples, edited by Friederike Ramm. Bärenreiter-Studienausgabe. Kassel, Basel, London, New York, Prague: Bärenreiter. ISBN 3761814135.
  • Parrott, Andrew. 2000. The Essential Bach Choir. [N.p.]: The Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-786-6.
  • Rosen, Charles. 1997. The Classical Style, second edition. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-31712-9.
  • Rosen, Charles. 2000. Critical Entertainments. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00684-4.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Jürgen Budday — (born 1948 in Germany) is director of church music and artistic director of the concert series at the monastery of Maulbronn (see also: Maulbronn Abbey) , of the cantor choir and of the Maulbronn Chamber Choir. Biography Jürgen Budday studied… …   Wikipedia

  • Maulbronn Chamber Choir — Also known as Maulbronner Kammerchor Origin Maulbronn, Baden Württemberg, Germany Genres Classical, Baroque, Early, Modern Occupations …   Wikipedia

  • Andrés Segovia — Infobox musical artist Name = Andrés Segovia Background = classical ensemble Birth name = Andrés Torres Segovia, Marqués de Salobreña Born = birth date|1893|02|21 Linares, Jaén, Spain Died = death date and age|1987|06|02|1893|02|21 Madrid, Spain… …   Wikipedia

  • Early music — is commonly defined as European classical music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque.The Early Music Movement as a trend in history is the study and performance of music from composers before our own era and began in 1829 when… …   Wikipedia

  • Eduard Melkus — (1 September 1928 in Baden bei Wien) is an Austrian violinist and violist. Following the Second World War, Melkus dedicated himself to the exploration of historically informed performance. He was a member of the 1949 Vienna viola da gamba quartet …   Wikipedia

  • Classical guitar — A modern classical guitar from the front and side String instrument Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322 5 (Composite chordophone sounded by the bare fingers or …   Wikipedia

  • Music of Australia — Arts in Australia Culture of Australia Architecture Art Cinema Comic books Cuisine Dance …   Wikipedia

  • Classical guitar making — A person who is specialized in the making of stringed instruments such as guitars, lutes and violins is called a luthier. Contents 1 Skills 1.1 Shaping of wood with acoustics and resonance aims 1.2 Sound characteristics (Timbre) …   Wikipedia

  • Antonio Vivaldi — Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678 – July 28, 1741), [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article 9075589/Antonio Vivaldi Antonio Vivaldi from britannica.com] Quote: born March 4, 1678, Venice, Republic of Venice [Italy] died July 28, 1741, Vienna,… …   Wikipedia

  • Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven) — This article is about the composition. For the German poem, see Ode to Joy. For the EU and Council of Europe adaptation, see European Anthem. A page from Beethoven s manuscript of the 9th Symphony The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the… …   Wikipedia