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The End of Early MusicA Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century$

Bruce Haynes

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189872.001.0001

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Passive and Active Musicking

Passive and Active Musicking

Stop Staring and Grow Your Own

(p.203) 12 Passive and Active Musicking
The End of Early Music

Bruce Haynes

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

If music is to remain a living art, the concept of performer as arranger/co-composer must be revived. We should share the sense of freedom that musicians felt at the time, not just in arranging their own and other people's compositions, but in writing new ones. However, it will be something of a miracle to overcome our habitual canonic thinking, which constrains us to play the same pieces over and over again, like cover bands. The modern cover band typically imitates one of the famous rock groups of the late 1960s, like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin. Cover bands may wear the same clothes and hairdos, or act the same way as their models. The basic attribute of cover bands, however, is that they play someone else's music. This chapter discusses the cover band mentality, the border between composing and performing, improvisation by the performer, style-copying in composing, Period composition, the genius barrier, and designer labels.

Keywords:   cover bands, composition, improvisation, style-copying, genius barrier, designer labels, Period composition

No matter how well and sensitively they can play or sing, a musician who’s not at home [with the art of composition] is hardly better than birds that chirp their little songs so finely and neatly.

(Johann Kuhnau, Der musicalische Quacksalber, 1700)

The Cover Band Mentality

Piers Adams of the ensemble Red Priest ponders the idea that once all the good Baroque pieces have been performed and recorded, what do we do? Should we then, he wonders, “all stop at that point and put our feet up with a glow of self-satisfaction? Surely if music is to remain a living art then the concept of performer as arranger/co-composer must be revived.”1 That seems right to me as well. Surely we should share the sense of freedom that musicians felt at the time. Not just in arranging their own and other people’s compositions, but in writing new ones. But I know it will be something of a miracle to overcome our habitual Canonic thinking, which constrains us to play the same pieces over and over again, like cover bands.

The modern cover band typically imitates one of the famous rock groups of the late 1960s, like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin. Cover bands may wear the same clothes and hairdos, or act the same way as their models. The basic attribute of cover bands, however, is that they play someone else’s music.

The groups they imitate weren’t themselves cover bands, except maybe when they were just getting started. The original bands wrote their own songs and rarely did anyone else’s. In this way they were like their forefathers: Vivaldi didn’t often play Albinoni; if he was in need of another piece for his show, he wrote one (maybe in imitation of Albinoni, stealing his best ideas). Nor did Handel produce the operas of his rival in (p.204) London, Porpora. He created new ones to the taste of the town, each aria showing off perfectly the strong points of the singer who would perform it.

Why is this no longer happening in Baroque music? To be sure, we have concerts of Venetian violin concertos. Yes, we are getting Baroque operas. But there are no newly-composed Baroque operas to be heard, tailor-made to the production’s cast. Our Baroque concerts only “cover” music already written. That surely would have struck Baroque musicians as very odd.

The eighteenth century had a word to describe musicians who only performed but did not compose. They were called “Musikanten.” “Hirelings,” Bach’s friend Abraham Birnbaum called them, “paid to … bring into sound pieces composed by others.”2 They were on the bottom end of the musical hierarchy (unless they were very clever on their instrument and could claim the title of “virtuoso”).

A cover band (Rock or Baroque) pretends to be making it up, but in fact they know that we know it has happened before. How many of their performances are work-copies, duplicates of specific events from the past? Christopher Hogwood, in a notorious recording, actually tried work-copying the first performance of Beethoven’s Eroica, including an “original” lack of rhythmic and dynamic nuance (many of the players were amateurs, but in those days that didn’t necessarily mean they were less good than professionals—or “mercenaries,” as North called them).

But in this chapter I’ll try to frame the activities of most Period musicians in terms of style-copying—not bringing back the past, but taking inspiration from it.

Playing in the Wind

Still on the same basic subject, I’d like to talk for a moment about notation, which, although a magnificent tool, sometimes has its disadvantages. As Christopher Small points out, “it is a limiter, since it confines what can be played to what has been notated, so the player’s power of self-directed performance is liable to atrophy.”3 For many modern musicians, the ability to improvise is at best undeveloped, and I believe it is not an exaggeration to say that many of them are quite unable to function without a written page in front of them (or in their heads).

The historical progress from orality to literacy has been gradual. The centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution saw the two elements in some kind of balance, so that musicians thrived in both worlds simultaneously.4 Baroque parts and scores bear this out, leaving many decisions to the performers.

Plato believed that writing destroys memory. Some improvising musicians agree. Derek Bailey writes that there is a general suspicion among improvisers that to be able to read somehow blunts the inspiration to improvise.5 But reading does not appear to have reduced the improvising (p.205) skills of Baroque musicians. They wrote down “charts” (of sorts) and read from them, and at the same time were also trained like jazz musicians; they could fake and improvise both treble lines and continuo realizations in elaborate and sophisticated ways. They were in the enviable position of being both “literate” and non-literate musicians at the same time. If the wind accidentally blew their notes off the stand, they could keep playing.

Among organists, the art of improvising coherent, structured pieces of music still exists, and there are even improvisation contests like the one in Haarlem on the great St. Bavo organ. In the Baroque period, certain musicians like Sweelinck, Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, Bach, and Handel were famous for their public performances of improvisation. Handel’s organ concertos, Opp. 4 and 7, have a number of movements marked “Adagio ad lib” or “Fuga ad lib.” with no written solo part. That Handel could create such pieces on the spot is already impressive to us, but the fact that these pieces were published implies that Handel expected other soloists to be able to do the same. Not everyone was at that level, but improvisation was evidently in the air in a way it is not today.

Gracing: The Border between Composing and Performing

In Baroque times, it was generally agreed that the essential graces, in their appropriate places, were, well, essential—that is, indispensable. A melody without them was a mere skeleton, devoid of beauty.

If one wished to combine written and improvised music together in the same piece, something like the gracing symbols of the Baroque period would probably be the eventual solution. This kind of notation permits both types of music to coexist. The composer writes the plain air, providing the performer with inspiration and material, and the performer contributes unwritten additions on the spot. Gracing symbols were at a halfway point; they signaled that “this place needs the addition of a stylized reinforcement, or moment of concentrated intensity.” The performer decided how to realize the effect.

The event was only described approximately, with a coded sign of some kind, the most common being a little “+” above a note. The graces were approximate because it was generally felt, especially in the seventeenth century, that they were too subtle to be captured on paper. Peri spoke of essential graces “that cannot be written, but if written, cannot impart any coherent meaning.”6 The first French source to take the time to explain the graces, Bacilly in the mid-seventeenth century, scrupulously refrained from marking them in his Airs, so the performer could demonstrate their abilities, and because he believed that graces were too subtle to be reduced to standard notation.7 Lully, at about the same time, took a strong stand against the larger passaggi, though not the smaller graces.8

Graces are the ultimate test of a performer’s musicianship and grasp of style. From the simplest trill to the cadenza, they immediately reveal (p.206) the sensitivity and imagination—even the basic personality—of the musician. Is the trill automatic or does it fit organically into the movement’s Affection? Is the cadenza gracious, learned, impressive, surprising, overflowing with ideas that might produce another movement? They are a window into the performer’s heart and mind.

Rameau’s comments on the essential graces are interesting, of course:

No matter how well a grace is rendered, it will always lack a certain something that it deserves, if it is not guided by feeling. Too much or too little, too early or too late, suspensions or swelled notes held too long or too short, or the right number of repetitions of a trill (commonly called a cadence)—expression, and the context, require this perfect timing, without which an ornament becomes merely trite.9

Gracing symbols are a good example of indeterminacy in notation, the sort of subject that attracted writers.10 With their ambiguous role, graces could be varied as the musicians saw fit, and others that were not written could be added. In notating Baroque gracing symbols, it was the overlap between exact placement and inexact manner that produced discussion in written sources. Graces can be seen as a balance between the composer’s control (i.e., the placement) and the performer’s (the manner). Couperin requested in one of his prefaces that all the essential graces he marked be “observed to the letter, without addition or subtraction.”11 That he needed to mention this is an indication that the reverse was occurring.

No wonder, then, that with the greater authority composers began to assume in the early nineteenth century, a reaction against gracing developed. The status of gracing in the Baroque period might roughly have corresponded to that of vibrato now: a technique inspiring emotion, not universally appreciated, but hardly seen as fundamentally affecting the composition. By Mendelssohn’s time a century later, however, gracing was frowned on and was regarded as changing the written melodic line.

Predictably, the status of graces went steadily downhill from 1800 on, along with that of performers. Gracing and passaggi have had a rough time over the last two centuries. With E. T. A. Hoffmann’s words in the early nineteenth century, we are witness to the transformation of the trill from a grace into a melodic attribute under the exclusive control of the composer: “Is it not wonderful that a tradition has been established concerning the precise embellishments of the song … so that today no one would dare introduce a foreign embellishment without censure.”12 Brown comments, “With Beethoven’s work, for example, the traditional forms of embellishment—trills, grace notes—have become part of the basic musical structure; they now figure among the work’s motifs, and nothing more can be added by the performer. Remember Beethoven, upset when performers added trills.13

By the 1830s and 1840s a reaction had developed to the elaborate decoratio indulged in by opera singers, and it came to be generally regarded (p.207) as abusive. Gracing continued to be common into the middle of the nineteenth century but was reserved for lighter pieces with simpler harmonies. More serious pieces (at the time, generally Germanic) were not embellished. Hunter observes that “in the number of examples taken from the increasingly sacrosanct chamber music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven” in Baillot’s Art du violon of 1835, it is clear that “no ornamentation was to be added.”14

By Victorian times Edward Dannreuther, founder of the London Wagner Society, was writing in his Musical Ornamentation (a book that remained a standard reference for many years), “No one will care to advocate the revival of a host of obsolete curlicues and twirligigs, or the resuscitation of a habit of improvising facile variantes or running into division. Divisions and graces have had their day and have served their purpose.”15

Improvisation: The Domain of the Performer

A master [i.e., professional musician] can tell by the plaine notes, and the course of the air, how to grace with advantage, as well as he that made the composition.

Roger North, The Musicall Gramarian, ca.1726

North wrote in the 1720s that “the practice of Gracing [improvising passaggi] is the practise [!] of Composition, and without skill in the latter, the other will never succeede.”16 Quantz tells us the same thing. The French essential graces, he writes, were actually only the tip of the iceberg, because they could be learned without understanding harmony. But, for the more elaborate Italian passaggi, including preludes, divisions, and cadenzas, one had to have knowledge of composition. Quantz wrote, “You will have to do like many singers, and keep a master constantly at hand from whom you can learn variations for each Adagio.”17 This custom has not yet been revived, which accounts for the dismal cadenzas of most singers nowadays—cadenzas being commonly expected in vocal solos.

Modern performers (including many HIP performers) tend not to be very interested in extemporization. Although we all improvise with language for hours every day, most of us have had the child’s delight in improvising music trained out. The natural ability to play “off the page,” to fake it when necessary, is drummed out of us nowadays before we’re half finished with conservatory training. Where seventeenth- and eighteenth-century musicians had a casual view of written music, and no doubt “improved” pieces regularly, a modern performer usually feels a definite constraint about altering anything.

This seems quite remarkable to musicians who play by ear; in the sardonic words of one:

In the Straight world the performer approaches music on tiptoe. Music is precious and performance constitutes a threat to its existence. So, of course, he (p.208) has to be careful. Also, the music doesn’t belong to him. He’s allowed to handle it but then only under the strictest supervision. Somebody, somewhere, has gone through a lot of trouble to create this thing, this composition, and the performer’s primary responsibility is to preserve it from damage. At its highest, music is a divine ideal conceived by a super-mortal. In which case performance becomes a form of genuflection.18

The least a singer could do nowadays is use the trick of Mme Mara, a famous prima donna of the late eighteenth century. In her performance of an aria by Gazzaniga in Venice in 1790, “She wrote out four different ornamented versions. By memorizing the different versions and employing them on subsequent nights during the run of the opera, Mara was able to give the impression of improvisation, which, she boasted, secured her triumph that season in Venice over her rival Brigida Banti.”19

That the ability to embellish overlapped into composition shows the ambiguity that existed at the time between performing and composing. At one of his Saturday soirées, Rossini asked the singer Adelina Patti, after she had given a particularly florid rendition of one of his more famous arias (“Una voce poco fa”), “Very nice, my dear, and who wrote the piece you just performed?”20 (A good question!)

Dennis Libby wrote of late eighteenth-century Italian opera seria:

The composer determined the general character and structure of the composition and filled in its main outlines, leaving the surface detail to be supplied spontaneously by the performer in the heightened state induced by performance. This division of function was conceived of as complementary, with the contributions of composer and performer both essential to the final result.21

Composers usually wrote for specific musicians, with their techniques and capabilities in mind. In their turn, performers were highly sensitive “to the character of the music as the composer had determined it, for it was the performer’s task to intensify that character.” To quote Libby:

The performer’s contribution to a piece of music in performance was not regarded as post-compositional but as the final stage in the act of composition itself. It follows that it was not the composer’s score but the performed music that embodied the finished work of art, one that was both fluid—varying with each realisation—and ephemeral, not directly recoverable. The concept of performance as work of art can be seen as the central principle of this musical practice.

In such an atmosphere, something else emerges: no longer the composer’s score, but the entire company’s (built, of course, on the genius of the official composer). This principle would apply especially to a musical genre like opera seria, where:

‘What is to us the “work”,’ he [Strohm] writes, ‘was 250 years ago only the “production”,’ and that was dominated to such an extent by singers that, as reconstruction, ‘a revival of an opera seria today should really concentrate (p.209) less on what Handel or Hasse wrote than on what Senesino or Farinelli did with the chief role.’ And if we had a Senesino, ‘it might not matter so much that some of his arias were by Harnoncourt and not Handel. In fact they could even be by Penderecki.’22

In recent concerts, Matthias Maute improvised over original orchestral material in a Vivaldi recorder concerto. Playing without music, he extemporized parts of the outer Allegros, a completely new Adagio, and a cadenza of close to ten minutes. He wrote me recently, “The improvised Vivaldi cadenza was okay, though a little shaky—I grew nervous. It is such an uncommon situation to improvise a musical/technical exhibitionist piece … but it is part of the ‘métier’, that’s why I absolutely want to go down that road.” I hope other musicians will have the courage to follow Matthias.

Some improvisers believe it is impossible to transcribe improvisations. But then, the best performers of written music give the illusion that they are improvising (since to read mechanically is the kiss of death). Besides, composing is often a matter of repeating a good invention often enough to be able to remember it and get it down on paper. The act of writing down the notes is actually a mechanical process that consists of documenting an idea that already exists. The creative moment has already taken place when the invention or inspiration occurred to the composer while performing or practicing. Often, of course, this will be followed by a structural organization that can sometimes be achieved only on paper.

In the relationship between composer and performer, the two extremes of the spectrum were improvisation and Canon. Improvisation entirely eliminated the need for a separate person to produce musical inventions and write them down (the composer). In Romantic playing, the reverse was true, so that a recent writer like Peter Kivy could ask, “Composing is one kind of skill, performing another. Why should anyone think that talent or expertise in the one should imply either in the other?”23

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that improvisation declined in the Romantic period, while the role of the artist-composer increased. By the twentieth century, improvisation was virtually purged from Classical music, and “untouchability” was the rule. Bailey writes bitterly of Modern style:

The petrifying effect of European classical music on those things it touches—jazz, many folk musics, and all popular musics have suffered grievously in their contact with it—made the prospect of finding improvisation there pretty remote. Formal, precious, self-absorbed, pompous, harbouring rigid conventions and carefully preserved hierarchical distinctions; obsessed with its geniuses and their timeless masterpieces, shunning the accidental and the unexpected.24

Style-Copying in Composing

Let’s test the principle of style-copying with the example of Period composing. I presume it is clear what I mean by the term “Period composing.” (p.210) I’m not thinking of pieces that are essentially modern but tip their hat to past styles, citing them as references. Nor do I mean Modernist pieces written for Period instruments. What I have in mind is in the same spirit as Skowroneck’s Lefébure harpsichord—a style-copy, which I defined in chapter 8 as “a copy, not based on any specific original, that is so stylistically consistent that experts cannot discover anachronisms or inconsistencies in it; a correctly attributed ‘fake.’”

This would also be a good definition of newly composed Period music. The particular work is quite original, but the vessel in which it is contained, that is, both the genre and the style, is fixed and constant—new wine in old bottles. This is the way Baroque composers composed their pieces: within the conditions of a shared convention.

And this runs directly into a diametrically opposed starting point of New music. Most modern composers are involved in inventing a system, a style as it were, for every new piece. Actually writing the notes can be less interesting than developing the new medium. New and unique bottles, wine unspecified.

Roll over Beethoven

Talking over the idea of Period composing with friends and colleagues while writing this book, I’ve been surprised to see that it inspires controversy, sometimes even from people who have devoted their lives to HIP. Naturally, I’ve tried to find out why, but I have yet to get a complete answer. Subjects that elicit strong emotional responses like this usually touch on basic issues, though it may not be immediately obvious what the issues are. Thinking about them can act like an X-ray machine, showing HIP’s basic values, and where it—or part of it—will not go.

Period composition gets all kinds of disparaging names like “mimicry,” “parody,” “plagiarism,” and “spuriosity.” These words are not normally applied to any of the parallel musical activities of Period musicking. Nobody accuses Period musicians of playing “plagiarized” or “fake” concerts, for instance. Period recordings are never called “spuriosities.” Nor is a careful replica of a recorder called a “parody” of an original, or an Urtext edition a “mimicry” of the original manuscript. But as soon as the idea of composing in Period style comes up, one begins to hear these words.

The objections to Period composing seem to revolve around four issues:

  • Period performing is alright but Period composing is not;

  • the continuing force of the imperative of originality and the cult of genius;

  • the question of copying;

  • chronocentrism: composing should be exclusively in modern style.

I’ve heard people say that to compose in a Period style would not be speaking with one’s true voice. The implications of that are disheartening: (p.211) that performing in a consciously old style is also putting on a false voice; acting, in other words. As if the whole of HIP was a kind of theoretical exercise. Yet I wonder how composing in the style of twenty-five years ago is any different—any truer—than composing in the style of three hundred twenty-five years ago.

I’m beginning to realize that, just as all concert music—even that of last night’s New music concert—is music of the past. Whether we use the style of three hundred years ago or the style of ten years ago, or ten days, it is some kind of tradition we are using; the only difference is the age of the tradition. A style ten years old has to be self-consciously learned exactly like a style of three hundred years ago. The issue, it seems, is a matter of how far back you feel like going.

Ton Koopman recounts his own experience as a conservatory student, for instance:

I wanted to study composition as well, but I always composed in 17th or 18th century style. The teacher at the conservatory felt that I should change, that I should write in a modern style. I said to him, “but I’m not interested in doing that”, and he replied, “then I’m not interested in teaching you”. So occasions like … my reconstruction of the St Mark Passion, where I composed the missing recitatives, are welcome.25

Among those who are New music adherents or composers themselves, there is a general feeling that New music is in trouble, audiences are small, and if it were not for “artificial respiration” (universities and government grants), it would succumb. One way out of the impasse is to look at the music doing well in concerts these days, as that is what people seem to want to hear. If one has to choose a style in which to compose, why not choose a Period one? Like building seventeenth-century houses (see the beginning of ch. 7). And a performing infrastructure is in place!

Thoughts on the Genius Barrier

Historically, composing wasn’t done by a distinct person with the unique role of “artist-composer,” but rather by performing musicians as one of their jobs. Performers who didn’t compose at all, like nowadays, or who performed only other people’s music, were much less common in former times than they are now.

When Fritz Kreisler announced that he himself had written most of the “early” repertoire he played, Ernest Newman, the influential London music critic, bitterly questioned Kreisler’s ethics. He also commented that it showed “how easy it is, and always was, to write this kind of music.”26 Newman wrote,

Anyone with the least bit of music in him and the least knowledge of the period could produce this sort of thing [the overture to Handel’s Acis and Galatea] any morning with the hand he did not require for shaving…. When (p.212) music becomes a less generalised and formalised and more personal matter as it did in the 19th century, imitation becomes more difficult, because there is no formula to exploit.

This seems to be a natural attitude among humans. Landowska called it “Le mépris pour les anciens” (condescension for one’s elders). And Roger North, also probably thinking of the same attitude, commented, “The grand custome of all is to affect novelty, and to goe from one thing to another, and despise the former. And it is a poorness of spirit, and a low method of thinking, that inclines men to pronounce for the present, and allow nothing to times past.”27

It seems the Romantic obligation to produce “great works” is still a factor. The word “masterpiece” is commonly heard. Light and easy music is not in this club. But things were different in early times, when composers were not yet under this obligation to be profound and sublime. Burney in 1773, for instance, describes compositions he likes as “very well written, in a modern style; but neither common, nor unnaturally new.”28 It would be good for composers if they did not feel required to make every piece they wrote—or played—a magnum opus. Roger North’s description of a piece in 1728 contrasts revealingly with the impressions of the early Romantic, Ludwig Tieck. North wrote about his piece, “It was a happy thought, and well executed, and for the variety, might be styled a sonnata; onely, the sound of bells being among the vulgaritys, tho’ naturally elegant enough, like comon sweetmeats, grows fulsome, and will not be endured longer than the humour of affecting a novelty lasts.”29 By contrast, here is Tieck in the nineteenth century: “With its angelic presence, it enters the soul immediately and breathes heavenly breath. Oh, how all memories of all bliss fall and flow back into that one moment, how all noble feelings, all great emotions welcome the guest!”30

Two Examples of Present-Day Period Composing

Among the more striking examples of present-day Period composition are pieces by two German woodwind players, Winfried Michel and Matthias Maute (the work of another very interesting Period composer, Hendrik Bouman, did not come to my attention until too late to discuss here). Michel explains that his original inspiration for trying his hand at writing in plausible Period style was a comment he once heard from Gustav Leonhardt to the effect that we are not able to achieve perfect mastery of composition as Baroque composers did.31 Michel wondered why not and proceeded to produce a number of good pieces, several of them now published and recorded, which are in quite credible eighteenth-century style.

Michel writes in his “Simonetti-Manifest”:

Ornamenting a solo line and realizing a figured Bass are right on the threshold of the act of composition. Small wonder every really good player in the “Baroque” period was a composer. I don’t understand how it is possible, (p.213) the swarms of (technically good) ensembles nowadays, always playing the same pieces. It’s a kind of vegetating in the past.32

Michel has published his remarkable pieces under several different names. Those by Giovanni Paolo Simonetti are in mid-eighteenth-century Berlin style and later German styles.

                      Passive and Active Musicking                      Stop Staring and Grow Your Own                   AUDIO SAMPLE: 70. C. Huntgeburth and W. Michel, 1982–85. Simonetti: Adagio ma non tanto, Sonata II/3

Michel also composes pieces by Giovanni Paolo Tomesini, playing with the possibilities of moving between the melodic idioms from Sebastian Bach to Beethoven. I find “Tomesini’s” pieces not only interesting but particularly touching.

                      Passive and Active Musicking                      Stop Staring and Grow Your Own                   AUDIO SAMPLE: 71. Ludger Rémy, 1992. Tomesini: Andante in D, 2d Clavierstuck

Matthias Maute is a recorder virtuoso now living in Montreal. He’s written a number of pieces in two general categories: style-copies (early eighteenth-century German),33 and mid-twentieth-century styles.

                      Passive and Active Musicking                      Stop Staring and Grow Your Own                   AUDIO SAMPLE: 72. Ensemble Caprice, Rebel, 2001. Maute: 3d movement, Concerto detta la Sammartini

As this was going to press, I learned of the existence of a guild of “composers of the contemporary Baroque revival.” They are located at www.voxsaeculorum.org.

Designer Labels

During the time it was thought to be by Vermeer, van Meegeren’s Disciples at Emmaus was admired and praised by many thousands of people and was described by one of the world’s experts as “the masterpiece of Vermeer.”34 Presumably, real Vermeers were compared to it to determine proper attribution. If it had been known to have been by van Meegeren, it would never have been given such respect and attention.

Fakes in the art world involve deceptive attribution, by definition. It can be argued that, in writing or painting in an old style, deception is sometimes useful or necessary. That is because of the factor of snobbery. Everyone, including the experts, has to believe the fake is (or could be) original or it won’t be judged with the same æsthetic standards as works that are believed to be original. Even Skowroneck, who did not set out to make a “permanent deception,” had as his stated purpose the production of a harpsichord that could pass as antique.

(p.214) This same dilemma faces the Period musician who composes. The only way their pieces are likely to be accepted at face value by audiences is if he identifies them as the work of some musician of the appropriate period—one preferably not too famous. But if, on the other hand, they use their own names, it inspires an automatic uncertainty. One Period composer told me that going through an unmasking routine (disguising a newly composed piece as an antique in order to get it taken seriously and later confessing the deception) annoys many people and he has stopped doing it.

Winfried Michel has developed a clever way of dealing with this problem. Michel adopts the pseudonyms mentioned above, Simonetti and Tomesini, and publishes them in the standard context and format for Baroque pieces edited by musicologists. While giving a general impression that his “sources” are old, he is scrupulously honest in his tongue in cheek description of them: “handwritten score … used for the present edition. Formal, melodic, and harmonic particularities … enable a likely dating of the work at between 1730 and 1740. Our edition follows the very carefully written source exactly; a few additions by the editor are given in brackets.”35 He uses the historical jargon despite the fact that the pieces are announced on the title page as being “composed and edited [!] by Winfried Michel” in 1978–79.

Our Own Music

Period composing is the most profound use we musicians have yet made of Period styles, applying them to our imagination and our dormant sense of improvisation. Composition, particularly in Period style, is a very small step from performing and improvising. Still, it demands knowledge and the practice of new techniques, as well as trust in ourselves that we have at last completely taken these styles on board.

This, even more than performing music from a page, is a testimony to how well we have engaged Period styles. Far from reproducing a work already done, we will have thoroughly adopted a style and a manner of work from another time, while making music in the present—our own music. Matthias Maute writes in his new book, “Anyone who invents music themselves goes beyond the habits and customary role of ‘interpreting’ music.”36 As José A. Bowen puts it, “The point of learning a new language is that we can eventually speak for ourselves. When we are fluent, we can create expressions never heard before, but still understood.”37 When composing in Period style becomes common, we will have graduated from being cover bands to being creators of a contemporary music. We will have achieved self-sufficiency, and no longer be a colony of the past.


(1.) Adams 2002–5: debate with John Shinners.

(2.) Birnbaum 1738 in Bach Dokumente II:299.

(3.) Small 1998:110.

(4.) Ong 1982.

(5.) Bailey 1992:10.

(6.) Preface to Euridice, quoted in Neumann 1978:10.

(7.) Bacilly’s colleague Jacques de Gouÿ—on the advice of fellow-composers Lambert and Moulinié—actually removed graces he had notated in an edition of 1650.

(8.) See Neumann 1978:31–36.

(9.) Rameau, Code de musique pratique (1760), 13, quoted in Neumann 1978:11.

(10.) This little section is not meant to describe the whole subject, merely some aspects that have to do with our modern response to them. A good short summary of historical gracing is Fuller 1989:124–30, and two excellent books of practical instruction in gracing and passages are Mather 1973 and Mather and Lasocki 1976.

(11.) Troisième Livre (1722).

(12.) Goehr 1992:232.

(13.) Rosen 2000:212; Brown 1999:425.

(14.) Hunter 2005:367.

(15.) 1893, I:vii, quoted in Haskell 1988:33.

(16.) North in Wilson 1959:149.

(17.) Quantz 1752:14 § 2–3.

(18.) Bailey 1992:66.

(19.) Baird 1995:28.

(20.) Cited by R. Osborne in NG dictionary of opera 1:311, and quoted in Brown 1999:420.

(21.) Libby 1989:16.

(22.) Brett 1988:107 (quoting Reinhard Strohm, “Towards an understanding of the opera seria,” Essays on Handel and Italian opera (Cambridge, 1985), 94–98).

(23.) Kivy 1995:163.

(24.) Bailey 1992:19.

(25.) Golomb 2003.

(26.) Lochner 1951:298ff.

(27.) North 1728:258.

(28.) Burney 1773:1:312.

(29.) North 1728:257.

(30.) Quoted in Dahlhaus 1989:69.

(31.) Quoted in Michel 1982. It should be noted that these remarks are evidence of the modesty of a great musician, who has on occasion gone as far into composition as to make very convincing transcriptions of several of Bach’s pieces for solo instruments. These include BWV 995, 996, 998, 1001, 1002, 1004, 1005, 1006, and 1012.

(32.) Michel 1982.

(33.) Published by Amadeus and Carus.

(34.) Lessing 1983:59.

(35.) Michel 1981: introduction.

(36.) Maute 2005: Vorwort.

(37.) Bowen 1996a:35.