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Saturday morning quotes 8.3: Empathy

This brief post has a dual purpose: 1) to discuss the quality of empathy and why it is a trait that is essential for musicians, particularly in ensemble, and 2) to address the current state of the English language as a measure of the true decline of civilization.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, empathy is defined as:

“The ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.”

Or in the context of psychology:

“The quality or power of projecting one’s personality into or mentally identifying oneself with an object of contemplation, and so fully understanding or appreciating it. Now rare.”

Although “now rare” refers to the usage, we agree that the ability to fully understand and appreciate the object of contemplation is indeed now rare. In more practical terms, according to Psychology Today:

“Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own, and enables prosocial, or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced.”

For musicians, particularly musicians who concentrate on effective interpretation of historical music, empathy is an essential quality. First, one must develop empathy with the historical meaning and purpose of the music in order to comprehend, in a basic sense, just how the music works. Next, one must delve into the cultural context of the music in order to identify, absorb and translate the rhythmic shape of the music and, in the realm of vocal music, the meaning of the words. Thirdly, the interpreter must live with the music over a span of time long enough to actually perform the result of his or her understanding.

The next step applies to ensemble musicians. After having thoroughly embraced the music one is to perform, ensemble musicians must possess the quality of empathy in common with one another to project interpretive ideas that have been agreed upon and rehearsed to the point at which the performance presents to the receptive audience organically as easy and agreeable conversation.

According to Neuroscience News,

“Highly empathic people process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the areas activated when feeling empathy for others. They also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by increased activation of the reward system.”

But here we must mention the difference in usage between “empathic” and “empathetic”. The journalist who penned the above quotation effectively “jargonized” a term in a manner that, while perhaps not exactly wrong, is not nice. The author meant to say “Highly empathetic people…”, which refers to the class of people possessing empathic traits. Or, if you will, a class of people displaying the hallmarks of an empathic condition. The condition is empathic, the people are empathetic.

If we give in to dehumanizing usage and the callous incorporation of jargon into the English language, we have entirely lost our footing and we are careening uncontrollably down the slippery slope upon which our civilization has been teetering for decades, and landing full stop mired in the muck of incomprehension. Now we have come to understand that “irregardless” has entered the lexicon, and we simply cannot stomach non-words shooting from the lips of political commentators who should know better, such as uttering “architected” to describe the act of design in the past tense. This is just too much.

Saturday morning quotes 8.2: Corrections

Since we have been preoccupied with rather time-consuming matters, we are taking the unusual step of re-posting an essay from 2012. This one was not part of our regular Saturday morning quote series and therefore quite likely missed by many of our regular readers.

The post is among several we have offered collating known facts and speculative details concerning the life and music of John Dowland. Since we have in recent memory published a new edition of Dowland’s Complete Ayres for Voice and Lute, and since we are just now engaged in recording more songs by Dowland and his contemporaries, we like to check in now and then to revisit questions of historical context, the answers to which help keep us on the straight and narrow. We will return soon with more music to share; meanwhile we direct our readers to an understated and direct performance of Dowland’s most emblematic song for voice and lute.

Original title – Dowland and Correctness

The recorded music industry has for years targeted as a market group those of us who are more than mildly interested in history, and who long to have a connection with a more ‘reality-based community’ than is possible in our current culture; a culture that is wholly based upon illusions conceived and communicated through technology.  They have appealed to our need for a sense of tradition.  They have encouraged us to think that there was an ‘authentic’ interpretation that rendered all others invalid, available only on a particular label and recorded by approved musical stars.  They have actively encouraged our tendency to collect objects that evoke a mythologized, sanitized and newly-fabricated tradition that really never existed as it is described in the adverts.

They have played us for saps.

One could argue that the invention of the printing press did the same thing.  Technology made possible the refinement, codification and dissemination of information and ideas.  The difference is that the creation of printed matter was something to which one committed his thought, time and attention.  A printed book was the result of intensive effort in writing, editing, and laying out for coherence of theme and enduring visual appeal.  The production, manufacture and distribution of a book required expert human activity.   Discovering a book required physical activity in visiting a bookshop or a library, taking the book from the shelf where it was displayed, hefting its weight, opening the cover and cracking open the newly-cut pages.  It required active participation to digest the information and even to store or display the book once it was read, hopefully to be re-read or referenced.

Today, real and substantial things to which we have assigned significance and value are crumbling and vanishing before our very eyes.  Electronic transmission and storage of music has served to undermine the attractive packaging and presentation of a recording project that may represent a lifetime of scholarship, artistic insight and the pursuit of technical skill.  Now music is sampled online by listeners who are overwhelmed by diversity and choice, and who are easily distracted by bright, bold colors and movement. The advertising industry tells us this.  They also tell us that music now must be given away if an artist hopes to attract attention to his or her catalog of expensively-produced recordings.  Glamorous videos must be made available, filmed according to the latest visual style and standard with top-quality resolution for sound and picture.

Those of us who actually care about history and tradition are well and truly assaulted with an  overload of sensory information, a multitude of choices, and packaging that adds a phony glamorous sheen to products that never seem to satisfy.  The instant we purchase the item, we are told that there is something more needed to make it better, more complete — or even barely functional.  In the end, electronic music files and pdf copies of important written matter simply get filed away on some storage device, out of sight and out of mind.

The point?  Those of us who care about ideas and artifacts of the past are constantly bombarded with commercialized reconstitutions of old things, packaged and promoted to convince us that we really need to see, hear and buy this fresh and novel approach.  In the end, it’s all just sales talk.

Take the music of John Dowland (1563 -1626).  Based on surviving written descriptions, Dowland was surely a fantastic performer on the lute and a highly-skilled composer for the instrument, both solo and in ensemble with voices and viols.  His reputation is backed up by the existence of a great deal of surviving music, both published and hand-written in manuscript sources.

But some 400 years after his time, how do we judge Dowland’s music today?  The four centuries that separate us from the currency of his music have placed between us the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky, John Cage, Charles Ives and Harry Partch.  As a culture, we have ‘progressed’ in technology from travel by horse and cart to supersonic aircraft.  Music that was quiet, intimate, and only available live and in person can now be electronically amplified past the threshold of pain.  The magic achieved in live performance can now be electronically captured and played repeatedly to the point where it can become wretched and repulsive.  How can we possibly judge the quality of Dowland’s music with the enormous gap in time, space and culture that separates us?

We can’t. The best we can do is make an attempt to understand how the music was created and received in its original context, and appreciate the elements of the music that affect us today.

What does not seem appropriate is judging Dowland’s music for ‘correctness’ in retrospect and applying a misdirected standard based on music that came later, and the work of musicologists and historians who cannot help but insert examples and references to other ‘great’ composers by way of comparison.  This phenomenon, beginning as early as the 18th century bile of Charles Burney, taints our perception of the intrinsic value of old music by judging it against an inappropriate standard.

“After being at the pains of scoring several of Dowland’s compositions, I have been equally disappointed and astonished at his scanty abilities in counterpoint, and the great reputation he acquired with his contemporaries…”

“Besides want of melody and design, with the confusion and embarrassment of a Principiante in the disposition of the parts, there are frequently unwarrantable, and, to my ear, very offensive combinations in the harmony; such as a sharp third and flat sixth; and extreme flat fourth and sixth, etc…”

“As a composer, the public seem to have been right in withdrawing that favour from Dowland which had been granted on a bad basis; but with regard to his performance we have nothing to say: as at this distance of time there is no judgement what proportion it bore to others who were better treated.”

– Charles Burney, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, 1776

Then there is the question of whether surviving sources not written in Dowland’s hand or printed under his supervision actually represent what the composer had in mind.  This is a waste of time that is premised on the misdirected anachronistic idea that an URTEXT of the Master’s work survives bearing the stamp of his approval.  Most of Dowland’s music was in dance forms that were quite likely repeated and embellished ad lib in live performance, and all of his music was meant to be re-created in intimate spaces in performances that depended absolutely on the sound and resources of the lute.  That some of his lute music works on other instruments, or that his music composed for voices or instrumental ensemble works so well on its own merits, attests to the depth of of the composer’s artistic skill.  But there is no reason to wrench that music out of its time and context and compare it to what came later by composers who learned from Dowland’s example.

Of course mistakes in printing and hand-copying happened and lutenists have always made corrections on the fly, adding a bass note here or resolving a suspension there.  But the plain fact is that many musicians and listeners in Dowland’s time just did not care so much about what we have come to think of as ‘correct’ voice-leading and parallels that resulted from stringing.  Presumably, they did not have the benefit of attending lectures by our modern day continuo specialists who have since put things right.  Dowland stated plainly that lutenists should understand “Pricke-song”, and saw fit to mention that he preferred not to employ the more commonly used octave strings on his bass courses as “irregular to the rules of Musicke”.  But his very mention of this indicates the norm was acceptable to most ears.  Octave stringing on citterns, renaissance guitars and re-entrant tunings on theorbos and  baroque guitars create inversions that are quite irregular to the rules of music, but are an artifact of the stringing, the tuning and the times.

As for the question of correcting Dowland’s music and restoring it to what the composer himself would have expected, this really should go without saying.  Anyone with a good musical ear and training in historical music will spot and fix errors and omissions in the score, hopefully remaining true to the conventions of the period.  But musical notation in any form is merely a guide to performance, and if we all described in minute detail our process of interpretive performance, we would never hear the ample selection of his music now available in recorded form, which, we are told, is better than it sounds.

Saturday morning quotes 8.1: The future is now

No, it is not the end for us, but after twenty-five years or so, the lute discussion list that has been generously maintained by lutenist Wayne Cripps is shutting down. Wayne is retiring and will no longer have access to the servers that host the discussion list, housed at Dartmouth College. One cannot help but observe how this seemingly routine event really marks the end of an era, both for the lute revival and in respect to modern modes of communication. It also draws attention to how the Age of the Internet has transitioned from a period of mutual discovery, alternative community-building, and the sharing of resources, to the present model where a variety of “social media” platforms employ deceptive data-scraping methods against a coöperative and naïve public.

There is a great deal of reflection on the topic of the future of the lute. This sort of discussion is particularly characteristic of the self-referential Boomer generation, which tends to believe that every event that occurred over the past sixty years has to do with their cohort group. On the topic of the lute revival that gathered steam during the 1970s, while it was certainly a large component of the the early music revival generally, it was a phenomenon that was driven mainly by classical guitarists who had an affinity for the segment of repertory for their instrument that was drawn from historical lute music and adapted for guitar.

Classical guitarists are mainly interested in solo music that can be studied in isolation, and are known for their tendency to obsess on details of mechanical instrumental technique. This tendency was a hallmark of the lute revival because the better lutenists were all former classical guitarists. According to articles and correspondence one can peruse in the American lute society’s newsletter archive, at some point in the late 1960s a division occurred between guitarists who were happy to apply their hard-won technique to the lute, and lutenists who insisted that the lute could only be played properly by discovering and emulating historical right-hand techniques for the instrument. There was as a result an acrimonious division between those who insisted upon “thumb-under” technique and those who were fine with a more generic approach.

The problem was that “thumb-under” technique was only appropriate for a segment of early 16th-century repertory, a time during which iconography shows that many players were also depicted as using a “thumb-out” technique that was very similar to the right-hand technique of the modern guitarist. Driving the argument further into the realm of absurdity, lutenists began inappropriately applying “thumb-under” technique to later music for baroque lute and theorbo, the repertory of which clearly demanded “thumb-out” technique, a truism reinforced by iconography, historical narrative, and plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face good sense.

To a professional musician outsider who already played several different stringed instruments, this division and dissension was all just plain silliness. If one cares about the result, one adapts technique for the instrument and the context of the music. End of story.

The fact is, the very idea that the lute revival is over is a trait attributed to what is called the Baby Boomer generation, also known as just plain Boomers. To me, a boomer is an archaic term that describes a drifter who went from one railroad job to another, a term dating to frontier days when the itinerant or the desperate followed boom camps. This type of boomer is memorialized in an old song that formed the basis of my musical education:

Riley Puckett (1894 – 1946)

And while we have your attention on this matter, we can announce that our alter-ego, Eulalie, will be releasing (hopefully October 2020) our CD of what we call “Heart-Songs & Country Blues”, music from the turn of the last century. Here are two pre-release recordings to whet your appetite.

Old & in the way (1880), and Baptist Shout (banjo solo, 1927)

OK, back to Boomers. The reason Boomers are so self-referential is because they have been the target of mass-marketing their entire lives, and have been taught that fulfilling personal desires, mainly through products, is the one true goal in life. This is no accident.

In 1928, President Herbert Hoover reinforced this notion when he told a group of advertisers and public relations specialists:

“You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress.”

As far back as 100 years ago, the advertising industry industry kicked into overdrive planting the seeds of envy, evident in this quotation by Paul Mazur, a banker with the now defunct Lehman Brothers, who authored the standard textbook on retail business, Principles of Organization Applied to Modern Retailing, Harper, New York, 1927. In an earlier article, Mazur laid out the strategy:

“We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

– Paul M. Mazur, “The logic of department-store organization”, Harvard Business Review, April, 1925, pp. 287-296.

The end of the lute list does not have to mean the end of the lute revival. But it is very important to take stock of who lutenists are as a community and strive to keep alive the spirit of discovery so that it may be passed on to the next few generations. This will not happen through social media platforms, which are only data-scraping tools that are deliberately contrived to deceive participants into revealing more personal information than they should for the sole purpose of monetizing every scrap of data.

Our contribution to keeping the spirit of discovery alive is to share a track from an upcoming album (December 2020) of English lute songs, strangely enough titled Unquiet Thoughts. The track we are previewing today is “The Sypres curten of the night” by Thomas Campion.

Campion is best remembered for his Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602), but he also published masque music, a treatise on counterpoint, and four books of ayres for voice and lute. “The Sypres curten of the night” is from A Booke of Ayres (1601), a collaborative publication that also includes twenty-one songs by the more facile composer for the lute, Philip Rosseter.

Cypress is an ancient Hebrew word that describes the evergreen conifer belonging to the genus Cupressus. Cypress trees are evergreen conifers that achieve a height of around 80 feet tall, and present in an upright conical shape. The cypress tree is an ancient symbol of mourning, with references dating to ancient Greek and Roman times, and in Christian symbolism, the cypress is thought to be the tree used for the crucifixion.

In Campion’s poetry, the cypress acts as a curtain that separates the worlds of the quick and the dead. Drapery is also found in Classical Greek art as a symbol for mourning. In a typical display of Elizabethan wit, Campion (or Rosseter) weaves a direct musical quotation of the cantus of Dowland’s song, “My thoughts are winged with hopes” (First Booke of Songs, 1597) into the treble of the lute accompaniment. The irony would not have passed unnoticed by Dowland himself.

Our version in this recording is transposed from a rather shrill f-minor down a third to facilitate communication of the poetry, a practice which more likely approximates the original sound when we consider that the pitch standard was generally lower in 1601, and that voices always transposed to fit the tuning of the particular lute at its relative pitch.

The Sypres curten may be previewed here.

There is a great deal of reflection on the topic of the future of the lute. We would like to promote a sense of community around the instrument that has more to do with inviting newcomers and less to do with judging how well everyone measures up to some modern invented standard. That requires a sense of loyalty to the community.

Today, like nearly every aspect of life, loyalty is largely defined in a corporate sense rather than the loyalty of one human being to another (think non-disclosure agreements). Since the erosion of the cohesive family unit, a process that has taken its toll over the past century, loyalty in close relationships has also suffered. Since the dawn of the corporate culture, we have been encouraged (deliberately) to pursue our own interests above all other things, and we have been collectively programmed to believe that objects for sale in the marketplace will fill the void created by disintegrating relationships (retail therapy).

We urge all those interested in the lute revival to resist participating in the data-scraping platforms, and find ways to carry forward the spirit of collegiality established and maintained so many years by Wayne Cripps. Thank you Wayne.

To this already over-long and rambling post, actually beginning our eighth full year of Saturday quotes, we will add one more item. This past week saw the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In memoriam, we share a recent piece by our friend composer David Lamb, performed even more recently by our friend cellist Malina Rauschenfels, who is also a budding lutenist.

Saturday morning quotes 7.52: Artist at work

stephen-tr

Several years ago we spotted an advert in an old issue of Early Music that illustrated a young man making lutes in a workshop course that purported to teach the luthier’s craft.  Since we knew that luthier Stephen Barber had studied at the same workshop, we wrote to ask if perhaps it was he in the photo.  It turned out that it was someone else, and to prove the point, Stephen and Sandi sent the photo on this page, illustrating a very focused Stephen at work, skillfully coercing a collection of thin strips of exotic wood to conform to the shape of a lute, circa 1980.

Stephen and his equally skilled partner Sandi Harris have been constructing a variety of plucked-string instruments based on historical models for well over forty years.  The team gained a breadth of knowledge of lute-making by visiting museums throughout the UK and Europe and taking painstaking measurements of surviving historical lutes. Together they have crafted instruments for nearly all of the top professionals in the field, but they are also responsive to less exalted aficionados who appreciate the team’s characteristic combination of artistic quality, practical utility, and attention to detail.  Sandi and Stephen are responsible for crafting the beautiful bass lute that features prominently in many of our performances.

Bass lute modeled after Hans Frei, c. 1520, by Sandi Harris & Stephen Barber

Bass lute modeled after Hans Frei, c. 1520, by Sandi Harris & Stephen Barber

Separated by an ocean, we have kept in occasional touch over the past fifteen years, sometimes sharing lute stories, such as the time we were interviewed live on air by a classical radio announcer who was so taken by the beauty of the lute depicted above that he was rendered speechless in the middle of the interview.  We actually had to head off the dreaded radio studio dead-air time to remind him that we were there to play live for his audience. 

One of the stories Stephen shared was about the legendary folk guitarist John Renbourn (1944 – 2015), honoring his memory just after his untimely passing.  Stephen related an endearing post-concert story that offered a glimpse of Renbourn’s personal habits and musical proclivities.

“John drove us all home from the gig in his battered white Mercedes 190SL, a comedy drive across London, oblivious of speed limits and quite a few traffic lights . . . we weren’t sure if the groaning, rattling chassis was going to make it – the car, that is –  but John swore it would (and swore at it a few times too). The conversation during the drive centred on John’s desire to acquire an orpharion at some stage, he’d always wanted to get his hands on one, and having heard a recording of Paul O’Dette playing on a 7c orpharion we’d made him, said he really wanted to try one of these instruments, feeling he may well find affinity with its metal stringing and touch. Back at Dave’s flat, the Glenmorangie came out, and we staggered home at around 4am. John came to the workshop a few weeks later, and we talked long about orpharions and bandoras, we showed him various moulds and the research material we had, along with photos of examples we’d made over the years. Sadly, we never got to!”

– Stephen Barber, correspondence from 2015

For decades, Stephen and Sandi have dedicated their lives to building fine instruments that make it possible for many early music practitioners to share the ethereal sounds of ancient music with their audiences; sounds we think offer an essential respite from the mad technocratic bubble that is the world today.  Like us, Stephen and Sandi are artists who survive on their work, as opposed to many who practice their art only because they have other means.  Over the past several years Stephen and Sandi have encountered very difficult health circumstances that have resulted in serious impediments to their ability to carry on with work, a situation we can readily understand. 

Professional lutenist and generous soul Lynda Sayce has very kindly set up a campaign to assist Sandi and Stephen with the overwhelming task of finding an alternative wheelchair-accessible workshop and moving their many years’ accumulation of specialty tools and timbers to a new location, enabling Sandi to continue their work.

Please visit the campaign and also the video channel where you can see a descriptive video produced by Lynda that lays out the situation in detail.  Lynda has also begun posting a curated collection of videos offered by those of us who wish to honor Stephen and Sandi’s artistic contribution to our widely scattered international community of lute-fanciers and early music enthusiasts. The collection currently features a characteristically sublime performance by Nigel North and, as of now, duo Mignarda.  Our performances feature the beautiful bass lute crafted for us by Sandi and Stephen, depicted above. 

 

 

Saturday morning quotes 7.51: Julian Bream (1933 – 2020)

julian-bream-plays-dowland

We see daily many lamentable indications that ours is a civilization in decline, with scant evidence of a basic standard of human decency in public and at large.  Standards of communication have disintegrated to the point that trivial tweets by twats are now the norm, and artistic standards are now measured by number of hits (frequently obtained through deceptive means) rather than quality of content.  If we care about standards at all, we must look to the past for benchmarks.  We must rediscover a time when there was a basic standard of decorum, when people (especially public figures) could speak in complete sentences (and were expected to speak the truth), and a time when artistic standards were measured by something more concrete and demonstrative than “likes” on social media.

The world lost a person who represented artistic integrity and a high artistic standard in music for plucked strings when the legendary Julian Bream passed away Friday August 14, 2020.  Mainly a concert guitarist with a background in jazz, Bream was an evangelist for the lute and its music, and he used the concert stage as a means of spreading the word to an audience who expected a high artistic standard and in return were treated to the rare sounds of ancient music performed with eloquence and virtuosity.

Like many other lutenists, my first experience with the sound of the lute was a recording by Julian Bream from the album depicted above, heard in the 1970s at the home of enlightened friends who were a few generations older.  My initial impression was that the music had dimension and vitality, and I began to probe into then scarce writings about the instrument and its music.  Having already written an homage to the man and his approach, we can do no better to pay our respects than re-post the text below, featuring excerpts from Bream’s 1960 interview with Ivor Mairants (1908 – 1998).



Julian Bream, posted November 28, 2015

Many of today’s lutenists first became aware of the instrument and its music via the playing of Julian Bream through his many recordings and concerts.  As the first 20th-century lutenist to perform to large audiences giving lute and guitar equal billing on the concert stage, he not only introduced many modern listeners to the instrument and its music but also set a very high standard for technique, style and interpretation.

A rather tasteless hallmark of the early music revival is the sometimes gratuitous and unspoken, sometimes outright obstreperous need to reject the pioneering work of those scholars and performers who early on took the trouble to research, interpret and share their discoveries.  This sad syndrome has its roots in the typical youthful rebellion against whatever came before, but is carried forward by the tide of academics or hotshot performers attempting to make a name for themselves by curling a lip at those who sport the old hat.

Those of us with a sense of perspective admire and revere the work of scholars and artists who managed to pry open the door and remove the first layers of dust obscuring our understanding of music from the distant past.  Throughout his illustrious career as a performer and recording artist, Julian Bream has never claimed that his technique of playing the lute was anything other than his personal approach and a way to draw the most music from a quiet and intimate instrument.  What could possibly be more authentic?

We offer insightful quotes drawn from Ivor Mairants‘ 1960 interview with Julian Bream, both legendary performers and exemplary musicians.

“I began with the guitar and after 8 years picked up the lute.  The reason is that first and foremost I was interested in the music of the lute and while you can play the music on guitar, you can’t play it exactly the same way.  The sound of the lute is more abstract for contrapuntal composition…It is lighter in texture.  It has less possibility of colour than the guitar but the lute has a more touching quality of sounds; a little more ethereal.  Whereas the guitar has more of the quality of sound of this world – you know what I mean?  Also, the abstract polyphony of the sixteenth century masters was built up by linear composition in which each part is as important as the other.”

When asked if the lute will become popular again:

“Well, given time there will be a renaissance in lute music, chiefly because more and more music is being delved into in museums and more is being published…There is a terrific revival in early music and I think in many ways the lute is the queen of instruments of old music and providing enough good musicians (I mean, not frustrated guitar players) get on the lute and really make beautiful sounds and play the music beautifully, otherwise there can’t be the same renaissance as there is on the guitar.”

When asked whether he thought of himself as a guitarist or a lutenist:

“What I am really interested in is not so much the instruments as what can be got out of them. And not only that, I think the power of plucked instruments in these days of noise and bustle very important and I think they have very unusual powers, providing that the right people are behind the ‘machine’ (i.e. behind the instrument), and I think they are very arresting instruments and very personal. They affect people when they listen to it – you know, very spontaneous. And that is what interests me with these instruments, too. The contact – the power of contacting people.”

When asked whether he thought a lute solo could create the same enthusiasm in an audience as a virtuoso violin concerto:

“Yes, I found that you can. I think it’s another approach. You bring the audience to you. The instrument is intimate. You don’t go out to them, you only give the feeling that you go out to them, but in actual fact through some cunning devices and some artifice and also by the very nature of the instrument it brings the back rows of the hall to the front.”

– Julian Bream from a 1960 interview with Ivor Mairants, My Fifty Fretting Years: A Personal History of The Twentieth Century Guitar Explosion, Ashley Mark Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1980. p. 279.

Julian Bream’s music can be found and enjoyed through his many recordings and videos but we offer links to a few of our favorites including an informal music session circa 1960, a performance with great violinist Stephane Grapelli, and performing on the lute for Igor Stravinsky.


We urge you to visit the original post and read the insightful comments from friends and colleagues, found at the bottom of the page.  We honor the memory of Julian Bream, a pioneering performer of the music we love.  Requiescat in pace.

Saturday morning quotes 7.50: 15th-century chansons

Medieval lute and singers2Today’s post revisits the performance of fifteenth-century chansons, a form particularly suited to Mignarda’s format of solo voice and lute.  As depicted above, chansons from the period were mainly composed in three parts; usually a shapely and melodic cantus line supported by a tuneful tenor line (often a cantus firmus), with the addition of a contratenor that interweaves among the two primary parts.  Most surviving examples assign text only to the cantus line, but occasionally the other lines bear a text as well.  Logic dictates that the untexted lines were likely rendered instrumentally, and we can be certain from many surviving paintings, tapestries and prose descriptions from the period that the lute frequently lute took one or more of the lines.

We have discussed in great length how the late 20th-century early music revival absconded with this beguiling and intimate music and imprinted a distinctly modern format that assigned all parts to voices, whether or not those parts were originally given a text in the manuscript sources.  This new format, labelled the “a cappella heresy” by Howard Mayer Brown, was advanced aggressively in the pages of the journal, Early Music, with the help of a very large marketing budget and with certain attitudinal reviewers who were on a mission to advance a potentially lucrative concept, not to mention academic research grants, recording contracts and steady work for a cadre of non-specialist singers.

“We wanted to influence the performers, the record-buying public and through them the record companies, and…we spared none of the instrument-based groups whose records came our way.  The tone may be scornful or patronisingly sorrowful, lofty or irritated, but the message was unmistakable: buy Gothic Voices, the Taverner Consort, the Hilliard Ensemble, and leave the rest.”

– Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002, p. 138.

By way of example:

“The Medieval Ensemble of London perform all the pieces with great care and musicianship.  If anything, the singers are perhaps a little too mellifluous, owing more to the English cathedral tradition than seems appropriate for music from medieval Italy; yet when the music is so beautifully sung it is difficult to complain.”

“Another more serious problem concerns their use of instruments.  Like most early music groups the Medieval Ensemble is based on a nucleus of instrumental performers, and consequently it is not surprising that when performing songs they should wish to use instruments for at least the untexted lower parts.  Indeed, without further thought it would seem to be the obvious solution.  But as Christopher Page has pointed out, ‘it has yet to be demonstrated that instruments participated in the performance of any music during the Middle Ages other than dances and intabulations’.”

– Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, review of Matteo da Perugia: Secular works, Medieval Ensemble of London, Florilegium DSLO 577, Early Music, Vol. 9, No. 2, April 1981, pp. 271-272.

This questionable premise and contrived argument was disingenuous in the extreme.  For instance, we could say that, because there is no DNA evidence, nor indeed secure documentation confirming and verifying that J.S. Bach utilized footwear covering his pedal extremities, we are forced to assume that he played the organ barefoot, and was forced to retire when he developed heel spurs.  While the abstract argument may be defensible, it is obvious to the practitioner that this is an absurd premise. After a few decades of ripening and desiccation, the dust has finally settled on the “a cappella heresy”, and former exponents of all-vocal performances of medieval music, including Christopher Page, have come to terms with the historical and artistic problems inherent in their distinctly 20th-century approach.

“For myself, I can say it was so difficult to obtain good clean performances of Du Fay songs with voices only, to say nothing of tuning problems, that I turned with relief to harps, lutes and voices during some later recording sessions.  I can well understand why many have done so since, and I am sure they will continue to perform them that way.”

– Christopher Page, introductory remarks to Essays on Renaissance Music in Honour of David Fallows: Bon jour, bon mois et bonne estrenne, Edited by Fabrice Fitch and Jacobijn Kiel, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2011 (ppg. 7-8).

Finally, we can calmly review the objective historical evidence and, with no objective other than getting to the heart of the music, we can re-create convincing performances of the repertory.  The aforementioned Howard Mayer Brown, a specialist in 15th-century chansons and the role of the lute in this music, provided cogent and helpful guidance.

“Fifteenth-century composers apparently conceived their music without regard for certain important elements that have since become an integral part of the compositional process.  Thus, they left to the imagination of performers the tasks of fitting each syllable of poetry to the music, of adding accidentals, and of creating a specific sonority by selecting appropriate combinations of voice and instruments.”

“How the composer’s intentions were realized in actual sound would have depended on the intelligence and musicality of the performerson how well they understood the “meaning” of the musicto a much greater extent than today, and any one version of a piece would have varied according to the forces available and the acoustical environment in which the performance took place.”

“Our task, then, is not to discover how any one individual chanson was performed on a specific occasion.  Rather, we must attempt to uncover the basic principles and conventions that guided fifteenth-century performers themselves in making their choices.  We must, in other words, investigate the limits of freedom within which the earlier musicians operated.”

– Howard Mayer Brown, “Instruments and Voices in the Fifteenth-Century Chanson,” Current Thought in Musicology, Edited by John W. Grubbs, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1976, p. 90.

Mignarda has a particular affinity for music of the late 15th century, with its distillation of sensitive poetry, clever use of canon and imitation among the individual musical lines, and transparency of texture.  We have selected a compact Concert Set of favorites for our first official monthly program, which we intend to make available by subscription.  We previewed the concept a few weeks ago, and we are still working out the many kinks that are impediments to offering access by subscription.

We have discovered that each hosting platform has a way of insinuating itself between us and you, our readers, friends and colleagues, and we find the intrusion unacceptable.  We are fully aware of the value we offer through this blog, but we are accustomed to maintaining a direct link to our audience, particularly now when something that approximates human contact is so important.    For  now, we are making our Concert Sets available to all, but we ask that you please scroll to the top of the page and consider making a donation to help working musicians continue to offer solace in these difficult times.  Click here for this month’s Concert Set.

Mignarda Concert Sets: “Fortuna desperata”

Medieval lute and singers2

“Chansons, polyphonic settings of elegant but highly formalized and stereotyped French poems, constituted the principal sort of secular music in western Europe during the fifteenth century…Some of the later fifteenth-century composers began to control and manipulate their free-flowing melodic lines by means of a network of motives and by imitation among all the voices, but the basic stylistic conventions were not overthrown until the advent of the equal-voiced imitative chanson a 4 by Josquin Des Pres and his near contemporaries… ”

– Howard Mayer Brown, “Instruments and Voices in the Fifteenth-Century Chanson,” Current Thought in Musicology, Edited by John W. Grubbs, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1976, p. 89.

Music on our Concert Set is drawn from the later 15th century, a time when the conventions of formalized poetry were giving way to more accessible and expressive forms.  We include a few chansons that were very popular for their time, and we perform them with the directness we believe was intended.  The more interesting chansons of the 15th century are quiet and transparent, and richly complex in terms of the counterpoint, phrase structure and rhythmical organization, with strict canon among the parts the norm rather than an exception.  Except for the later chansons of Josquin, music is fitted to complex poetical forms of the time; the formes fixes such as the ballade, virelai, and the rondeau, all of which follow a highly formalized repeat structure.

Popular imagery typically associates medieval music with unicorns and dragons, knights and castles, ladies with scoliosis wearing pointy hats. Performances frequently include costumes, ethereal atmospheric effects, unusual-sounding wind instruments, drones, miniature lutes, and all this performed in highly-reverberant recording space. These received modes of performance are really a modern invention that has more to do with Hollywood than with hard fact. Fanciful imagery and detatched performances more appropriate to sacred music create a false impression of secular chansons, since surviving historical remarks describing performances always comment on the intensity of passionate delivery. The purpose of all the intricate compositional detail is to convey the highly-charged emotional content of the poetry, which is not possible with the dispassionate, detached, and affected performances.

Our interpretations are probably quite unusual in that we tend to involve ourselves in the music and poetry as though it were current; treating it as we think real performers would have done rather than as fragile objets d’art on display in a museum. Listening to a recording in the intimate comfort of home is probably appropriate for the music, and so you get to enjoy what is probably a more authentic experience of music from more than 500 years ago.  A unique feature of our program is that, with the exception of the lute solo from a German source, all of the chansons on the program were intabulated for lute by Francesco Spinacino and published in the very first book of printed instrumental music, Spinacino’s Intabolatura de lauto libro primo and Intabolatura de lauto libro secondo, 1507.

We are presenting this program free to all for the time being.  Please scroll to the top of this page and donate if you can.

Our program opens with “Fortuna desperata”, a musical setting of an Italian poem that was enormously popular during the last quarter of the 15th century, with no fewer than five cantus firmus Masses based upon the melody by the likes of Obrecht, Josquin, and possibly La Rue.  For our purposes, the text of “Fortuna desperata” is drawn from the manuscript London 16439 (circa 1470s), where it is labeled a canzonetta intonata antica, indicating the poem was intended for a musical setting. Our version is based on the earliest form, ms Paris 4379.

Fortuna desperata, by Antoine Busnoys? (c. 1430 – 1492)

Fortuna desperata
Iniquita et maledecta
Che di tal donna electa
La fama hai denigrata,
Fortuna desperata.

Sempre sia bestemmiata
La tua perfida fede,
Che in te non ha merzede

O morte dispietata
Inimica et crudele,
Che d’alto piu che stelle
L’hai cusi abasata,
Fortuna desperata.

Desperate fortune,
Unjust and cruel,
Who has blackened the good name
Of a woman beyond compare,
Desperate Fortune.

May your treacherous faith
Always be cursed,
For there is no mercy in you.

O pitiless death,
Hostile and cruel
That abased her
Who stood higher than the stars,
Desperate Fortune.

“Je ne fay plus, je ne dis ne escrips” is a starkly emotional chanson that is attributed to Antoine Busnoys in two of its eighteen sources, but Danish musicologist Peter Woetmann Christoffersen has more securely ascribed it to the little-known Gilles Mureau (c. 1450 – 1512).  The poem has a complex and appealing rhyme scheme and is in the form of a rondeau tercet layé with only five lines in its refrain.  According to Christophersen, “Mureau shows an ability to make the upper voice seemingly ‘float’ upon the web of the lower voices. ‘Je ne fais plus’ is a particularly successful example of this, and it may be one of the reasons for the song’s lasting popularity.” Mignarda’s performance is based upon an intabulation of the tenor and contratenor lines found in the late 15th-century Thibault manuscript in the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Res. Vmd MS 27, f. 54.

Je ne fay plus, by Gilles Mureau (c. 1450 – 1512)

Je ne fay plus,
Je ne dis, n’escrips,
En mains escrips
L’on trouvera me regrets et mes plains.

De larmes plains,
Le moins mal que je puis les des crips

Toute ma joye est de soupirs escrips,
En dueil et cris
Il est a naistre
A qui je m’en plains.

Je ne fay plus, etc…

Sil mes sens
Ont aucuns doulx motz rescriptz,
Ils sont parscriptz,
Je passe temps pars desers et mes plainss,

Et la me plains d’aulcunes
Gens plus traistres quant escris.

Je ne fay plus, etc…

I do no more,
I say no more, nor do I write
In many a writing
You will find my regrets and complaints.

Full of tears,
that is the least I can say about it.

All my joy is written in sighs,
in sorrow and weeping,
he has yet to be born,
he to whom I can complain.

I do no more, etc…

If my feelings
gave rise to any sweet words,
they are now no more.
I spend my time in regrets & complaints,

And I lament
For I am betrayed

I do no more, etc…

Our lute solo is an example of a written-down improvisation on the hexachord from the German Buxheimer Orgelbuch, a large collection of music in keyboard tablature that dates from between 1450 and 1470.  Some of the music in the collection is attributed to Conrad Paumann (c. 1410 – 1473), an organist and lutenist who is credited with the invention of tablature as a means of scoring polyphonic part-music that is otherwise only available in separate part-books.  Happily, Paumann’s keyboard music translates well to the lute, which is likely no accident.

Mi ut re ut – Venise (Buxheimer Orgelbuch)

“Mon mari m’a diffamée” is classified as a Pastourelle jolie:

“A pastourelle, in short, is a poem about social encounter and evasion.  It may rely on the coordination of a wide range of themes and devices, from narrative landscapes to amorous dialogues, drawn from courtly and popular lyrics.”

– Richard Freedman, “‘Pastourelle jolie’: The Chanson at the Court of Lorraine, c.1500,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 1991, Vol. 116, No. 2 (1991), pp. 162.

 

The music, very questionably attributed to Josquin, is rhythmically active and quite intricately contrapuntal, a fact that is disguised by the rustic (if anachronistic) theme of the poetry.  This chanson is an early example of the use of popular forms of poetry and music by the nobility, a fad that endured with the later French kings who enjoyed dressing as peasants and shepherds (without the poverty and privation), in a hidden corner of the palace at Versailles.  Mignarda’s performance accentuates the intended playful character of the piece.  Unique to our performance, additional verses were texted and added as found in the essential resource by Brian Jeffery, Chanson Verse of the Early Renaissance, London, 1971.

Mon mari ma diffamée, Anonymous/Francesco Spinacino (fl. 1507)

Mon mari m’a diffamée
Pour l’amour de mon amy,
Pour la longue demourée
Que j’ay faicte avecque luy.

En dépit de mon mary,
Qui me va toujours batant,
J’en feray pis que devant.

J’ay veu quant j’estoie couchée
Entre les bras de mon amy,
Je n’estoie pas si fachée
Comme je suis au jourd’huy.

En dépit de mon mary,
Qui me va toujours batant,
J’en feray pis que devant.

J’ay esté mainte nuytée
Courir avec mon amy,
Que l’on me cuydoit couchée
En mon lict avec mon mary.

En dépit de mon mary,
Qui me va toujours batant,
J’en feray pis que devant.

My husband has slandered me
Because of my love for another.
Because of the long time
I have spent with him.

To spite my husband,
Who is always beating me,
I shall do worse than before!

When I was sleeping
In the arms of my beloved
I was not as cross
As I am today.

To spite my husband.

Many nights,
I have been with my lover
When everyone thought I was sleeping
In bed with my husband.

To spite my husband.

We complete our Concert Set with a setting of “Adieu mes amours” by Josquin Des Pres.  Unlike his contemporaries, Josquin refrained from setting forms like the rondeau and, while adhering to the mathematical musical intricacy of the time, he indulged in expressive melodic lines and was at the vanguard of what became the Parisian chanson.  “Adieu mes amours” was intabulated for solo lute by Spinacino (1507), Gerle (1533), twice by Hans Newsidler (1536) and by Benedict Drusina (1556).  Mignarda’s performance borrows bits from these intabulations to reconstruct our evocative version for solo voice and lute.

Adieu mes amours, by Josquin? (c.1450-1521) /Francesco Spinacino (fl. 1507)

Adieu, mes amours, m’attend
Ma boursse ne’enffle ne n’entend,
Et brief, je suis en desarroy,
Jusquez a ce qu’il plaise au roy
Me faire avancer de content.

Farewell, my love, they are awaiting me.
My purse is not swelling or expanding
and, in short, I am in disarray,
until it pleases the king
to advance my dispute.

Bass lute modeled after Hans Frei, c. 1520, by Sandi Harris & Stephen Barber

Bass lute modeled after Hans Frei, c. 1520, by Sandi Harris & Stephen Barber

Fortuna desperata…

*We close with a special note.  With the exception of “Fortuna desperata” all of the music on this program was performed on a bass lute from the workshop of Sandi Harris and Stephen Barber, who are currently facing very difficult health issues.  Lynda Sayce is constructing a web campaign to help ease the financial burden borne by another couple who have dedicated their lives to enriching the world with their art.  We will be providing links when the campaign is up and running.

Saturday morning quotes 7.49: Conception

escher-artWhat we perceive through the senses affects how our mind conceives, or forms an understanding of the thing.  Perception involves becoming aware of a thing through the senses, but conception is the ability to organize information in the mind to arrive at a useful understanding.

As performers of early music, we are obliged to seek out, through written example, information that leads us to an understanding of how historical musicians approached their music, what practical purpose it may have served, what resources were available to them in performance.  Otherwise, modern practitioners are not only subject to the influences of the intervening years, but also subject to the sometimes questionable examples of other performers who have adapted and redirected ancient music to serve as nothing more than concert and recording repertory.

The most fundamental way musicians become familiar with early music involves gaining an understanding of ancient notation and learning to draw the music from the score.  But that is only the first step down the path of understanding the meaning of the music, for the score only contains enough information to convert symbols to sounds, and there the interpretive journey begins.

“…One’s perception of the composition is the source of one’s conception of its performance. And while the score remains one authoritative measure of the validity of all such conceptions, it can never have been so completely and perfectly notated as to permit only one re-creation as uniquely correct.”

– Edward T. Cone, “The Authority of Music Criticism” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Spring, 1981, Vol. 34, No. 1, p. 6.

Since so much historical music was functional in nature, we have to accept the premise that the composer lost all control the moment a printed score was available to others.  In essence, the composer sanctioned adaptations and alternatives, and accepted that there was not one true way to perform his or her music. But the further we are in time from the era of the music in question, the more difficult the task for today’s performer to understand the composer’s conception of the piece.

“Today more than ever [musicians] demand “authentic” performances of accurately reconstructed scores on instruments of the period. They pore over contemporaneous theoretical treatises to discover just what certain details of notation meant. They revive obsolete methods of articulation and phrasing. These activities may seem pointless to one who insists that the composer’s perception of his own work is no more valid than any other, that it possesses only historical interest. Pointless, that is, until he realizes that the aim of all this effort lies, or ought to lie, in a different direction: to present the work as nearly as possible, not as the composer perceived it, but as he conceived it. For it is his conception that constitutes his unique knowledge; whatever value his perceptions may have is connected with their usefulness in helping us to define that conception as accurately as possible.”

– Edward T. Cone, p. 12.

The training of today’s conservatory musician concentrates on technical brilliance and reliable sight-reading skills.  But skillful interpretations of early music demand so much more familiarity with particular period instruments and musical conventions.  Deep interpretations require still greater understanding of historical context.

“Here the role of the historical scholar is crucial.  Only through his help can critic and performer gain an understanding of the circumstances surrounding the composition of music of an earlier period, of the constraints accepted by its composers, of the range of possibilities open to them.  Without such understanding the interpreter’s knowledge of the composer’s language is bound to be incomplete, and his attempt to establish a standard consequently suspect.”

– Edward T. Cone, p. 13.

The extensive research and hard work of arriving at deep interpretations of early music still only takes us a few steps down the path of understanding.  Familiarity through repetition is the next step.

“Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.”

– Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing. Capra Press, Santa Barbara, CA, 1990.

 

 

 

Saturday morning quotes 7.48: Concert sets

Mignarda performing for a live studio audience at WSKG-TV, Binghamton, NY

Mignarda performing for a live studio audience at WSKG-TV, Binghamton, NY

Adversity: A state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.

High summer 2020: We adjust uneasily to the new normal that has descended upon us all.  The threat of a pandemic with attendant catastrophic economic effects demands we contemplate the uncomfortable prospect of if and when we will be able to perform for live audiences again.

Music has always been intended to create an experience that connects musicians and their audience, and those of you who have attended our live concerts know that we present thoughtfully prepared programs of engaging music in a manner that draws the listener into the music and the song texts.  All of our concert programs present music that is the result of our research and scrupulous regime of preparation to get to the heart of each and every song

A large proportion of our music is the result of extensive research into the source material and its context, following historical precedent, frequently reacquainting orphan texts with their music and reconstructing repertory for solo voice and lute from suitable examples of vocal polyphony.  The rehearsal process begins only after the score is settled and the music flows from the (paper) page with elegance and purpose.  Text setting is given careful consideration to ensure clear and optimal communication of the poetry.  Then we set about discovering and articulating every nuance of rhythmic phrasing in the music, clarifying and enhancing every point of imitation, and carefully balancing dynamic contrasts between voice and lute.

“Without music, poetry is almost graceless, just as music without the melody of verses is inanimate and lifeless.”

– Pierre de Ronsard

Going forward, we remain committed to presenting our music to appreciative listeners and colleagues.  But as dedicated musicians who survive on concert proceeds, we simply do not have the equipment, nor the staff, nor the budget required to produce quality videos that will capture the spirit of the music like the experience of a live concert.

Unquiet Thoughts is, like our music, produced with no external support and at the expense of our precious time and at the cost of many hours that could otherwise have been devoted to restful sleep.  But the constant positive feedback we receive for these humble offerings inspire us to share the results of our work.  Now in its tenth year, Unquiet Thoughts will continue to provide a much needed perspective that (so we are told) helps music lovers navigate the shifty seas of early music, separating the sales talk from the serenity, the merchandising from the meaningful.  And, apparently, provide source material and citations for a great many school research papers.

“Labour, like all other things which are purchased and sold, and which may be increased or diminished in quantity, has its natural and its market price.  The natural price of labour is that price which is necessary to enable the labourers, one with another, to subsist and to perpetuate their race, without either increase or diminution.”

“When the market price of labour is below its natural price, the condition of the labourers is most wretched: then poverty deprives them of those comforts which custom renders absolute necessaries.”

– David Ricardo, from Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1817.

After much rumination and consideration we thought we’d try our own balanced approach to the present: In addition to regular blog posts, we will be offering subscriptions for a new feature we are calling Concert Sets.   Each program will consist of audio excerpts of material we perform in our concerts, averaging 20-30 minutes, and presented with contextual remarks such as those found in our live concert program notes.

Concert Sets are short, easily-digestible examples of what an audience can expect at a Mignarda concert, and are complete with program notes and contextual remarks.  We will be providing secure links for subscribers in the very near future, but for now and for all, here’s a sample.

Saturday morning quotes 7.47: Old is New

Ecce homo restoration

…And not necessarily improved. The botched painting restoration depicted here is an interesting example of what can result when careless or ill-informed individuals decide to reinterpret the rich legacy of our shared past.  Or, as the case may be, reinvent the past entirely to conform to our modern wishes, needs or resources.  This is a theme we have visited in the past, and astute musicologist Richard Taruskin, has stated his case convincingly:

The whole trouble with Early Music as a “movement”… is the way it has uncritically accepted the post-Romantic work concept and imposed it anachronistically on pre-Romantic repertories. What is troubling, of course, is not the anachronism but the uncritical acceptance – and the imposition. A movement that might, in the name of history, have shown the way back to a truly creative performance practice has only furthered the stifling of creativity in the name of normative controls. Here Early Music actively colludes with the so-called “mainstream” it externally impugns.

– Richard Taruskin,  Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995, Introduction.

In a somewhat earlier article, Taruskin clarified his observations:

“I have suggested that the ancients and moderns ought to change labels.  What is usually called ‘modern performance’ is in fact an ancient style, and what is usually called ‘historically authentic performance’ is in fact a modern style.”

“Regarding the movement itself I have always held that, as a symptomatically modern phenomenon, it is not historical but is authentic.  It is a message I have had great difficulty in getting across to musicians, because so many have invested so heavily in the false belief that authenticity can derive only from historical correctness.  To deny the latter necessarily implies to them a denial of the former.”

– Richard Taruskin, “Tradition and authority”, Early Music, Vol. XX, No. 2, May, 1992, p. 311.

Applying this concept to the painting restoration, the result did represent an authentic effort on the part of the restorer, but lacked the skill and sensitivity of an artist who is completely immersed in the style and context of the historical model.  In short, applying a modern standard of knowledge and skill only converted a historical masterpiece, tattered though it may be, into an absurdity that effectively erased the meaning, nuance, and dimension of the original.

In music, there are artists who constantly borrow from the past and claim it as their own invention, usually in response to the profit motive.  A perfect example of absconding the past to monetize the present: The very famous theme for the NPR “All Things Considered” program, which made tons of cash for music industry insider B. J. Leiderman, is reminiscent of a theme heard in the score to the 1945 movie “Murder, He Says,” starring Fred MacMurray, with music composed by Robert E. Dolan. But Leiderman more likely cribbed the melodic bit from a duo by Ignaz Pleyel: Six Petits Duos pour deux violins de I. Pleyel, Op. 8. The familar purloined theme appears in duo No.2, first violin part, Rondo movement, measure 24.

Those of us who perform early music professionally must eventually face the fact that intimate repertory was never meant to be foisted upon the stage of a large concert hall and follow the norms of the Victorian model of a public concert established in the 19th century.

“The years 1890 to 1930 saw a major change in American society from a Victorian culture based on thrift to one more consumer-oriented and ready to spend.  Musical life benefited from that shift, with growing investment in musical instruction, growing opportunity for amateur vocal and instrumental performance, and at the professional end, the establishment of permanent orchestras…”

– Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life, W. W. Norton, New York, 2001, p. 581.

When early music is plugged as just another consumer good by modern marketing professionals, it becomes the equivalent of the botched restoration depicted above.  The alternative is to work not just on the historical instrumental technique and repertory, but rather to work to understand the original context and retain the original intimacy of the music.  An interesting challenge in 2020.