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Saturday morning quotes 7.8: Tied score

1002-egyptian-scroll-028Our last two posts featured tracks from one of two upcoming CD releases we have planned for this year.  But occasionally we pause and ask ourselves a few meaningful questions concerning the early music racket: Why do we bother with a re-creative art like early music?  What exactly is our motivation?  What do we hope to gain by indulging in an art form that fits so uncomfortably with today’s prevailing modern cynical sensibility?

Regardless of genre, style or focus, modern day musicians must view old music through a telescope that extends from the present into the past. While the lens may briefly register notable events as it expands along its prescribed path to the past, the narrow tube effectively shuts out all contextual elements the viewer does not wish to observe.  In this manner, early music revivalists have managed to re-create a modified past as they wish to see it, picking and choosing all the traits that happen to fit their desired description.  This reformed concept of history invariably finds its way onto the modern concert stage, and today’s audiences are sold a brand of early music that never really existed, with modes of performance that our ancestors surely never experienced.

Sixteenth-century musicians approached music quite differently from modern early music revivalists.  For the professional, music was not a pastime that filled the spare hours and offered a pleasant diversion, but instead music was seen as an essential element in daily life.  Work as a musician performing functional music did not typically bring recognition, nor did it result in exceptional remuneration for most of the rank and file.  A musician was trained first in singing and composing, and then directed this informed attention to instrumental music.

Modern day musicians who specialize in early music must countenance the fact that participation in a re-creative art requires extraordinary insight into the contextual details of the particular era if he or she wishes to capture the true spirit of the music.  And effective performance demands an understanding of how music, culture, and events from ensuing centuries have crept into our consciousness and influence our perceptions.  A very tall order.

Today’s quotes are from Anne Smith, The Performance of 16th-Century Music: Learning From The Theorists, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, from the chapter entitled “Part-book Versus Score Culture.”

“I think that it is very difficult for us to imagine what it was like without readily available printed material.  Just as a small example, I can recall a time when photocopying was not a particularly attractive alternative to making excerpts by hand: The copies were expensive, they faded when exposed to light, and were on paper that smelled funny.  You only copied what was absolutely necessary and did everything else by hand.  And in some way I do regret that this era has passed because I know I learned a lot from the process of writing things out by hand and implanted them in a different way in my memory.  How much greater the difference then between having the possibility of mass-producing music—even if the printings were comparatively small by today’s standards—and exclusively limited to what one could notate by hand.”

“At the same time I am convinced that we will not get to the heart of the music if we do not approach it in the same way, from the individual parts, allowing their flowing together, their confluence to create the whole.  To do so means we have to start playing from the parts, often probably even memorizing them.  Experience has shown that the product is consistently of a higher quality.”

– Anne Smith, p. 18.

While hobbyists amass terabytes of music scores to store on their ipads, even playing from the strangely glowing backlit screens, those of us who care deeply about the aesthetics of historical music know that an effective and moving performance that honors the past demands our participation in the tactile experience of the music.

Saturday morning quotes 7.7: Sighs & tears

uec_fr_paris_louvre_saint_peter_weeping_before_the_virgin_barbiereFollowing our theme of English songs for solo voice and lute, and on the heels of last week’s introduction of William Byrd’s “Susanna faire“, today we feature our new recording of John Dowland’s “If that a Sinners sighes be Angels foode” from his final book of songs, A Pilgrimes Solace, published in 1612.

Dowland (1563 – 1626) and William Byrd (c. 1540 – 1623) were essentially of two different generations, and neither composer particularly benefits from a comparison of their respective styles. Dowland, with his idiosyncratically instrumental approach to part-writing, was more a composer of songs for the very satisfying combination of solo voice and lute, while the bulk of Byrd’s output is sacred vocal polyphony.  But the adaptations of Dowland’s lute songs for an ensemble of four or five voices can at times be sublime, and some of Byrd’s magisterial motets can at times display the tuneful cantus necessary for an effective lute song.

“If that a Sinners sighes be Angels foode” was set by Byrd in five parts and published in Psalmes, Sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie, London, 1588, (no.30). Both Diana Poulton (John Dowland: His life and works, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cal., 2nd edition, 1982, p. 307) and Edward Doughtie (Lyrics from English Airs, 1596 – 1622, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 615-616) agree that Dowland was likely to have been familiar with Byrd’s setting published twenty-four years earlier.   But Dowland chose to set only the first of five verses, with a few minor modifications to the words.

“The tears of those repenting are the wine of angels.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux

The experts are silent as to the source of the text, but with the combined themes of St. Peter, repentance, and sighs and tears, the poetry suited Dowland quite well. The anonymous Elizabethan poet took inspiration from a quote by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153), a well connected French abbot and reformer of Benedictine monasticism.  Bernard was a major exponent of the Cistercian order, also known as Trappists.  We won’t speculate here, but with Bernard’s historical role in healing the great schism in the Church, his connection to the Second Crusade, and as apologist for the Knights Templar, his words must have held special significance for both Byrd and Dowland.

For those who aren’t intimately familiar with historical performance practice, we’ll pause for a moment and address the question of performing Byrd’s music in our format of solo voice and lute.  Over the years, we have arranged a mountain of 16th century vocal polyphony for solo voice and lute, but we are in no way plundering repertory that was only ever intended to be performed a cappella.  Arranging vocal polyphony for solo voice and lute was quite common in historical practice, particularly so in English recusant households where performing resources were limited and where one did not draw attention to the subject of religious beliefs.

As for historical precedent, we quote Stewart McCoy from his article, “Edward Paston and the Textless Lute-Song”, Early Music, Vol. 15, No. 2, Plucked String Issue (May, 1987), pp. 221-227.

“In his will, the English music collector, amateur musician and master of the ‘liberall sciences’, Edward Paston (1550-1630), left a considerable manuscript collection that reflects his wide-ranging musical tastes and is important, not least, for being the sole source of many compositions by William Byrd…There are five lutebooks, all in Italian tablature, from which, in practically every piece, the highest voice (or, occasionally, voices) has been omitted.”

– McCoy, p. 221

“The contents of some of Paston’s manuscripts, the established practice in England of solmizing or singing without ‘the dittie’, and the fact that no instrument other than the lute is mentioned in connection with Edward Paston, together suggest the existence of a hitherto undefined genre: the textless lutesong. Included in this category are the fantasias of Byrd and White, the In Nomines of White, Tallis, Taverner, Strogers and Parsons, and possibly even songs which would normally carry a full text. Examples of all these pieces, in which all the parts would have been sung to the accompaniment of a lute, are included in Add.29246. Of course, none of them would originally have been composed as lutesongs, but Paston, it seems, would have performed them as if they were.”

– McCoy, p. 227

We add a few words of clarification. 1) Even in cases where the original cantus part books in the Paston collection do not survive today, they were surely present and used in making the arrangements for the lute to play the lower parts, so we need not presume the music was originally sung without text in the cantus part.  2) The lute notation need not be regarded a means of performance only.  For the cognoscenti, lute notation is a condensed score, a reservoir of information that can be reconstituted as separate parts as necessary.

For historical examples of arrangements for the lute to play all parts except the cantus, we refer to a manuscript that is part of the Paston collection, British Library Add. MS. 31992.  This particular manuscript book includes lute intabulations for most of the contents of Byrd’s Psalmes, Sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie, as well as many titles from his 1589 Songs of sundrie natures.  This was the historical source for our recording of Byrd’s “Susanna faire” (f.18), and was likewise the historical source for our recording of Victoria’s “Alma Redemptoris Mater” (f. 66), featured on our CD, Magnum Mysterium.  Another of the Paston manuscripts was the source for our earlier recording of Victoria’s “Ne timeas Maria” (British Library Add. Ms. 29246, f. 32), which we discussed at some length in a previous post.

Byrd’s setting of “If that a sinners sighes” (Yf that a synners’ f. 28) is a piece we will tackle another day.  We perform Dowland’s wonderful setting with accompaniment on a bass lute with our characteristic attention to the pulse, imparting a vocal character to the bass line and interplay with the inner parts. Dowland dipped into his ample bag of tricks for this piece, and we are rewarded with several syncopations, suspensions, spicy dissonances, and expressive rests to enhance the poetry.  However the song is too short for our taste, and our recording rounds it out by adding the fifth and final verse from Byrd’s setting of the poetry.

You may hear and download our recorded version of Dowland’s setting here.





Saturday morning quotes 7.6: Susanna


“In these words, as I have learned by trial, there is such a concealed and hidden power that to one thinking upon things divine and diligently and earnestly pondering them, all the fittest numbers occur as if of themselves and freely offer themselves to the mind which is not indolent or inert.”

– William Byrd, Gradualia (1605)

We return with a brief post and to share a new track of a song by William Byrd (c.1540 – 1623) that will appear on a forthcoming release of English songs, hopefully by the close of this year when this one-handed typist is once again a two-handed lutenist.  While many Americans celebrate another holiday in the coming week, today’s post marks another less fraught anniversary, that of the passage of 395 years since William Byrd’s death on July 4, 1623.

Although Byrd left behind no music specifically for the lute, we have arranged and recorded a few pieces that are particularly in sympathy with our unique style, including the well-known “Ave verum Corpus,” “O magnum misterium,” and the tuneful “My mind to me a kingdom is,” which was recorded a cappella.  We have a longstanding appreciation for Byrd’s music and even recorded his undated Mass for four voices just last week with our vocal quartet (watch this space for the release date).

Today’s featured Byrd song is “Susanna faire some time assaulted was” found in the 1588 publication, Psalmes, Sonets, and Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, a collection of thirty-five songs for five voices. “Susanna faire” is Byrd’s adaptation of the story of Susanna and the Elders from the Book of Daniel. The song is better known as the chanson spirituelle “Susanne un jour” by Orlande de Lassus, but Byrd’s version is uniquely his own.  The song was originally conceived for solo voice with accompaniment by four viols: In our version the four viol parts are arranged to be played on one bass lute.

For more background on the song, and an intriguing correlation with Elizabethan politics, we quote from the editor of volume 12 of the Byrd Edition, Jeremy L. Smith, from his article, “William Byrd’s Fall From Grace and his First Solo Publication of 1588: A Shostakovian “Response to Just Criticism”?”, Music & Politics, Volume I, Issue 1, Winter 2007.

“Those among English Catholics who supported Mary [Queen of Scots] herself would also surely have noted how well her life might be compared to that of the biblical character Susanna. In England Mary had been accused of adultery and complicity in a murder. Although an elaborate trial that involved the famous Casket Letters was never quite to materialize, Mary was essentially found guilty of those crimes. And in the end she was tried and convicted of plotting to kill Elizabeth. In both cases, her supporters were adamant in their view that she was wrongly accused. To defend her, several of her staunchest supporters described her situation as akin to Susanna’s, whose trumped-up charges of adultery Daniel was able to disprove after collecting separate, conflicting testimonies from the two elders who had together attempted to rape an innocent married woman.  Thanks to Daniel the elders themselves were convicted and stoned to death. Although Mary was never to enjoy the kind of vindication that Susanna would, her supporters believed that this was her rightful due. Eventually she would die a Catholic heroine, and martyr.”

“To cast the Catholic Queen as the biblical Susanna was to propagandize for the Marian cause, one with which Byrd could easily be associated. Yet there were plenty of other reasons why Byrd might have composed a work on the Susanna story. In 1548 a relatively obscure composer, Didier Lupi Second, published a setting of Guillaume Gueroult’s chanson spirituelle “Susanne un jour,” for a decidedly Protestant musical audience. The event would seem rather remote from anything having to do with Byrd. But it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the “Susanna” tradition Lupi started would eventually become the most widespread of any in the entire 16th century. By the time Byrd published his consort song on a related text, there were some three- or four-dozen examples from among which he might have chosen a model, and these ranged from lute arrangements to Mass and Magnificat parodies associated with composers working along a stretch from Portugal to Munich and many areas beyond and in between.”

“Musicological problems abound. On the one hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Byrd would have been quite willing to join a tradition like this, and even simply for the sake of the purely musical opportunities it might afford him. Byrd was well known to specialize in the “friendly emulation” of his fellow composers’ work. On the other hand, if Mary was the inspiration for a Byrd Susanna, perhaps she may have been the inspiration for others in the series as well. There would be plenty of works to sort through to check for this possibility. Kenneth Levy has noted that Protestants would naturally have been attracted to the text. But he also showed that many Catholic composers set it as well and to explain this he intriguingly surmised that they “made a special point of pillaging the Huguenots’ musical arsenal by appropriating Susanne as a symbol of their own.” Clearly a proper study of this “Susanna question” would require considerably more space than this study can bear. For the sake of the present argument, however, perhaps it need only be noted that Byrd could well have had more than one reason to compose and publish such a work. It is also likely that the English men and women who would encounter this piece in Byrd’s Psalmes were probably more familiar with the situation regarding Mary than with the musical tradition.”

Our recording of William Byrd’s “Susanna faire some time assaulted was” may be heard and downloaded here.

Saturday morning quotes 7.5: Conventions

13.jpg.CROP.original-originalWith apologies for the gap in time since our last post, we pick up a few steps beyond where we left off.  Still more physical frailties and medical interventions have acted to divert our focus, but we resume with a firm foothold on our main theme, early music and the lute.  We had to put aside our series on lute improvisation for a while, but the Lute Society has more than filled in the gap with excellent articles on improvising ornaments as well as counterpoint and improvisation in issue 125 of Lute News.  We intend to return to add our perspective on the subject at a later time.

As our readers know, the emergence and decline of the early music revival is a subject that profoundly affects the status of our primary focus, which is historical music for lute and voice and its relevance in the 21st century.  At the outset of the revival, musicians who were serious about performing early music in an informed manner were seen as eccentrics for applying historical techniques and concertizing using either authentic historical instruments or reproductions of the same.  The accepted concept of a progressive and linear development of technique and taste was the convention, and musicians who bothered to get out of line and excavate the dusty past were very unconventional.

Interestingly, early music adherents actually enjoyed the attention they received by bucking the norms of the classical music world.  Early music was the equivalent of a 21st-century disruption of the status quo, and being part of the movement was an act of radicalism.  Musicians who performed early music grew long hair and (eventually) put away their Victorian tuxedos and ball gowns in favor of a more relaxed presentation.  But as time marched on and early music specialists matured in age, an insidious creeping commercialism began to infect the early music movement.  The once radical and rather free-form amalgam of academics began to establish norms of their own, and it was not long before newsletters that circulated among academics and aficionados morphed into slick magazines stuffed with adverts aimed directly at both the neophyte musician hoping to obtain a foothold and a listening audience with amply stuffed wallets.  Early music became conventional.

At times eschewing unambiguous historical evidence, good taste and common sense, the new conventions of early music established just what was accepted performance practice, just when and where accepted performances occurred, and just who the accepted performers were.  Where once intellectual curiosity attracted performers and good music appealed to audiences, record labels, PR specialists and tightly controlled cliques of festival organizers worked to create a “fan club” environment to define the public face of early music.  Little did they realize that their methods would only hasten the decline of their product in an environment of ageing audiences and young people possessing a keen eye for hollow pretension.

As Richard Taruskin pointed out so convincingly early on, early music as it is performed today has very little to do with historical practice and aesthetics, and everything to do with modern performing conventions.  For instance, in a recording review featuring the Carmina burana, a legendary collection of 254 undated texts with hardly any musical interpretive indications, John Caldwell added a dose of reality:

“Some guesswork is of course inevitable: we simply do not know the answers to so many questions.  But the trouble with versions like these is that they seem  altogether too contrived: one just cannot imagine the necessary preparation for such sophisticated realizations taking place [historically].  Doubtless the scope for oral rehearsal was considerable in the Middle Ages, but the methods applied here to ‘In Gedeonis area’ and ‘Olim sudor Hercules’ strain credulity.”

– John Caldwell, Early Music Vol. XVI, No. 1. p. 127.

Through our writing in this forum, we have given clear evidence that several modern early music conventions are complete bollocks.  For example, a pitch standard of A=415 has nothing to do with historical baroque music, and we show that lute songs were almost never sung in public places with a projected voice.  Yet teachers who should know better continue to groom prospective students to follow in their own wayward footsteps down the path toward a thoroughly modern and, in the end, wholly unsatisfying convention.

Speaking of conventions, we are always asked by people who know our music and our research why we, as probably the most visible historical voice-lute duo in the US, aren’t on the performing roster of US lute conventions.  The answer is fairly simple.  Throughout our performing career we have never gone out of our way to court the narrowly defined audience that includes lute fanciers, choosing instead to let the merits of our music stand on their own.  It’s worked rather well for us and we have managed to draw many new audience members into the realm of early music.

And the fact is since we have stuck to performing according to historical principles, compared to today’s early music scene, we’re unconventional.

Saturday morning quotes 7.4: Improv II

Francesco woodcut

“Musical notation is only a secondary witness. What is more, much of the music actually heard in the Middle Ages was never written down at all. The music historian deals not only with loss of evidence, but also with phenomena which were never ‘evident’.”

Reinhard Strohm, “The Close of the Middle Ages”, Antiquity and the Middle Ages : From ancient Greece to the 15th century, Ed. James McKinnon, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1991.

As we pointed out in our last post, the immense amount of historical European music that survives in handwritten manuscripts and in printed form is only the tip of the iceberg.  When we plunge into the shadowy depths and begin chipping away at the circumference of the immense frozen block of ice, as we approach the heart of the matter we begin to understand that the sort of music described so eloquently in historical literary sources was not played from a written score, but improvised by a musician steeped in classical and contemporary literature, trained in composition and more than familiar with sacred music and vocal polyphony.

“Improvised polyphony was everywhere in the Renaissance…In a recent article describing the incredible feats of improvisation required of Spanish choir masters, Philippe Canguilhem (2011, 99) estimates that “the vast majority” of the polyphony heard in Philip II’s chapel in sixteenth-century Spain was improvised. In earlier centuries the amount might have been even higher. The composed polyphony that comes down to us was a small fraction of the musical landscape. This realization transforms our sense of the past.”

Julie E. Cumming, “Renaissance Improvisation and Musicology”, Music Theory Online: A Journal of the Society for Music Theory. Volume 19, Number 2, June 2013.

Historical composed polyphony is what survives and therefore represents the bulk of what our academics study today.  But the act of limiting ourselves to the study of surviving historical scores is tantamount to studying jazz only from the point of view of the published piano scores of songs by Hoagy Carmichael or Jerome Kern.  To really understand, we have to dig.

“For the highly skilled musician, performing fantasias was an act of creation rather than recreation. The ambition of many skilled lutenists was to develop the ability to extemporize imitative counterpoint using materials appropriated or assimilated from both instrumental and vocal models, if not newly invented.”

John Griffiths and Dinko Fabris, editors, Neapolitan Lute Music: Fabrizio Dentice, Guilio Severino, Giovanni Antonio Severino, Francesco Cardone, Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, 140, A-R Editions, Middleton Wisconsin, 2004, p. xv.

Even though we have a wealth of wonderful historical printed works containing composed fantasias that we play and enjoy today, it follows that lutenists like the famous Francesco da Milano (1497 – 1543) were probably best known by their contemporaries for their ability to improvise.

“The tables cleared, he took up a lute and, as if merely essaying chords, he began, seated near the foot of the table, to strum a fantasy. He had plucked no more than the first three notes of the tune when all the conversation ceased among the festive throng and all were constrained to look there where he was, as he continued with such enchanting skill that little by little, through the divine art in playing that was his alone, he made the very strings to swoon beneath his fingers and transported all who listened into such gentle melancholy that one present buried his head in his hands, another let his entire body slump into an ungainly posture with members all awry, while another, his mouth sagged open and his eyes more than half shut, seemed, one would judge, as if transfixed upon the strings, and yet another, with chin sunk upon his chest, hiding the most sadly taciturn visage ever seen, remained abstracted in all his senses save his hearing, as if his soul had fled from all the seats of sensibility to take refuge in his ears where more easefully it could rejoice in such enchanting symphony.”

– Jacques Decartes de Ventemille, quoted in Pontus de Tyard, Solitaire second ou prose de la musique, 1555.

From the illustration of Francesco at the top of the page, we can’t help but notice he is not staring intently at an open book of music.

Next week we add to this survey of improvisation with some more recent examples.

Saturday morning quotes 7.3: Improv

chinese lute

Improvising on the lute

“…[T]he modern reconstructionist movement has produced many scrupulous realizers of musical notation but has yet to produce a single genuine master of improvisation, which we all know to be nine-tenths of the Renaissance and Baroque musical icebergs.”

– Richard Taruskin, “On Letting the Music Speak for Itself: Some Reflections on Musicology and Performance”, The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jul., 1982), p. 347.

Today’s post revisits the topic of improvisation, an important theme we have touched upon in the past, plunging headlong into the discussion with a contextual quotation extracted from last week’s post.

If, as Taruskin writes, improvisation really was 9/10ths of music that would have been played and heard from 1500-1800, by merely reproducing the notes found in surviving scores most interpreters of early music are missing 90-percent of the point.  And if we read the many surviving early treatises on composition, we learn that composing was as natural as breathing to the educated musician, a small and elite group of professionals.

“Most singers, composers, and players were professionals, and amateur musicians were extremely rare…Musical notation was an arcane art, not to be revealed to all comers; musicians were reluctant, too, to tell all they knew, for the obvious and perhaps sordidly commercial reasons that their livelihood depended on their specialized knowledge and skill.”

– Thurston Dart, from the Foreword of Thomas Morley, A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music. 2nd Ed. (Norton Library). W.W. Norton: n.p., 1973, modern edition edited by Alec Harmon.

Today, many are educated in the skill of reading music, and interpreting early notation is now taught at a growing number of conservatories.  But the art of composing and improvising, particularly in the realm of sixteenth-century counterpoint, is not a skill most musicians possess, even early music specialists.  It is likely that the prevailing reason for this gap in knowledge is the misguided concept of a time-oriented linear progression in sophistication of the art of music that the intervening centuries have introduced, a conceptual travesty that is still taught to music students.  But a comparison may be drawn by looking back at the visual art of Michaelangelo and drawing a line to the art of Jackson Pollack, judging whether art has made a linear progression of sophistication.

We read about 17th-18th century figures like Nicola Matteis, Archangelo Corelli, and right up to C.P.E. Bach as masters of improvisation.  Silvius Leopold Weiss was said to have developed the skill of improvisation on the lute, and was described by Johann Friedrich Reichardt as approaching the level of skill of J. S. Bach in improvising fantasias and fugues—on the lute instead of Bach’s keyboard. Even in the 19th century, improvisation was basis for the music of keyboardists like Lizst and Chopin, who possessed the sprezzatura necessary to evoke a transporting divine frenzy in their listeners.

Perhaps today’s standard of virtuoso technique necessary for interpreting the composed music of past masters is responsible for the decline of improvisation.  Spending endless hours playing rapid passages may develop a deftness in the finger’s ends, but certainly will not develop one’s grasp of counterpoint.

We expand on the theme of improvisation in part II next week.

Saturday morning quotes 7.2: Intentions


“…[M]usic can never under any circumstances but electronic speak for itself. In the case of notated music there is always a middle man, even if it is only ourselves as we contemplate the written symbols.”

–  Richard Taruskin

One’s ideas evolve over time, and our years of tireless research into honest and effective performance of early music have served to refine our ideas and make our performances more sharply focused.  We have written about transparency in performance in the past, and like to think that as performers we step back and allow the music to rise to the surface.  But we are well aware that the effective performance of any music demands a considerable and informed investment of the performer’s personality—performance with intention.

Today’s quotations are from a source briefly referenced in our post last Saturday. Richard Taruskin is a prolific author, and of his rather copious oeuvre we make particular mention of The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009; the very useful compilation of source material by Taruskin and Piero Weiss, Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, Schirmer, New York, 1984; and of course the massive six-volume Oxford History of Western Music.

We have previously quoted Taruskin’s sometimes provocative but always distinctly individual ideas in past offerings, but current quotes below are drawn from a single important article, “On Letting the Music Speak for Itself: Some Reflections on Musicology and Performance”, The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jul., 1982), pp. 338-349.  Taruskin’s ideas are so well developed and his logic so sequential that it is a challenge to slice and dice his prose to create excerpts readily absorbed by the 21st-century attention span.  But give it a try.  We quote liberally.

“…[I]f impossible to realize absolutely, “letting the music speak for itself” may still be a worthy ideal to aspire toward. What does it mean, though? For the moment, let us assume it means realizing the composer’s intentions as far as our knowledge of them permits. What we are really being told, then, is to let the composer speak for himself.”

“I will not rehearse here the familiar epistemological impediments to learning what the composer’s intentions were, especially a composer as remote from us as Ockeghem…And I am not even talking about what are sometimes called “high level” versus “low level” intentions, that is, specific intentions with regard to individual pieces as opposed to assumptions based on prevailing conditions the composer took for granted. No, I mean something even more fundamental: that composers’ concerns are different from performers’ concerns, and that once the piece is finished, the composer regards it and relates to it either as a performer if he is one, or else simply as a listener.”

– p. 340

“What is this thing called authenticity and why do we want it? While most of us would by now agree with the premise, so elegantly and humorously set forth by Michael Morrow in Early Music a few years ago, that authenticity of the kind we usually have in mind when talking musicologically about performance practice is a chimaera, most of us are nevertheless no more deterred by this realization from seeking it than was Bellerophon himself. Again I ask, why?”

– p. 341-42

“Music has to be imaginatively recreated in order to be retrieved, and is where conflicts are likely to arise between the performer’s imagination and the scholar’s conscience, even (or especially) when the two are housed in a single mind. Verdi, speaking ironically about the aims of verismo, said, “it’s to reproduce reality, but how much better to create it.” In a similar spirit I would say, “it’s fine to assemble the shards of a lost performance but how much better to reinvent it.”

– p. 343

“But even at their best and most successful—or especially at their best and most successful—historical reconstructionist performances are in no sense recreations of the past. They are quintessentially modern performances, modernist performances in fact, the product of an esthetic wholly of our own era, no less time-bound than the performance styles they would supplant.”

“Like all other modernist philosophies, historical reconstructionism views the work of art, including performing art, as an autonomous object, not as a process, not an activity. It views the internal relationships of the art work as synonymous with its content, and in the case of music it renounces all distinction between sound and substance: to realize the sound is in fact to realize the substance, hence the enormous and, be it said, ofttimes exaggerated concern today for the use of authentic period instruments for all periods.”

“The artist trades in objective, factual knowledge, not subjective feeling. His aim is not communication with his audience, but something he sees as a much higher, in [T. S.] Eliot’s words “much more valuable” goal, communion with Art itself and with its history, and he enlists musicology’s aid in achieving it. To return once more to the starting point, this is what is meant today by “letting the music speak for itself.”

– p. 346

“The paradox and the problem—or is it just my problem?—is that this way of thinking about art and performance has no demonstrable relevance to the ways people thought about art and performance before the twentieth century.  Applied to the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque, to say nothing of the nineteenth century, it all seems exquisitely anachronistic. And what seems to prove my point is that with the possible exception of the rather ambiguous case of continuo realization, the modem reconstructionist movement has produced many scrupulous realizers of musical notation but has yet to produce a single genuine master of improvisation, which we all know to have been nine-tenths of the Renaissance and Baroque musical icebergs.”

– p. 347

“…[W]hen thinking of the relationship between the musicologist and the performer we usually assume that the former teaches and the latter learns. But good performers can teach receptive scholars a great deal, and communication both ways is needed if a real symbiosis of musicology and performance is to occur.”

– p. 348

Speaking of musicology, Taruskin closes with a quotation attributed to Dmitri Shostakovich from Nikolai Malko, A Certain Art (New York, 1966), p. 180. Shostakovich gave an apt definition of a musicologist:

“What’s a musicologist? I’ll tell you. Our cook, Pasha, prepared the scrambled eggs for us and we are eating them. Now imagine a person who did not cook the eggs and does not eat them, but talks about them—that is a musicologist.”

– p. 349