The real champions of the baroque!
“Champions of the Baroque” – A response to Sir Colin Davis’s remarks in The Independent, 23 March 2012
Following the recent and typically trenchant comments made by Sir Colin Davis on ‘historically informed’ performances of Bach, Handel, Mozart through to Berlioz etc, I think there is real misunderstanding here. LBS has a vested interest in this on-going debate (after half a century I am amazed that the modern-period instrument preference or ‘rightness’ of whichever is still a subject for discussion.) At the cutting edge of it all, when Paul Steinitz in particular pioneered the first use of numerous period instruments here in the UK in the 1960s (this movement did not begin in the 1970s by the way) it wasn’t to ‘hi-jack’ Bach and discourage major symphony and chamber orchestras from playing his music. It was out of an insatiable curiosity to know how it originally sounded and was played, to foster a greater understanding and knowledge of it, using the instruments with which the composer himself would have been familiar and applying the fruits of modern Bach scholarship. For us, the ultimate aim was to enhance the enjoyment of Bach’s complex writing for the listener and create a new audience for it.
Fifty years ago much of Bach’s vast corpus of music had yet to be fully discovered; now it enjoys unparalled recognition and appreciation. Credit for that must in large part surely go to those who have worked in this field, enhanced by scholarship; the detailed study of existing source material, more of which will come to light in the years to come.
Along with the late, great David Munrow and his promotion of the even earlier instruments and whose enthusiastic following among young people inspired the BBC Radio 3 programme ‘The Pied Piper’, LBS and others have taken listeners into a new sound world with these ‘old instruments’ and their musical horizons widened since. It is a great success story. No longer is a serpent merely a rather repulsive and poisonous snake in the desert, but a charming, mediaeval wind instrument that even has its own website!
I admit that the words ‘historically informed’ do sound a tad pompous, are applied too liberally and perhaps even with underlying commercial and marketing objectives at the root, but I suspect that their use is also to avoid applying that naughty word – authentic. MS
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