Performance Practice: a fairly recent area of
Two Basic Approaches to Musical Performance:
Subjective (as I feel
it); modernizing approach in use of voices and instruments; tends to be a one style approach; often leads to anachronistic performance practices.
Objective (as the
composer intended during his life time); involves the search for
information on how music was originally performed; concerned about
authenticity; multi-style approach.
a. Tuning fork invented in 1711 by John Shore and improved by
Rudolph Konig (c. 1850).
b. Pitch was not standardized until the 19th century (1859) by
the Paris Academy and confirmed an international pitch at a conference
in Vienna in 1885 ("A" = 435); "A" = 440
was adopted at a conference in London in 1938!
c. Bach's instrumental music as well as the symphonies of Haydn,
Mozart, and Beethoven were performed at least a half step lower
in their day than is the custom today. Bach's organ works and
cantatas, however, were likely performed a semitone or whole
tone higher than today!
d. Pitch was often determined by the particular pitch of organs
which could vary greatly from church to church.
a. None found before 1500, rare before 1650.
b. Crescendi and decrescendi before 1750 limited chiefly to a
single ornamented tone called the "Messa di voce."
c. Mannheim school was the first to use dynamic effects in the
modern way (mid 18th century).
d. Dynamic markings in Bach are few and limited to f, p, and pp.
e. Conductors must beware of works and editions that are heavily over edited! [See Choosing a Good Edition]
a. Before 1600, tempo markings are practically unknown; tempo is
implied in the notational signs.
b. Tempo terms in Bach's day indicate mood more often than a set
pace; presto, for example, meant fast but not extremely fast as in
c. Metronome was invented c. 1812 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel
of Amsterdam, but was named after Johannes N. Maelzel who used
and exploited Winkel's invention; i.e., metronome markings before
1830 are likely those of the editor and not the composer!
The need for study and understanding
of musical styles and performance practices is more pronounced
as one moves backward through musical history; i.e., the older
the music, the more likely one will approach it through practices
of later styles and periods, thus becoming anachronistic.