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« Baroque issues | Main | Last word on the subject (for the time being!) »

February 18, 2008


Jordan Friedman

Ha! There you go again with those photos! : )

I think that even those well-versed in all things baroque give little thought to the fact that instruments did not suddenly take their modern form in 1760. Instruments remained almost exactly the way they had been in the late baroque almost until 1800. Therefore, it is correct to play music of the Bach sons, Haydn, and even Mozart and early Beethoven on the same sort of instruments one would use for an authentic performance of J.S. Bach or Händel, with a few modifications. Certain wind instruments changed in construction and keys were added to some brass instruments. For strings, it is better to use transitional bows such as the Tourte bow rather than baroque bows. Other than that, baroque violins, violas, and 'cellos are good to go. The transitional period between the violone and the early form of the modern double bass was nearly complete by the very late 1700s, so that must also be taken into consideration. Finally, harpsichord and fortepiano are interchangeable for music written between about 1760 and 1800 unless otherwise indicated by the composer. At the turn of the century, even the stringed instruments began to change, with lengthening necks, heftier bass bars, and increasing string tension. The modern violin, viola, 'cello, and bass with their higher bridges, increased neck angles, modern bows, endpins, and steel-covered strings did not become the norm until the last 100 years or so, and even these features were adopted in stages. The most recent additions were the complete abandonment of gut strings in the mid 1900s and the common adoption of fine tuners soon thereafter. So you see,really, there are separate kinds of instruments that should ideally be used to play music from 1580-1650, 1650-1700, 1700-1760, 1760-1800, 1800-1850, and so on, but because of the tremendous cost and the impracticality of having specialists for all these categories of instruments, we have trouble even differentiating between renaissance, baroque, and classical styles of instruments. For this reason, we see renaissance Monteverdi and classical Mozart performed on instruments better suited to baroque Bach and Vivaldi, while post-1800 music is almost always performed on modern instruments--somewhat of an interesting chronological compromise. Only rarely does a trendsetter such as Roger Norrington dare to perform Schubert and Mahler on instruments authentic to their respective periods. What a confusing mess! We musicians can only specialize so much, and the few who play multiple types of instruments can only afford to buy so many. Thus, one can conclude authenticity in practice is largely relative to one's perspective and experience, as well as personal preference. Is a performance of a Mozart Symphony by an orchestra such as Concerto Köln on baroque instruments with harpsichord continuo any more authentic than a performance by the Concertgebouw in all their vibratoey, steel-stringed grandeur, simply because the style is chronologically closer? I say maybe, because the sound of Beethoven's orchestra would likely be slightly closer to that of baroque instruments than that of modern ones, but both approaches are substantially different from a TRULY authentic sound. So, who can really say which is best? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it depends more on the style of playing than the instruments themselves. That's my two cents.

Timothy Nelson

Brian - What a topic! You didn't choose an easy one. I knew I couldn't really post my own reaction to it as a comment here, too long, so I wrote about it on my own AOT blog.

Henry Holland

I have zero interest in Baroque opera, especially since the two most excruciating, endless nights I've ever had in an opera house were performances of "Xerses" and "Poppea" that I was dragged to --at one point during the Handel I wanted to scream "Oh GOD! Not *another* florid aria!" but I'm a gentleman and didn't-- but it's funny to me how much the battles in the HIP world are so similar to the tonality vs. serialism debates, with people taking sides, fierce polemics being bandied about etc.

Hope you are warm, Mr. Dickie. And people complain about the weather in England.......


The Internet is such a great place for people to let off all that steam - go for it everyone!

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