Taruskin on early music

***Link to this page!***

I’ve finally got round to reading the great Richard Taruskin properly. Among his wide-ranging themes, in this page (under WAM in Menu), I discuss his seminal comments on early music, informed by my own humble experiences of the scene.

As he links it with modernism, placing it firmly within the context of our contemporary culture, this is no mere niche topic, it’s profound, essential reading on culture in modern society— and with maestro-baiting galore!

Even if one disagreed with every word of the book, the writing is always a joy to read.

8 thoughts on “Taruskin on early music

  1. Thanks for this fascinating addition to your blog – haven’t had time to follow up all the links yet (in due course…) but love your inference: that in the end, from wherever we come from, our musical performance should be not be about authenticity, historicity or accuracy but be vital, entertaining and (especially) moving…


  2. FEI, Anna Zayaruznaya has just published an article in Music Theory Online on the modern claim that medieval polytextual motets were incomprehensible. She points out that all the groups that do this repertory strive for a uniform timbre, a Klangideal associated with Oxford choirs. If the singers sang each in his own way, as they must have done at the time, everything becomes comprehensible. (Check this with the conversations at your next cocktail party, which operate on the same principle.)


    • Thanks! I suspect my little intro could drown in a sea of such well-informed comments. The journal looks useful. I note that in The danger of music, T’s main fulminations are against later early music—next I need to immerse myself in Text and act. On medieval music, I just added a link to Sherman in my Sappho and Hildegard post—of course the earlier one goes, the more knotty (and intriguing) are the performance practice issues. And I like your cocktail party metaphor! The great Bruno Nettl is fond of this too, though not in your sense. No such parties in my diary, so may have to content myself with pub.


  3. Roy Mowatt, one of the most outstanding orchestral violinists I’ve worked with, and an estimable scholar to boot, observes:
    No coverage of Taruskin should be without this from Charles Rosen:
    “Taruskin writes brilliantly and at the top of his voice, and his most crushing arguments are often reserved for opinions that no one really holds. He asserts: ‘To presume that the use of historical instruments guarantees a historical result is simply preposterous.’ No doubt. Still, Taruskin beats his dead horses with infectious enthusiasm, and some of them have occasional twitches of life.”


  4. Roy also points out a fine Taruskin quote:
    Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step, but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer. […] Once the accretions have been removed, what is to take their place. […] Nothing is allowed to intrude into the performance that cannot be “authenticated”. And this means nothing can be allowed that will give the performance, in the sense in which we first defined the word, the authenticity of conviction. For the first thing that must go in a critical edition […] is any sense of the editor’s or performer’s own presence…..We seem to have paid a heavy price indeed for the literacy that sets Western musical culture so much apart and makes its past available in the first place, if the text be so venerated. Is the text only an exacting responsibility? And if so, to what or whom is the responsibility due? Can the text not be an opportunity—for the exercise of imagination, the communication of delight, even the sharing of emotions?


  5. Pingback: Metamorphosen | Stephen Jones: a blog

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