Music, Performance, and History

Rebecca Cypess (Music)

Performers of Western classical music draw upon a wide range of tools to inform their interpretations. For some, the written scores need to be supplemented only with the skills and ideas learned from teachers. In recent decades, however, a movement has arisen to supplement or even circumvent this received tradition through direct engagement with sources and artifacts from the time-period of the music in question—that is, through the use of the historical instruments for which the music was composed, and through reference to period writings that explain how the music was performed. For practitioners of the so-called Historical Performance movement, these instruments and writings offer a new perspective on early music—one that for many listeners has given these austere works a second life. This course will explore the relationship between performance and history in the practice of early music. We will discuss the aesthetics of “authenticity,” and the viability and desirability of understanding the composer’s intentions. Through guided reading and listening, attendance at concerts, and experimentation with some of the instruments themselves, we will try to discern what the Historical Performance movement is after, and what it gains through the use of these unconventional sources.