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Explain the Benefits and Inherent Problems of the Legacy of the Early Music Revival.

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Explain the benefits and inherent problems of the legacy of the Early Music Revival.

Prior to the early years of the eighteenth century, it was generally unheard of to perform music that was not contemporary. Indeed, audiences, both secular and sacred, expected to hear new works, thus prolific composers such as Bach were customary. The roots of the Early Music Revival (in the spirit of Butt, henceforth EMR) can be placed during this time, and was led primarily by the church fuelled by surrounding social and cultural changes. According to Peter Hoar, the EMR in the late 18th century was further promoted by the beginning of the Romantic era when musical genius was to be revered, with its 'veneration of the artist' and 'great man' theory.

However, although there were the odd periods of interest in early music for its own sake, such as Mendelssohn's revival of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829 or the re-orchestrations of Handel's Messiah by Mozart, it was in the 1960's and 70's that the EMR came into it's own. In May 1965, David Munrow played Susato's Danserye at Birmingham University to great acclaim, and so the field was opened for 'authentic' or 'historically informed' performances. As Kenyon points out, the eager reception of this new way of performing old music was more due to Munrows' (and subsequent) performer's enthusiasm and conviction, rather than to the historically accurate account of the music. Nevertheless, the EMR was truly born, and so ensued scholarly attempts at reproducing historical performances by replicating period instruments, playing techniques, tempo, ornamentation, note values, and even the purpose of the music and therefore audience reception was taken into account. A note of definition here: when taking everything into account, the performance is said to be 'authentic' (although this is often contended as I shall discuss later). However, if there are elements of the performance that cannot be justified historically (such as the venue), the performance is 'historically informed'.

Looking retrospectively at early music and trying to recreate it in its original format, is seen by many as a positive thing. Kenyon deems that it brought about a 'sea-change' in our listening habits; Andrew Porter believes that we can learn from history, in the same way that we learn from the great masters of art - even if they are replicas. Donington takes the spiritual stance saying that the EMR makes us:

'more aware than usual of emotional states which do not attach solely to our individuality because our ancestors have repeatedly passed through them before, and our descendants will again'.

There are, without a doubt, many good things that have come out of the EMR. Firstly, it has allowed 'early' music to enter the mainstream of musical repertoire; theatres and record manufacturers soon cashed in on 'authenticity' realising it was an untapped market, and so performances and recordings are now easily obtained. Certain instruments have begun to enjoy a new lease of life. For instance, the recorder which was very popular with amateur music makers in the seventeenth century, is now a standard instrument for younger children to learn, probably due to it's cheapness, portability and large repertoire to grow into. The harpsichord is no longer an obsolete keyboard instrument but now an instrument that is studied seriously to all levels of competence -it is nowadays unusual to hear a Baroque work without the continuo realised on the harpsichord.

It could be said that performers are now expected to play with a sense of historical awareness. Donington certainly believes that the need to compromise is at an end as we have enough information on many works to create an accurate account, whilst Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940) had to unavoidably compromise due to the fact that much information had not yet been recovered or discovered.

Dart is even more emphatic in his defence of the EMR. He explains that a composer from earlier centuries would have used notation 'in accordance with the conventions of his own time' and that, without a scholarly approach, a twentieth century performer will in all likelihood 'entirely misinterpret' what the composer had originally intended.

Dart also attacks the notion that if early composers had modern instruments at their disposal, they would have chosen those of our own time, as 'impossibly conceited' and 'arrogant'. He argues that our modern orchestras almost create new compositions as the instrumental evolution has transformed the timbre that the composer heard on conception of a work.

However, there are many who feel that this retrospective, pre-occupation actually prevents modern art music from moving forward; it is claimed that it stifles creativity, creates clones, broadens the divide between popular and 'art' music and thus heralds the demise of 'art' music. Without a doubt, to the general populace, it must appear that 'art' music has all but finished, or at least gone 'underground'. Prior to the 1950's, when the 'pop' music industry was set in motion, contemporary composers such as Elgar (1857-1934) and Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) were still popular with concertgoers. Who does the current generation have? John Williams whose main occupation is to write film scores? At least his popularity proves that the public are willing to embrace new symphonic music. Previously, contemporary music had survived in concert halls despite opera, films or dance also being popular genres. It cannot be denied that there are many composers writing current 'art' music, but how many of these composers are easily recognised by the general public or played on, for instance, Classic FM? The EMR therefore exacerbates the already stagnant 'art' music industry; I believe it was Einstein who said that we cannot resolve new problems with old solutions!

The EMR then, has further sub-categorised the 'classics' and broadened the already existing chasm between the 'classics' and mainstream music. Surely it is a better idea to popularise and encourage any new stance on 'art' music? Vanessa Mae certainly thinks so:

'Why not be realistic about the changing world we live in? Why not commission composers and, like Yo-Yo Ma, perform new repertoire? Once you've tasted classical crossover, because there's a creative, raw element to it that doesn't exist in just interpreting the classics, you can't say goodbye to it.'

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