Sunday, July 09, 2006

Interpretation of Baroque Music

Despite being in an era which the classical music community shifts their focus to the historically informed performances, it isn't very rare for one to come across a recording or performance which romanticises Bach. Recall about the number of times when you hear a traditionalist, probably yourself, remark in disgust that the performance is overly romanticised. Common, aren't they? Recently, I've been thinking if such remarks and criticisms are justified. Of course, I do admit that I'm a traditionalist and the period and style which I have the most number of interpretation books on is the baroque era. And with the information I have received from these books alone, it wouldn't be too difficult to assess if a performance or recording is within those traditional baroque performance guidelines. But from a perspective of a performer, are things really that simple?

In my discussions with several friends who are musicians involving performances of baroque pieces which we have gone to, I would often approach their criciticisms of romanticism of the music with caution. I have experienced that some of these comments are uttered whenever the performer had expressed or rather, intensified, a certain emotion in the passage through the use of more modern devices such as excessive ritardando or accelerando, or wide dynamic contrasts which are often associated with romantic works etc. Somehow, such reasons doesn't quite register as a convincing argument to dismiss certain performance.

The more legitimate approach, it seems, would be to assess the intention of the performer when he used that expressive device. If those devices are simply used without much consideration to entire texture of the work and doesn't blend into the whole picture, the insincerity of the performance can be easily felt and that is definitely unacceptable. Of course, on the other hand, despite me being a traditionalist, there're romanticised performances of baroque pieces which I'm totally agreeable with. The non-conventional expressive devices used are just what the music can tolerate with, or even require. The performance, despite a non-conventional one, is widely accepted, even by traditionalists as listeners can connect with the artiste because of his/her sincerity and sensitivity to the music.

Basically, I just think that music listeners ought to approach this age old issue with more sensitivity and depth for most of the performers out there have put in so much effort to interpret a piece of music they respect and shouldn't be criticised simply because of the usage of non-conventional expressive devices which intensifies the emotions which the composer had intended centuries ago.

1 comment:

William Goldstein said...

Wow! What a great article- very deep and insightful. I love Baroque music; I actually specialize in Baroque and Classical improvisation- much like the impromptus of Shumann or Chopin. Check out this video of me improvising in the Baroque style:
Or, listen to my improv album, First Impressions: