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Topic Summary
Posted by: Hautbois Posted on: Apr 10th, 2003, 7:46pm
The discussion in the Whitewater schedule section about "pure" early music made me wonder about this.  
How do you define early music?  When did it start and when did it end?  "Early music" sounds like a very broad term and not everyone I talk to understands what that means.  How does it fit in to music history?
Maybe I'm just ignorant, or maybe the exact definition doesn't really matter.  I was just wondering.
Posted by: berto Posted on: Apr 11th, 2003, 11:57pm
This is how I define "early music" (from the EMC FAQ):
By "early music," we generally mean Western music from the Baroque Period (mid 18th century) and before.  Besides Baroque, this would also include music from the Renaissance and Middle Ages (Medieval Period).
Another (admittedly imprecise) definition:  early music is music originally written for and played on "early instruments" (see the Instruments page)--a whole class of softer sounding instruments that essentially died out in the course of the 18th century to be replaced by louder, technologically more "advanced" instruments (e.g., the transverse flute replacing the recorder) when music making became a less intimate, more a large-scale concert experience toward the end of the 18th century.
Still another way to look at it (again, imprecise):  early music is music without an unbroken performance tradition (think of how the music of J.S. Bach was virtually forgotten by Beethoven's time)--music in the main "lost" then rediscovered and revived in performance with the advent of the "early music movement" in the early to middle part of the 20th century.

Mozart and Beethoven and--sheesh!--Berlioz as "early music"? No way! Their music is in the classical mainstream and enjoys an unbroken performance tradition from their day to the present.
As maintainer of this website, I am occasionally asked to "bend the rules" and extend the time period for early music to later periods. There's some economic incentive to do it. It broadens the fan base. But it also threatens to overwhelm "pure" early music and render the term essentially meaningless.
More imprecision, and subjectivity: For me, if it sounds too familiar and overplayed, is a tad boring, it's often "classical" music. By contrast, and ironically enough, early music to my ears sounds fresh, vigorous, even exotic. I know it when I hear it.
Posted by: Hautbois Posted on: Apr 14th, 2003, 4:29pm
Sorry, guess I didn't see that FAQ.  Thanks for answering my question.  I do know what you mean about being able to hear the difference.
What do you think about (true) early music being played in different arrangements?  Modern oboes and flutes instead of period instruments?  Written for clarinet or other instruments that didn't exist at that time? Arrangements for orchestras? Arrangements for bands?  Brass or woodwind quintets?  How far is it still considered early music?
Posted by: berto Posted on: Apr 16th, 2003, 4:47pm
>What do you think about (true) early music being played in different arrangements?  Modern oboes and flutes instead of period instruments?  Written for clarinet or other instruments that didn't exist at that time? Arrangements for orchestras? Arrangements for bands?  Brass or woodwind quintets?  How far is it still considered early music?
Interesting questions.  Complex and thorny ones, too.
If a recorder quintet plays Medieval or Renaissance music with a mix of Baroque-style recorders, plastic replicas, and a square Paetzold bass, is that any more legitimate than if played by a quintet of clarinets, oboes, and flutes? Both are anachronistic, although the latter group more so than the former.
If a recorder orchestra were to play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, would it not still be "classical music"? Similarly, if a modern symphony orchestra were to play Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, would it not still be "early music"?
If a computer plays Pachelbel's Canon, is it not still "early music"? Was "Vision", the hit CD from a few years back with jazzed-up renditions of the music of Hildegard von Bingen--was that not still "early music"? If not "early music," then what?
I think there is a lot to be said in favor of performing "early music" on period instruments (or modern replicas).
But the music--the melodies, the rhythms, the compositional forms, the performance styles--for me these are paramount, not the instruments the music is played on, or the arrangements.
Posted by: MasquedPhoenix1 Posted on: Jun 13th, 2003, 2:49pm
I would put my vote in for Early music being defined by when it was written, not on which instruments it is performed.  I think of Baroque and before as Early Music.  Another barometer might be what we hear played by modern symphony orchestras.  Since they usually deal with Classical and beyond, I figure the rest must be Early.  Yeah, they'll play a little Bach or Handel now and again, but I can't remember any of them doing Dowland or Dufay!  So recorders playing an arrangement of Rossini wouldn't count as "Early Music".  It would be Romantic Music on Early Music instruments- a sub-category, to my way of thinking.  But if we play the Hindemith trio, is that 20th century music written for early instruments, or 20th century music on a legitimate 20th century performing instrument?  That is a more complicated debate, I would think...
Also, I figure that if modern players of modern instruments want to pull out some Renaissance music and jam, more power to them.  If they begin to love the genre, they might be moved to explore the "period instruments" as well.  Berto also had a good point that most of us perfoming on recorders are playing Baroque instruments.  This is due to practicality more than anything else.  The Baroque instrument has a greater range and generally better intonation.  You can play all the great music written for recorder on a Baroque instrument.  A Renaissance instrument had a stronger, more interesting sound, but you run out of notes a lot quicker. If you can only afford one, logic dictates you go for the flexibility.   And then you have to consider that most of the Early music we do play on recorders was meant primarily for vocalists or other instruments.  Read the literature of the time- shawms, sackbuts and cornetts played in the churches and as town waits.  Stringed instruments held primacy in court.  So a recorderist is standing on very thin ice if he decides to deride a flutist for grabbing a bit of Gibbons.
And what about early voice?  We may think that singers are the only true connection to the Early Music sound, but I have seen articles that argue that the highly trained voices we hear on recordings today were not of the same character as were authentic voices of the period.  Again, we'll never really know 'til someone finds the tape recorder Tallis dragged out for recording his choir rehearsals.
One of the best quotes I ever saw regarding "authentic performance" was written concerning a harpsichordist whose last name was Landowska.  She was one of the pioneers in the early 20th century Early Music revival.  I am paraphrasing as I don't have the quote in front of me, but the gist was, "Try as she may to play Bach his way, all Landowska really succeeded in doing was to play it her way.  But perhaps that is a kind of authenticity as well."  Much like you can hear 50 modern groups cover the Beatles song "Imagine" and hear 50 different interpretations, I'm sure that all the groups who played Byrd in the Renaissance had a slightly different take on the matter.  And that's what being a performer is all about.  Take all the ideas you hear about authentic performance or whatever and distill them into something that pleases you (or the conductor who happens to be signing your paycheck).   I think a good performer of any genre must work like mad to learn as much as he can from the scholarly literature, listen to the other groups performing in these styles and absorb these influences.  But he must never be afraid to express his own ideas.  I have to believe the little guy from Schwerin who picked up a copy of the Glogauer Liederbuch and found a version of a a tune he enjoyed back in the 1400s had a few ideas of his own, too.  
Perhaps I am jumping off the track again, but we musicians are a creative lot, after all- linear logic isn't our strong suit.  "Music is the science that would have us laugh and sing and dance."-Guillaume de Machaut.  There is a lot of science to what we do, but if we forget the sheer joy involved in music making because we are arguing the finer points of "authentic performance", something wonderful will be lost.  So we can argue about the dividing lines between "Early Music" and, well, what do we call the rest, "Late Music"?  (We can insert an argument here that "Classical Music" is really only a narrowly defined 50 year period around the time of Mozart and Haydn.)  But I think it's better to err on the side of inclusiveness.  That may not work for a web page trying to define the limits of what it covers- some defined restrictions are necessary.  But when your friend who plays the clarinet says, "Cool!  What is that music?  Can I play, too?", I hope that you'll pass him a part!
Posted by: Juan Rodriguez Posted on: Apr 4th, 2005, 12:06am
I studied Early Music for many years with the well known late J. Iadone.  As I understand it, a general period date would be music of early 17th century and before.  Or course the great output being the 15th and 16th century. The same styles or tonalities can be found in the 11th and 12th centuries. Of course, when you look at this period and go back any further you only find monophonic music that chords could be set to .  I hope this helps.  JPR  jnrdrgz@hotmail

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