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The Cambridge History of Musical Performance
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The intricacies and challenges of musical performance have recently attracted the attention of writers and scholars to a greater extent than ever before. Research into the performer's experience has begun to explore such areas as practice techniques, performance anxiety and memorisation, as well as many other professional issues. Historical performance practice has been the subject of lively debate way beyond academic circles, mirroring its high profile in the recording studio and the concert hall. Reflecting the strong ongoing interest in the role of performers and performance, this History brings together research from leading scholars and historians and, importantly, features contributions from accomplished performers, whose practical experiences give the volume a unique vitality. Moving the focus away from the composers and onto the musicians responsible for bringing the music to life, this History presents a fresh, integrated and innovative perspective on performance history and practice, from the earliest times to today.


‘It provides a glorious, grandstand view of the institutions, and the social and technological forces, that have generated decisive changes in performance.'

Source: BBC Music Magazine

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Performance today
    pp 1-34
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    Around the world, there are radically different situations in both performance and education, in America, in Africa, in the Far East, particularly in the emergingly powerful and influential musical world of China. This chapter provides an overview of current trends, from the perspective of the classical music scene, surveying its radically changing delivery and context. It glances into a world in which classical music takes its place among a huge range of musics, and no longer necessarily enjoys its habitual prominence or status. The BBC runs orchestras, invests in new commissions and promotes the Proms; that reflects its public service role. The original focus of musicology on the establishing of authoritative texts was derived from philology and helped give the emerging discipline in the nineteenth century a positivist sense of scientific authority. The recreation of traditional pieces takes place side by side with improvised work that brings the young players' own creativity to the fore.
  • 2 - Political process, social structure and musical performance in Europe since 1450
    pp 35-62
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    This chapter examines the history of musical performance by, in political terms, seeing how a cultural community is shaped by differing groups and forces. Much of modern music history has been wrapped up in the dialectic between the court and the city. Courts continued to play important roles in musical life during the first half of the nineteenth century despite the burgeoning of urban music publics. The production and performance of music entailed three related dualities concerning relations between amateur and professional musicians, the entrepreneur and the association and practices of performing vocal and instrumental music. The dualism between vocal music and instrumental music has been fundamental to Western musical culture. Musical culture reached a new level of performing activity in both public and private contexts by around 1450, from southern Italy to eastern Germany and north to England. European politics changed fundamentally in the late seventeenth century, following a hundred years of widespread civil war and economic decline.
  • 3 - The evidence
    pp 63-104
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    The relationship between the performer, the instruments and the evidence is a constantly fluctuating one and the most meaningful performances result from an open-minded interaction between the three. This chapter provides an overview of Glen Haydon's two principal categories of historical evidence used in musicology, material remains and written records. In traditional musical cultures instruments are artefacts which not only produce sounds but also convey meaning, thereby extending their value as historical evidence. For ethnomusicologists, recording has become one of the primary methods of collecting evidence systematically during fieldwork. The media of film and, more recently, video or DVD have also served as evidence for performance history, particularly in the twentieth century. Iconographical sources may also furnish information about the social context and conditions of performances, the particular groupings of instruments and/or voices for various types of music at a given place and time, the constitution and distribution of orchestras and choirs, and whether or not there was a conductor.
  • 4 - The performer and the composer
    pp 105-134
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    This chapter addresses the composer-performer relationship by examining the perceived self-identity of composers and performers, the leadership of ensembles and the changing views regarding so-called fidelity to the score. Composers seek to express their ideas as precisely as necessary in notation, indicating all that is required for a successful performance. There are two broad categories of notation and the subsequent transmission of a composer's ideas. First, all those matters which are firmly in the composers' control: pitch level and relative duration. Secondly, almost all other matters such as tempo, articulation, metric stress and dynamics which, while indicated by composers, are largely subjective and ambiguous. By mid-century, as composers began experimenting with new forms of notation as well as a return to improvisatory-like freedoms in aleatoric music, new collaborations between composers and performers developed resulting in a re-examination of traditional roles.
  • 5 - The teaching of performance
    pp 135-168
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    This chapter provides a discussion on a variety of didactic practices, focusing largely on musical learning within institutions. An appropriate curriculum for performers beyond the immediate study of music has been promulgated in many different contexts, one eighteenth century source prescribing for music students 'the whole of worldly wisdom, as well as mathematics, poetry, rhetoric and many languages'. Within the broad study of music, theory and analysis have gradually been supplemented by a host of other performance-related subjects, such as acoustics, performance practice, psychology and world music. In addition, the increasing interaction of performers with their communities has brought into focus the benefits of music to disadvantaged members of society. For musical training, mobility is of great importance; the possibility of moving relatively freely between institutions within a 'European Higher Education Area' is an attractive one for musicians, for whom networking and mobility are central to training.
  • 6 - Music and musical performance: histories in disjunction?
    pp 169-206
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    The Earl of Chesterfield's precept signals the disjuncture between the concepts of music and musical performance as perceived by a British aristocrat in the mid-eighteenth century. Musical notation endowed compositions with a durable and transmissible format, which meant that in the process of canon formation undertaken by Austro-German scholars works and their creators became the primary focus of musicology. Before the recent challenges of postmodern thinking, 'canonic', in music as in literature, was a term reserved for classic works by great composers. The social history of English music in the nineteenth century is largely a history of the manner in which a vastly increased demand for music of all kinds was met. The Huddersfield Choral Society, had its beginnings as part of what the historian Peter Clark called the associational world, governed by rules of behaviour, with meetings staged across the neighbourhood. London's municipal music was organised by the Parks and Open Spaces Committee of the London County Council.
  • View abstract
    The notion of performance was central to the practice and ideology of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Monodic poetry was performed in contexts limited to a select audience, the most important of which was the symposium, a civic ritual attested since the Archaic age as a privilege of the aristocratic male elite. Choral activity usually involved a group of people, ranging from three to sixty. In the post-Classical history of musical performance, the theatre became the most popular kind of entertainment. Roman musical performances were naturally influenced by neighbouring civilisations, most notably by the Greeks and the Etruscan. The likelihood of a musical performance in Imperial Latin tragedy, however, is more controversial. Despite the preservation of Seneca's plays, which strongly influenced tragic drama in the Renaissance, modern scholars believe that his tragedies were written for recitation only or, if staged, were performed in private productions.
  • 8 - Performance before c. 1430: an overview
    pp 231-247
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    The first problem confronting anyone interested in medieval music performance is the sheer size of the Middle Ages. Some knowledge survives on medieval music performance, and research continues to improve current understanding of the many kinds of music made in the Middle Ages. The concept of work was central to medieval thought and life. Though labor included all kinds of work, it originally meant agricultural work, whose rhythms shaped medieval time. Generally, music for edification has a greater preponderance of songs in Latin than in the vernacular. By far the largest extant medieval musical repertoire is Latin liturgical chant. Medieval edification embraced the modern notion of entertainment. A frequently cited context in medieval literature for musical entertainment is the banquet. One of the most ancient and important genres of edifying music is the solo epic tradition. The early Christian poet Prudentius offers up in the early fifth century an especially colourful description of theatre music.
  • 9 - Vocal performance before c. 1430
    pp 248-260
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    Plainchant is the backbone of medieval music. On the way to learning how to sing plainchant with propriety, the young would have been taught music theory. Medieval liturgical drama presents a particularly interesting focus when considering performance solutions for medieval music. Reports of the death of European drama upon the closure of the Ancient Roman theatres are an exaggeration- medieval minstrelsy maintained and developed many aspects of performance art before the reinvention of the play. The history and genesis of the earliest European vocal polyphony are lost in the mists of time. Heterophony, as inherited from antiquity, could conceivably have led to some form of polyphonic expansion. The late-medieval period saw the replacement of score notation by choirbook format and the shortening of written note values. The individuality of one's own voice-part is magnified when the character and range of a whole section of a piece can be analysed at a glance.
  • 10 - Instrumental performance before c. 1430
    pp 261-278
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    The vast body of visual artefacts from the Middle Ages is a rich source of information on the design and features of musical instruments and their use in actual musical practice. Musical iconography from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries tends to be more valuable to music scholars because it appears to strive for a higher degree of accuracy and realism. The rise of civic music ensembles led to the creation of schools that taught future minstrels not only the rudiments of performance, but also basic maths, reading and writing. The impressive European history of the lute began with the Arab conquest of the Iberian peninsula and Sicily respectively in the eighth and ninth centuries. The presence of northern musicians and northern repertoires in Italy increased dramatically in the early fifteenth century, with the return of the papacy in Rome and with the establishment of piffari ensembles throughout the peninsula.
  • 11 - Case study: Guillaume de Machaut, ballade 34, ‘Quant Theseus / Ne quier veoir’
    pp 279-294
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    This chapter explores the Guillaume de Machaut's ballade 34, 'Quant Theseus / Ne quier veoir'. The circumstances surrounding the creation of this ballade illustrate its remoteness from the bulk of music-making of the mid-fourteenth century. Machaut was a privileged man in the fourteenth century. Educated at cathedral schools in his home town of Reims, France's prestigious coronation city in the Middle Ages, he obtained early on an important and well-paying secretarial post in the employ of King John of Bohemia. Ballade 34 is found in seven manuscripts, mostly dating from the 1370s. The two latest manuscripts, the Chantilly and Reina codices, present significantly different readings from the common recension. The section of the Reina Codex containing ballade 34 was compiled in northern Italy around 1410 by a scribe knowledgeable in French notation; it has mostly French works from the fourteenth century.
  • View abstract
    The performance practices associated with church music maintain a curiously obstinate continuity throughout the Renaissance. The historical trajectory of the notated secular song traditions of the Renaissance is very different from that of the Mass and motet, even though nearly all composers throughout the period were active in both genres. Chanson manuscripts survive in sufficient quantities to imply that they were an extremely important performance genre and therefore a regular feature of court life. The idea of the consort- a coordinated set of instruments of varying sizes corresponding to the different pitch ranges of voices is one of the most characteristic of Renaissance musical innovations. The characteristic Renaissance outlook on music did not directly affect the sound of the music or impinge on the circumstances of its performance. Even so, it is crucial to the understanding of the vitality of an era that is sometimes perceived as an angelically faceless golden age of polyphony.
  • 13 - Vocal performance in the Renaissance
    pp 318-334
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    Developments in compositional styles and forms in the Renaissance brought about significant changes in vocal performance practices in both sacred and secular music, notably in vocal production, the combination of voices and instruments and the number of voices per part. In the late Renaissance there were two distinct vocal practices: loud for church and modulated for chamber. In the late sixteenth century, all vocal performance practices were seriously influenced by the developing monodic style, a new dramatic style of singing that developed in Italy. Throughout the period, solo singing was the most traditional of all forms of musical presentation. The instrument most often associated with the tradition was the lira da braccio, a favourite of the Italian humanists, an instrument that was thought of as the Classical lyre of Orpheus. Over the period of the Renaissance the repertoire of polyphonic secular music evolved in terms of types, numbers of voice parts, formal design and relationship between text and vocal line.
  • 14 - Instrumental performance in the Renaissance
    pp 335-352
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    This chapter considers the development of the instruments, ensembles and performance techniques of the fifteenth century. Soft instruments could be played alone as solo instruments as well as in ensembles. The musical sources which convey repertoire of chamber musicians consists of a group of larger manuscripts which have generally been considered keyboard collections, as well as a handful of fragmentary sources. The two most important larger sources are the Faenza Codex, and the Buxheim Organ Book. The loud instruments were those that produced penetrating sounds; trumpets and shawms were the most prominent, others that were important included the bagpipe and various kinds of drums. From about 1500 onward much of the basic repertoire of instrumentalists was drawn from music for which the basic structure was dictated by a written exemplar, either manuscript or print. By 1600 the performance demands on ensemble players constrained them to perform from written music.
  • 15 - Case study: Seville Cathedral's music in performance, 1549–1599
    pp 353-374
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    This chapter considers musical performance within two liturgical contexts at the cathedral: the Marian Salve service and Vespers of a high-ranking feast. It examines how various types of polyphony and instrumental music were deployed in these contexts, taking elements of Francisco Guerrero's output as specific examples. The cathedral chapter's investment in its musical establishment during Guerrero's early years as joint maestroincluded the commissioning of new books of polyphony to replace the antique repertoire in existing manuscripts. The celebration of festal Vespers and Mass, in the central coro of the cathedral, was together with processions, the other principal focus of musical performance at Seville Cathedral. The celebration of a great feast at the cathedral began with First Vespers on the afternoon before the feast day, and on the day itself the greatest musical elaboration was lavished on Mass and Second Vespers that afternoon.
  • View abstract
    Music of the Baroque era has occupied a special place in the drive towards authentic, period or historically informed performance. With one major exception, musical environments changed between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Formal musical establishments focused on the court, the church, or the town, with greater or lesser degrees of mobility between them depending on location. Most urban centres of any size across Europe had musicians employed by civic authorities for ceremonial purposes or other musical needs. The major exception was the rise of public opera in Venice in 1637 and its rapid spread through Europe: this changed significantly the career paths and rewards especially for virtuoso singers. Town musicians could be virtuosi of some distinction and also composers of music appropriate to their domain, including ceremonial fanfares, dances, wedding songs and chorales. Opera changed the picture considerably in terms of its burgeoning demand for female singers, who gained unprecedented economic power as a result.
  • 17 - Vocal performance in the seventeenth century
    pp 398-420
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    Developments in vocal music, particularly in dramatic genres, naturally made increased demands on singers. This chapter focuses particularly on Italian practices of vocal technique and their pedagogy, and especially on the earlier part of the seventeenth century. It provides an overview of the singers themselves in terms of voice types and their deployment in practice, focusing principally upon the soprano voice in its various manifestations, because of its particular rise to prominence during this time. The chapter looks at the expressive functions of vocal technique in singers' performances on the stage. Child singers were ubiquitous in professional performances throughout Europe. Boys were to be found everywhere in church choirs both Catholic and Protestant, and as the German treatises make abundantly clear, were required to develop sophisticated skills to be able to perform the increasingly complex Italianate figural music.
  • 18 - Instrumental performance in the seventeenth century
    pp 421-447
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    National styles of instrument building can most obviously be seen in the organ and harpsichord families. This chapter discusses certain topics applicable to all instruments: tempo and proportion, rhythmic interpretation, accidentals, ornamentation, pitch and temperament. An important performance practice in French Baroque music is the rhythmic convention of notes inégales, whereby, under certain conditions, particular note values that are subdivisions of the beat are performed unequally, even if these same note values are notated equally. In the late seventeenth century, the influence of Italian music, especially that of Corelli, was extremely significant in Paris. French influence in high culture and language pervaded most parts of Europe during the reign of Louis XIV, and music was no exception. Early German seventeenth-century sources for ornaments were almost exclusively centred on vocal and Italian practices, in particular those of Caccini and Monteverdi. Temperament is crucial to keyboard instruments and repertoires that have organs and harpsichords as a constituent part.
  • 19 - Case study: Monteverdi, Vespers (1610)
    pp 448-470
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    Monteverdi's Vespers is probably the most popular piece of early seventeenth-century sacred music nowadays-certainly in terms of performances and recordings. In order to examine the range of performance possibilities for the 1610 Vespers, it is necessary to refer to the original musical notation, to music treatises, and to a large range of recent scholarship. The chapter considers a range of performance possibilities within the parameters of early seventeenth-century performance practice. The new collected works volume is the only modern edition that contains the whole of the 1610 publication; it also includes a complete facsimile of the print, but it is not a practical performing edition. Modern performers taking a large-scale approach to the Vespers routinely add instruments that are not specified in the original part-books in order to give extra instrumental colour. The issues relating to a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers are complex both practically and philosophically.
  • View abstract
    An increasingly public milieu, as music moved from royal and aristocratic patronage at court to public concerts supported by newly enriched middle classes and promoted by newly independent musical entrepreneurs: thus runs the typical line of discussion in connection with eighteenth-century performance. Throughout the eighteenth century music maintained a symbolic political role as an instrument of absolutist power, a temporal representation of monarchical glory. Italian opera seria was used unambiguously as an instrument of state, reflecting the ideals of absolutist rule and a powerfully beneficent government. Eighteenth-century accounts traditionally divide musical practice into three performance milieux: church, theatre and chamber music. Every sphere of eighteenth-century musical life witnessed a heightening of professional skills, length and formality- from Bach in the organ loft to the Singspiel stage to the symphony concert hall. An increasing formality and professionalism raised musical performance towards a more universal and public significance.
  • 21 - Vocal performance in the ‘long eighteenth century’
    pp 506-526
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    Public music-making in the eighteenth century was essentially a sociable and an urban activity, with singing to be encountered in the streets, in theatres, concert rooms and churches, as well as in the drawing rooms of the wealthy. The castrati have been considered the dominant force in both performance and its evolving pedagogy. Castration had been a fact of musical life for many generations, and it was accepted as perfectly normal for a high male voice to sing either a male or female role. The earliest comprehensive account of the vocal style and technique of the period is the Opinioni de' cantori antichi e moderni, o sieno Osservazioni sopra il cantofigurato, published by the seventy-year-old castrato Pier Francesco Tosi. In France, as in Germany, the Italian influence was moderated by long established vernacular traditions and by the compromises that singers had to make to accommodate the Italian language.
  • 22 - Instrumental performance in the ‘long eighteenth century’
    pp 527-551
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    The development of various innovations that were destined to transform the entire profile of woodwind instruments was both uneven and more gradual. Changing musical demands through the eighteenth century meant that, especially from the 1780s on, keys were being added to allow players to bypass the cross-fingerings that were hitherto needed to produce certain notes. The long eighteenth century was the golden age of violin making. The long eighteenth century is when the orchestra unequivocally emerges as a stable entity, distinct from any of the other large instrumental ensembles that are documented in earlier epochs. The most obvious aspect of the link between technique and stylistic profile in the eighteenth century is the way in which the fundamentals of performance on different instruments cooperate with or facilitate a clear sense of metrical hierarchy. In the second half of the eighteenth century the French/Italian binary gave way to a dominant Austro-German musical language.
  • 23 - Case study: Mozart, Symphonies in E flat major K543, G minor K550 and C major K551
    pp 552-574
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    The original sound world of Mozart's last three symphonies can arguably never be recreated, if only because the evidence is fundamentally insufficient. Nineteenth-century deification of Mozart runs deep, though for much of the period before 1900 only a relatively small fraction of his non-operatic pieces was in active use, broadly the last three symphonies, the Requiem, the late string quartets and quintets and the D minor Piano Concerto K466. Acknowledgement of Mozart from the nineteenth-century public derived in large measure from regular performances of Don Giovanni, regarded as the greatest and most modern Mozart, together with Figaro and Die Zauberflöte. An important factor in the premieres of the three symphonies is Mozart's own involvement. There are certainly some significant works which Mozart probably never heard, including the Serenade K361 and the Clarinet Concerto K622. Recognition of Mozart's pragmatism has a special relevance for first performances of the last three symphonies.
  • View abstract
    The nineteenth century is naturally divided by the revolutionary events of 1848, anticipating the increasing economic expansion and stability after 1870, an age of hitherto unknown levels of investment and economic growth and consequently of personal wealth and municipal expansion. The traditional focus and glory of court music had been high opera: the cultivation of vocal performance at the most refined level, regarded as offering the most direct appeal and entertainment, added to visual spectacle and dramatic content, for which courts prided themselves and vied with each other. Church music represented a much more conservative continuity. Festival choral music satisfied new preferences for a more direct, dramatic and secular style of the musical expression of religious texts within an increasingly mixed social class setting. Germany was especially rich in organisations devoted to instrumental music, drawn from the liaison of town, church and court.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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