Monday, March 12, 2012

Inside Out: Rediscovering Forgotten ‘Early Music’ Pioneers

The next article in the 'Inside Out' series, Bert Shudi, author of  The Early Music Pioneers Archive, guest blogs.

The time is ripe for a revival of the early music revival. The pioneers of today’s flourishing early music movement – the people who put Baroque and earlier music back on the map – are fading into obscurity.

A new blog, The Early Music Pioneers Archive, combines research with documents, video interviews, photographs and digitalized clips (from LPs, 78s and private recordings), to refocus attention on a host of musicians, scholars and instrument makers who deserve to be remembered.

Until around the 1930s ‘early music’ (music composed before about 1800) was seen as the preserve of a few eccentric specialists. Nowadays we take it for granted. Bach, Vivaldi, Monteverdi and many others have become household names.

We also take for granted the way this music sounds. We expect ‘historically informed’ performances that reproduce as closely as possible the sounds contemporary listeners would have heard, played on period instruments, either original or modern copies.

Behind these performances lies the fascinating story of how enthusiastic amateurs, private collectors, generous benefactors, self-taught instrument makers, musical clergymen, moonlighting professional musicians, academics and wayward university students, all contributed to promoting music by long-forgotten composers, played in ‘the old way’ on obsolete instruments. It will be told here largely by those who took part in the struggles, or witnessed them from close at hand.

Apart from acknowledging the pioneers, the aim is to discover how this ‘movement’ gathered impetus and overcame resistance from the musical establishment (at a time when ALL music was played exactly the same way, regardless of when it was written). Now, more than sixty years on, ‘early music’ has captured the public’s imagination, and become one of the most popular parts of mainstream classical music culture.

Frankly, given the critical onslaught, it’s amazing that ‘early music’ – played on authentic instruments, and in the style of the period – has survived at all!

As the first generation of pioneers, responsible for the re-discovery of old instruments and playing styles have all died, the focus will be on musicians active just after the war, when some very significant breakthroughs began to take place.

But their ground-breaking work is already becoming forgotten, as ‘early music’ has gone global and scholarship in the field surges ahead.

The Early Music Pioneers Archive (TEMPAR) is a new blog about the pioneers who rediscovered the pre-1800 repertoire and started performing it in the authentic style on period instruments. Regular posts will tell the stories of scholars, performers, discoverers and makers of instruments, collectors and others.

Some of the posts that have appeared so far have been about über-pioneer Arnold DolmetschThurston Dart, Cambridge University professor, broadcaster, early keyboard specialist and conductor; the groundbreaking Play of Daniel; Edmund Fellowes, who re-discovered John Dowland and the lute song; and the first part in a series on Arnold Goldsbrough (founder of the English Chamber Orchestra).

There is also an article on the Dutch harpsichordist, Gustav Leonhardt, published just after his untimely death, and a translation of an obituary written by perhaps Leonhardt’s most famous student, Ton Koopman.

TEMPAR needs readers, followers and commenters, and welcomes crowd-sourcing. In other words, we hope that more visitors will come to the site, and that some will provide complete articles, and others will supplement the research with their personal experiences (of concerts and meetings with the people concerned) and contribute memorabilia and recordings of ‘lost’ performances.

The author can be reached by his email,

Read the previous article in the 'Inside Out' series here.

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