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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Clive Brown on ‘The Yawning Chasm between Contemporary Practice and Historical Evidence’ (2010):

‘The reasons why professional musicians have failed to apply our very extensive and ever-increasing knowledge of Classical- and Romantic-era performing practices to their manner of playing are manifold. Some of these may be briefly enumerated:

  • The education system in conservatoires prioritizes the established views and practices of successful recording artists, which were largely formed through the performance of earlier repertory in the established modern style of Baroque performance;

  • Professional musicians have little interest in going beyond a conventional manner of playing that has been accepted as normative by the listening public;

  • Professional musicians lack the time, or inclination, to read and absorb relevant scholarly research;

  • Performers are aware of the literature but, after experiencing difficulty in evaluating the findings of research about performance style that are conveyed primarily in words, prefer to stick to tried and tested ways of playing;

  • Performers take the view that where uncertainty exists it is better not to diverge too much from an established manner of playing;

  • Performers consciously decide to play in a style that feels comfortable to them and reflects current musical sensibilities, despite recognizing that this is in many respects very significantly different from the style of music-making with which eariler musicians would have been familiar;

  • Established performers are disinclined to embark on a path that may necessitate radical changes of technique and style;

  • Performers expect or fear that audiences (and record producers) will react negatively to sounds and styles that are at odds with those to which listeners are accustomed.’



I found this list quite interesting, and not just in the context of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Since this group consists of quite a few professionals and educators within the field of ‘Early Music,’ I’d be interested in hearing any perspectives, criticisms, or thoughts?

Clive Brown, “Performing 19th-Century Chamber Music: The Yawning Chasm between Contemporary Practice and Historical Evidence,” Early Music 38, no. 3 (July 14, 2010): 476–80.

The image below is William Hogarth’s 1741 ‘The Enraged Musician,’ depicting a violinist attempting to practice while the streets are packed with all sorts of wild music-making.

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