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Thread: Late Romantic HIP: What Are We Waiting For?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Default Late Romantic HIP: What Are We Waiting For?

    It's impossible for most of us nowadays to think of what we tend to call "early music" without hearing in our mind's ear the innovative approaches to performance identified by the acronym: HIP - "Historically Informed Performance." Attempts to apply advanced scholarship to the execution of music up to and including the Classical repertoire (eventually extending into the early Romantic era) got under way in earnest in the 1960s with ensembles like the Early Music Consort of London and the Concentus Musicus Wien. Playing on replicas of period instruments and applying the latest understanding of instrumental techniques, vocal styles, rhythmic execution and embellishment, such groups changed our concept of what the music of earlier times may have sounded like in performance.

    Just how true to their period our present ideas of "authentic" performance practice may be, we have no way of knowing. We can only consult the work of scholars, the design of early instruments, and our own sensibilities, and we are inevitably left with plenty of room for diverse approaches and disagreement. But we've had by now a couple of generations of performers, recordings and listeners to give us pleasure and food for thought, and most of us who have been paying attention during these years have probably formed strong feelings about how we like our Monteverdi and Purcell, our Bach and Handel, our Haydn and Mozart, and our Beethoven to sound. But what about our Chopin? Our Liszt? Our Verdi? Our Mahler? We probably have our preferences in performances of these composers as well, but what are those preferences based on?

    A few well-known classical performers have made attempts to bring the HIP movement into the 19th century. We can hear Chopin and Liszt performed on period pianos, and a few conductors (for example, Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner) have tried to reproduce what they suppose to have been the constitution and sonorities of 19th-century orchestras. But I must admit to being very far from persuaded by many of these admirable efforts that I'm hearing the music played in a style that Romantic era listeners would have recognized. And I have a very good reason for this skepticism: namely, the existence of recordings made by performers who were born as far back as the middle of the 19th century, and who have left us some fascinating glimpses of the way people of their generation imagined and played music we love and think we know well.

    I've wanted to address this subject for a long time, but I was moved to start this thread by a fascinating video I just saw on YouTube, and which I want to share now. It's a fairly summary presentation, but I think it's enough to provoke a good deal of thought. Here it is:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFPW9ENtNKA

    I'm very interested in hearing how the ideas of musical performance presented here impress others, and how others might answer the question I've posed in the title of this thread. I'd also like to see more samples of performances by musicians from the early days of recording whose interpretations might further illuminate the topic. I have several in mind that I'll post if there's an interest in hearing them.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-06-2019 at 08:09.

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    What would interest me is if you would spell out the sort of divergence you see between HIP practice and the recorded legacy from performers who were born in the middle of the c19

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I watched the video with interest but am perfectly amazed in the presentation - ie one 'old' performance and only one 'modern' one to compare it with, as if all modern performances were the same. I am completely gobsmacked that anyone of any intelligence can assume this is a scientific way of approaching things. I mean, I have a few recordings of the Liszt example and they are all differently played. So why does he pick on one and seem to assume that's the way everyone plays it? Similarly the Swan Lake. I have various performances and they play it differently. OK we realise styles change but I would have thought more telling examples would have been Rachmaninov playing his piano concertos (or his other pieces) or to compare Gardiner's and Toscanini's Verdi performances of the Requiem and Falstaff. After all, Toscanini played under Verdi so his interpretations must have a certain degree of authenticity. There is also the question of the two Mahler pupils - Walter and Klemperer - who saw Mahler quite differently.
    One thing I did wince at was Patti's 'Voi che sapete' - was this warbling an example of how it should be sung? Bring on Freddie von Stade is what I say and have some decent singing!
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-06-2019 at 09:46.

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    Anton Rubinstein didn't want to have his piano recorded in any way, because he realized that his mistakes would get immortalized.
    A former student of Liszt remarked that Tausig played more precisely than the master, and if I recall the context of this comment, it has been said as if it Liszt often playing less perfectly than other greats was a known fact.
    Due to the fact that there were no recordings, and that musicians didn't have the opportunity to travel as much and compare (or remember) many different performances, much more was just left adrift in a sea of personal decisions, and the public, including critics, on average knew no better. Some traveling critics did, but much more was subjective. It makes much more sense that in those days tyrant conductors like Toscanini or Mahler, as well as primadonna instrumentalists, were succesful. Those with a superior personal interpretation were the only force that could guide musicians or lead music. Often when something went wrong, it passed unnoticed. So in the case of the Swan Lake for example, all I hear is a mismatched performance of the soloist with no concern for the orchestra, and Barbirolli didn't care. If he lived nowadays, he would, because he would be compared to other performances more---not merely to his own past ones, or performances of different works performed by the same orchestra---as was a case in older days. Back then a choice of a work was more often a novelty, and so the entire splendour of effect was split between the composer and the conductor, because few could tell how good of a job did the conductor really do.
    This modern performance of the Swan Theme is far more "perfect"


    I would say that modern conductors and musicians in general exceed the past ones, and there is no shame to that. Their predecessors would have been proud of them.

    Historical instruments are a different beast. Sometimes music was written for something that sounds differently, and it made more sense with that instrument. Other times I really do not see the point of using a valve-less trumpet or an old piano.

    Just yesterday I listened to Aram Khachaturian conducting his masquerade suite with Philharmonia Orchestra at the Kingsway Hall (1954). Compared to the reference recording of Stanley Black with the LSO (1978), the composer himself sometimes does strike various points in music more perfectly, but also has some wacky elements, like kitchy jarring trumpets, that have been tamed by Stanley Black for a more coherent sound---and sometimes Khachaturian even arguably emphasizes various points less perfectly than Black.

    I've had a related discussion on another board, which reached a conclusion that composers themselves don't necessarily conduct their works the best way, not only because they cannot distance themselves enough from their creation---whereas a conductor is always a listener first, but also because some conductors are so superior in their tempos and hearing, that they can exceed the composers in the aural, physical sense. Also, because composers frequently were and are just guest conductors and do not have a relationship as established with an orchestra, and are less efficient at rehearsing as a result.

    I am not yet able to judge which conductors have really been the best and whether there were some factors in the past in favour of the old legends. I like some recordings by Furtwängler, Krauss, and Toscanini, but more frequently I hear no advantage in listening to the old recordings compared to some solid more recent one.
    Last edited by Fabulin; Oct-06-2019 at 10:57.

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    Senior Member Granate's Avatar
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    I'm young enough to see this position change. Honestly, cutting in the Schubert/Beethoven ages, the more modern the composition is, the less I feel the need to consider a HIP performance.

    I'm really sceptical about period practice for late 19th century. I would have yet to compare for instance early 60s recordings of Brahms or Mahler symphonies to these upcoming HIP performances. Also, Kent Nagano is supposed to start recording a HIP Wagner Ring by the beginning of next decade. Here, I think playing and conducting are more into question than singing, as they would probably face against the ongoing London Philharmonic Wagner Ring conducted by Vladimir Jurowski with a known modern instrument full orchestra as has been the fashion over a century (but recorded with fuller quality than in the 20th century). If we were to compare both orchestral playings, which would we prefer? And how much will conducting incluence in our sensations? (I don't particularly have the hots for Nagano or Jurowski so far into my journey).

    If there was any HIP approach for instance to Wagner, that could have to do with the timings performed during his lifetime, or which he reportedly reccommended. Harmut Haenchen has argumented and championed a Parsifal conducting that could be well compared to the once-despised timings of Pierre Boulez below 3h50m. I'm not automatically against fast Wagner conducting since sometimes Pierre Boulez made it seem natural, but unfortunately, neither Haenchen's broadcasts from Bayreuth or Thielemann's Parsifal from Salzburg leading the SKD (what a messy prelude) have ever convinced me compared to controversial Karajan performances or of course the leading 20th century interpreter Hans Knappertsbusch.

    I once listened and wasn't really pleased by John Eliot Gardiner conducting Brahms symphonies, and still consider his rendition of Les Troyens as quite good. But instead of putting all the effort on orchestras, are we ever going to focus on good HIP conductors inventive enough to completely challenge 20th century's recorded legacy?

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Found this interesting. Obviously the composer's ideas were somewhat different than today!

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    What would interest me is if you would spell out the sort of divergence you see between HIP practice and the recorded legacy from performers who were born in the middle of the c19
    I don't know what you mean by "divergence between HIP practice and the recorded legacy from performers who were born in the middle of the c19."

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    O sorry, I just wanted to know which performances you were thinking of when you wrote this. I mean the old "glimpses " and the recent "efforts"

    "But I must admit to being very far from persuaded by many of these admirable efforts that I'm hearing the music played in a style that Romantic era listeners would have recognized. And I have a very good reason for this skepticism: namely, the existence of recordings made by performers who were born as far back as the middle of the 19th century, and who have left us some fascinating glimpses of the way people of their generation imagined and played music we love and think we know well."

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    By the way a similar thing came up for me a few months ago. Some pianist claimed to have found the authentic way to play Brahms based on old records. But when I listened to the old records prima facie they weren't at all like what she was doing. Of course I was only listening superficially, there may have been important performance details in common which I missed.

    I'm not at home now, I'll dig out the details later.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Oct-06-2019 at 18:33.

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    I, for one, have little interest in HIP being applied to late romanticism. Firstly, that era wasn't that long ago and there were plenty of people who knew the styles then and lived long enough to bring their wisdom well into the 20th c. Bruno Walter, Adrian Boult, Arthur Rodzinksi, Serge Koussevitsky and many more made numerous recordings that are not significantly different from what's being done today. Second, the improvement of instrument technology were all to the good, with the possible exception of higher tension strings. The improvements in intonation, projection and playability aren't something I would want to go without.

    Then there's this: does anyone really want to go back to the sloppy string playing with portamento so common? Ugh! There are some old recordings where it's prevalent and it drives me crazy. Mengelberg, for example. When it's called for, then it should be used. One example: in the Mahler 2nd, Urlicht, the composer wrote some portanmentos in the strings parts that have been and still are widely ignored or rejected by conductors. Then along comes Lorin Maazel (himself a fine violinist) who restores them, brings them to the fore and makes it into a deeply moving, heartfelt moment. But when Mahler doesn't write it, he doesn't use it - good thing! Or compare Svetlanov's two recordings of the Balakirev 1st. In the slow movement on the Melodiya recording he used portamento subtly to great, touching effect. But in his Hyperion remake he used none - and the performance seems cold, calculated and unmoving.

    Not would I want HIP attitudes brought back where tampering with scores was the norm. Cuts, re-orchestrations, and other damage (ala Stokowski) should never be the norm. Did you know that for many years it was common to replace the slow movement of a lesser symphony with the slow movement from Beethoven's 7th? If that was HIP, count me out.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post


    Found this interesting. Obviously the composer's ideas were somewhat different than today!
    Yes, this is very interesting. I think it illustrates further some of the ideas suggested by the video in the OP which you've called (in post #3) "unscientific":

    I am completely gobsmacked that anyone of any intelligence can assume this is a scientific way of approaching things. I mean, I have a few recordings of the Liszt example and they are all differently played. So why does he pick on one and seem to assume that's the way everyone plays it? Similarly the Swan Lake. I have various performances and they play it differently. OK we realise styles change but I would have thought more telling examples would have been Rachmaninov playing his piano concertos (or his other pieces) or to compare Gardiner's and Toscanini's Verdi performances of the Requiem and Falstaff. After all, Toscanini played under Verdi so his interpretations must have a certain degree of authenticity. There is also the question of the two Mahler pupils - Walter and Klemperer - who saw Mahler quite differently.
    Of course you are correct in pointing out that performances have always differed from each other. The question is whether we can identify general principles or tendencies in different performance traditions. The OP video is suggesting that we can. Were performers in 1900 doing things that made them similar to each other but different from anything we hear today? It's a bit early in the conversation to dismiss that question, wouldn't you say?

    One thing I did wince at was Patti's 'Voi che sapete' - was this warbling an example of how it should be sung? Bring on Freddie von Stade is what I say and have some decent singing!
    This is actually a great example. I'd guess that most of us have what we think is a pretty good general idea of how Mozart should be sung. Let's listen to "Voi che sapete" as interpreted by two celebrated modern singers - von Stade (your suggestion) and Joyce DiDonato - and then by Adelina Patti, born in 1843 (and thus 62 at the time of the recording). It's important to keep in mind both Patti's age and the fact that the timbre of a soprano voice on an acoustic recording of 1905 could not be accurately captured, and that we're listening for style and interpretation only.

    Von Stade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA3yuwDq2H4

    DiDonato: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ_RWdMSX4w

    Patti: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ_RWdMSX4w

    I have to confess that I was stunned when I first heard Patti's way with this music, and that my first thought was, "No one would DARE sing this way today!" I would now amend that to say that no one today, looking at the score, could even IMAGINE it sung this way. Constant variations in tempo, detailed dynamic shading, departures from written note values, abundant portamenti (sliding) between notes - it isn't how we've been told music of the Classical period should sound. But Adelina Patti was one of the most celebrated and beloved singers of the 19th century, and Verdi considered her one of the greatest artists he had ever heard. Her approach to Mozart may not have typified Mozart's own era - maybe we're more "correct" now, or maybe not - but I think it tells us something important about the stylistic assumptions of her own time, which we call the late Romantic era.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post

    I have to confess that I was stunned when I first heard Patti's way with this music, and that my first thought was, "No one would DARE sing this way today!" I would now amend that to say that no one today, looking at the score, could even IMAGINE it sung this way. Constant variations in tempo, detailed dynamic shading, departures from written note values, abundant portamenti (sliding) between notes - it isn't how we've been told music of the Classical period should sound. But Adelina Patti was one of the most celebrated and beloved singers of the 19th century, and Verdi considered her one of the greatest artists he had ever heard. Her approach to Mozart may not have typified Mozart's own era - maybe we're more "correct" now, or maybe not - but I think it tells us something important about the stylistic assumptions of her own time, which we call the late Romantic era.
    If Patti was held in such high regard in her day, I certainly think it shows us we sing Mozart better now if her recording is anything to go by!

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Yes, this is very interesting. I think it illustrates further some of the ideas suggested by the video in the OP which you've called (in post #3) "unscientific":



    Of course you are correct in pointing out that performances have always differed from each other. The question is whether we can identify general principles or tendencies in different performance traditions. The OP video is suggesting that we can. Were performers in 1900 doing things that made them similar to each other but different from anything we hear today? It's a bit early in the conversation to dismiss that question, wouldn't you say?


    My point was that it is 'unscientific' merely to have one example of each, especially of modern recordings where one can choose the recoding to fit the point one is making. I think one interesting point that was made by a reviewer of Brahms piano concerto 1 was that Backhaus (who knew Brahms) played the music faster than some more modern pianists, and she suspected that was the way the (youthful) Brahms did himself. That does not invalidate a broader approach but it does tell us about Brahms possible intentions. I found the Brahms video interesting because it did show the composer vastly more cavalier with his own music than performers would dare to be today. I suspect Mozart and Beethoven were too. But then they had the privilege of being the composers!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    O sorry, I just wanted to know which performances you were thinking of when you wrote this. I mean the old "glimpses " and the recent "efforts"

    "But I must admit to being very far from persuaded by many of these admirable efforts that I'm hearing the music played in a style that Romantic era listeners would have recognized. And I have a very good reason for this skepticism: namely, the existence of recordings made by performers who were born as far back as the middle of the 19th century, and who have left us some fascinating glimpses of the way people of their generation imagined and played music we love and think we know well."
    Here is an attempt at Romantic HIP by Roger Norrington which is clearly the work of a late 20th-century musician who's done a bit of reading and thinks that he's now equipped to experiment on Wagner and on us.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooJGsIZhTYI

    Norrington is working from the premise that orchestral string players in Wagner's day didn't use vibrato - a controversial notion - and on the generalized impression that tempi then tended to be faster than they later became, which may be true as a broad generalization but which is subject to much qualification. The results, to my ears, are a perfect illustration of how HIP can substitute dogmatic assumptions for vital music-making and bear no resemblance to what I'd consider Romantic style, much less to Wagner's marking in the score: langsam und schmachtend (slow and yearning). We might contrast this with a deeply felt interpretation from 1928 by Karl Elmendorff:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKvffGm4OsI

    What I notice above all with Elmendorff is the complete absence of rigidity in the tempo, which changes subtly and organically throughout, sometimes almost bar by bar, as the expression dictates. This is exactly the kind of expressive flexibility Wagner describes in his essay "On Conducting," and which seems also to have been a characteristic of Mahler's conducting. If it's indeed true that tempi tended to be quicker on early recordings, I think it's crucial to realize that this refers to the BASIC tempo, which performers would be expected to modify for expressive reasons. We can hear this in the recordings Rachmaninoff made of his piano concertos; the 3rd concerto begins at a tempo as fast as we can hear anywhere on recordings, but the composer as performer is so alert, inventive and sensitive in the application of rubato that even if we resist the tempo initially we become totally convinced as we listen.

    The assumption that tempo is something to be played with freely for expressive purposes is only one aspect of Romantic music-making that distinguishes it from later 20th-century practice, but it's clearly an important one. It's especially remarkable to hear it employed in orchestral music, where it's less easily accomplished than in solo playing and singing.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    I think one interesting point that was made by a reviewer of Brahms piano concerto 1 was that Backhaus (who knew Brahms) played the music faster than some more modern pianists, and she suspected that was the way the (youthful) Brahms did himself. That does not invalidate a broader approach but it does tell us about Brahms possible intentions. I found the Brahms video interesting because it did show the composer vastly more cavalier with his own music than performers would dare to be today. I suspect Mozart and Beethoven were too. But then they had the privilege of being the composers!
    Consider the possibility that composers in earlier eras expected ALL performers to be more "cavalier" than we are now about interpreting a score. Everyone accepts this as true of performers in the Baroque. I'm suggesting that the expectation didn't change in Mozart's, Beethoven's, or even Brahms's time, and that the idea of complete fidelity to what's written on the page is largely a 20th-century notion.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-06-2019 at 20:55.

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