January 25, 2010

Nic on performing Brahms: Part 1

We are excited to post Music Director Nic McGegan's first blog entry for A415 today! This is the first of a series of posts about our February concerts.

As we all know, Philharmonia Baroque is starting the New Year with a voyage into what, for our orchestra, will be uncharted waters: performing the music of Johannes Brahms (pictured left). It promises to be a fascinating and thrilling adventure both for the orchestra and, we hope, for you the listener.

The performance of later Romantic music on period instruments is becoming relatively commonplace in Europe, but, here in the U.S.A., it is much more of a rara avis, at least in the concert hall. I thought that it might be fun for me, as a kind of New Year’s resolution, to jot down some thoughts about how the orchestra might approach the performance of Brahms on period instruments.

Historically-informed performance consists of two basic elements: using period instruments and playing them in what we, perhaps fondly, hope is an appropriate style. For the performance of music before about 1830, both elements have to be combined. After that watershed date, the instruments start to resemble modern ones, but the style of performance differed in many important ways to what one might hear at a modern symphony concert. Our sources on the performance of earlier music are treatises, descriptions and pictures. For music from Brahms onwards, a new source comes into play, namely sound recordings. There is even one of Brahms himself, though, apart from his spoken introduction in a remarkably high, almost squeaky voice, it is impossible to hear much through the miasma of scratches.

For Brahms’ music, we are lucky to have five recordings by his friend, violinist Joseph Joachim, from 1903, plus recorded performances by players and conductors who knew or studied with him. Anyone who wants to delve into this more deeply can read an excellent book called Performing Brahms, edited by Michael Musgrave and Bernard Sherman. There is even a CD with the book with all the Joachim recordings, the one of Brahms himself, piano students of his and Clara Schumann and much more besides.

Stay tuned for more posts in the coming weeks...

No comments:

Post a Comment