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'Period polemic' Review to Bruce Haynes’s The End of Early Music

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Book reviews
Robert Quinney
Period polemics
It is time, argues Bruce Haynes, to do away with ‘Early
Music’. Not, as Tess Knighton assured you in the November
2007 issue, this journal. Haynes is sounding the death knell
of ‘early music’ as a generic term, applied indiscriminately
to repertory and performers alike, and implying a specialized offshoot of the constant and universal mainstream.
He suggests we call the ‘early’ repertory ‘Rhetorical music’,
in reference to the ‘principal paradigm’ of music written
before the ‘Romantic Revolution’ (i.e. around 1800). Rhetorical music is performed by ‘period’ musicians on
‘period’ instruments; a much more overtly historicist formulation than the catch-all ‘early’. However, Haynes is not
suggesting that what might be regarded as the ‘early music’
project is complete: entirely the opposite, in fact.
The end of early music offers eclectic ‘reflections on the
present state of the historically inspired performance
movement seen from the point of view of someone who
has been involved in it since the early 1960s’. Haynes’s
intention is not to write a dry history of Historically
Informed (or, in his formulation, Inspired) Performance
from Dolmetsch to the present day; rather, it is to examine
the place of HIP in late 20th- and early 21st-century musical life. HIP being a multi-layered, multi-faceted, not to say
slippery phenomenon, this perhaps inevitably involves a
good deal of definition by antithesis, in which ‘mainstream’
practices are described to show what HIP does not stand
for. Haynes leans heavily on Richard Taruskin’s critique of
modernist performing aesthetics, but rejects Taruskin’s
essential claim, developed and subjected to penetrating critique in John Butt’s Playing with history (Cambridge, 2002),
that HIP is itself a child of modernism and thus displays
many of the traits of modernist culture. Instead, Haynes
seeks to promote ‘Period style’ as a corrective to ‘Modern
style’; an oasis of risk-taking creativity in a desert of ‘impersonal, mechanical, literal, correct, deliberate, consistent,
metronomic’ modernist performances. The companion
website provides audio files in support of the argument—a
very useful resource, though at the time of writing the
order of examples 51–6 and 63–7 was incorrect.
Early Music, Vol. xxxvi, No. 2 © The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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Bruce Haynes, The end of early music: a period performer’s history of music for the 21st century (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2007), £19.99
Haynes’s book is principally about style, and in part
1 he establishes his stylistic parameters. He posits three
‘current styles’: the self-consciously profound and deeply
expressive Romantic style (which, though no longer practised, is preserved in early recordings, and which may
contain traces of earlier styles); the impersonal, restrictive, literalistic Modern style; and Period style, which was
developed through experimentation with period instruments and historical performing styles in the 1960s, particularly in Holland. Period style ‘appears to be the logical
outcome of the application of principles of Rhetoric’.
Within Period style he identifies the sub-category ‘Strait
(“as in strait-jacket”) style’.
In part 2 Haynes proceeds to examine our stylistic
heritage, suggesting that by identifying those ‘heady influences of the 19th and 20th centuries now unconsciously
embedded in our culture’ we can penetrate the ‘Romantic
drapery’ separating us from Rhetorical music. The central
Romantic concept is the Canon: its offshoots are Tradition,
a myth solidified by conservatories with their emphasis
on teacher–student lineage; Absolute Music; the Cult of
Genius; and Repeatability, which erodes music’s power to
shock, and with it ‘the imperative to listen carefully’. Reverence towards the Canon imposes stifling norms of
behaviour on performer and listener alike. In the case of
the ‘transparent performer’ or ‘executant’, the norms
demand that the performer act only as a vessel for the
composer’s intention. Haynes develops this into a chippy
but clear-sighted polemic against ‘the interpretive
conductor’—a ‘parasite’ who bends disempowered musicians to his will, in order to distract attention from his
own virtual redundancy.
An excellent discussion of notation and its ‘meaning’
follows. Notation is a poor medium for explicitly describing (to put it in Taruskin’s terms) the Act rather than
Text of music, so much of the information we need must
somehow be inferred. ‘Thin’ (apparently sketchy and
undescriptive) pre-Romantic scores might actually
encode information in a negative way: ‘the signs that
found their way onto the page often represented the
exceptional’. The element of contingency this implies
helps to bind the performer and composer in a pact of
mutual reliance, in contrast to the Romantic/Modern
score, which serves the performer with explicit notice of
the composer’s infallible intention. Rhetorical music is,
more than later repertories, badly served by performances
that limit themselves to following ‘directions printed
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fulness we are not yet able to appreciate’. Furthermore,
we must commit to moving the audience, and in the correct way—not like ‘the Romantic artist “expressing” an
emotion that is observed by the audience’, but like a
‘Baroque craftsman “arousing or evoking” an emotion in
the hearts of [the] listeners’. To this end, part 4 sets out
to define ‘Baroque expression’, offering descriptions of
the basic components of rhetoric and applying them to
musical composition and performance. Haynes then
compares the Baroque Affektenlehre with Romantic aesthetics, characterizing the former as an active, and the
latter as a passive relationship between performer and
audience. He provides examples of rhetorical figures and
gestures, and demonstrates the subtle interplay of these
figures within the larger-scale events usually called
phrases. (These would potentially be even more interesting if the bass line were also reproduced, the gestural
dialogue between melody and bass being crucial to
Baroque music.) The ‘eloquent style’, developed by
Gustav Leonhardt, Franz Brüggen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and others, is principally concerned with projecting
these gestures; for Haynes, it is the only style appropriate
to Rhetorical music.
Amen to all that—up to a point. Knowledge of the
sources and experience with antique and replica instruments are essential to the HIP enterprise; while not an end
in themselves, they have led to countless revelations in performance. The passion with which Haynes urges us to
reconnect with these materials is, perhaps, timely; but I suspect that, alongside his concern for the future of HIP, he is
partly motivated by a desire to re-create a ‘lost world’ of his
own. He writes, ‘my students read Harnoncourt’s writings
from the 1970s and 1980s and wonder why he seems so
angry…they were not there in the 1960s, of course’. The end
of early music may, after all, address an apocalypse of sorts.
The first generation of internationally successful HIP
musicians, Haynes’s ‘gurus’—Leonhardt, Harnoncourt
(whose writings, quoted frequently, are presented as
Gospel), Brüggen and others—are nearing the ends of their
careers, and who will arise to assume the mantle? To make
matters worse, kids these days just don’t know they’re born:
‘the sixties are gone, but if they think we have achieved
what the 1960s dreamed of, they are the dreamers’.
For Haynes, HIP has evidently lost its counter-cultural
edge and strong moral identity (features it shared with other
protest movements of the 1960s). Haynes twice cites the
decade 1965–75 as the most productive period of ‘Eloquent’
performance, and takes his ‘good’ audio examples either
from that period or from more recent recordings by himself
or his associates. These are indeed eloquent—some are
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black on white’. In the concluding part of the book,
Haynes revisits and develops this point, exhorting performers to rediscover the ability to improvise that has
been ‘trained out’ of most of us.
In part 3, Haynes begins by drawing a parallel between
HIP and the development of the seconda prattica in the
early 17th century. The Florentine Camerata ‘unintentionally ended up inventing something quite new’;
400 years later ‘there can be very interesting results by
[recte from?] mixing ideas from the past (as we dimly perceive it) with assumptions of the present’. He offers further ‘past examples of authenticity movements’, including
the Academy of Ancient Music in 18th-century London,
and the copying of French instruments and playing styles
at German courts in the years after the Thirty Years’ War.
Haynes seems to be suggesting that historical performance movements form part of the natural topography
of culture in the modern (i.e. in this context postmedieval) age, but that they simultaneously run counter
to the cultural norms of their times: ‘the composers of
Seconda Prattica were willing to drop customary musical
conventions; rules were changed or ignored…’.
This assertion of HIP’s counter-cultural orientation provides a key to what, it gradually becomes clear, is Haynes’s
primary motive for adding to the already copious literature
on the subject: he believes the movement, far from sweeping all before it, has lost its way. Many HIP musicians are
complacent, now that ‘ “early” playing styles…no longer
seem so exceptional or exotic…[and] there is a tradition,
young as it is, that gives logic to them’. This complacency
is manifested in ‘Strait’ style, which exhibits ‘some amount
of constant vibrato, long-line phrasing…precise ensemble
and close uniformity of sound…[a] tendency to make
everything restrained and temperate’. Strait style is Modern
style masquerading as HIP, and as such amounts to a
betrayal of the movement’s anti-establishment imperative
and revolutionary zeal. Other worrying signs include the
acceptance of (or failure to reject) mainstream concert
dress, which dates from the 19th century and is therefore
neither sufficiently ancient nor modern to be stylistically
appropriate to HIP; and the casual attitude taken by
younger performers (in Ton Koopman’s phrase, ‘hipsters
too cool for authenticity’) to historical sources.
Haynes has a remedy for HIP’s malaise. We must reengage with the sources as an integral part of the business
of performing, but our performances must not be inhibited by a lack of evidence or understanding; and we must
accept no substitutes in the quest for ever more accurate
reproductions of old instruments, warts and all—because
the warts may be ‘a deliberately made feature whose use-
more apparent than when Haynes is dealing with the big
bad wolf of HIP, Richard Taruskin, who of course did
not bare his teeth until after Haynes’s golden era, the
prelapsarian decade 1965–75. While Haynes accepts many
of Taruskin’s points, he seems suspiciously keen to point
out small errors (on p.182 complaining of an ‘incomplete
report’ of a Bach aria; on p.218 reporting that Taruskin
‘reproach[es] one Period player with the idea that “your
determination that the tempo was authentic was what
gave you permission to like it”, as if liking it was somehow not completely sincere if informed by the brain’;
both of which ‘corrections’ seem to me to rely on incorrect readings of Taruskin). Haynes also makes a rather
glib attempt to rescue the word ‘authenticity’ from the
scare-quotes to which Taruskin consigned it; he seems
confident that ‘authenticity’ is simply an innocent synonym for ‘historically accurate and credible’, thus implying an ignorance of, or an unwillingness to deal with, the
moral overtones with which the word is loaded, and
which Taruskin explores in exhaustive detail. It seems
perverse for Haynes to pick a fight over ‘authenticity’,
then scarper without addressing any of Taruskin’s points;
his conclusion that ‘authenticity is simple, it’s logical,
and … it’s central to the concept called HIP’ is overly
optimistic, and not borne of any serious engagement
with the debate.
More seriously, Haynes goes down a well-worn blind
alley, insisting that Taruskin’s contention that HIP is a
feature of modernist culture can be dismantled as long as
enough Period performances can be shown to depart
from the high modernist aesthetic; i.e. Stravinsky would
not have liked Leonhardt (though he might have liked
Rifkin), so ‘Eloquent’ HIP must be anti-modern. Once
more Haynes is forced into an untenable position by his
binary opposition of HIP versus everything else. If the
mainstream is part of modernist culture, he implies, HIP
cannot be; if modernism/the mainstream is authoritarian
and restrictive (and Haynes certainly thinks it is), HIP
must be tolerant and liberating—if it sometimes is not
(Strait style), that is because it is not proper HIP at all,
but really a modernist wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.
Many features of good HIP practice as Haynes describes
it are indeed about liberating the performer from a stultifying reverence of the ‘musical work’, which as he
shows is not a concept that applies to pre-Romantic
music. But Haynes’s insistence on style as the only
criterion by which he will judge or describe music runs
counter to this happy-go-lucky ideal. At first, his attitude
appears anything but restrictive: Haynes will tolerate any
style as long as it is historically accurate (he would say
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thrilling, notably a tantalizing 30 seconds of Corrette played
by Susie Napper—but Haynes’s reliance on his gurus and
colleagues suggests an overly prescriptive approach, one in
which a performance is either right or wrong. Haynes is not
slow to identify goats in contrast to his eloquent sheep. HIP
performers who have indulged in anti-Rhetorical practices
such as the ‘long-line’ phrase or ‘expressive crescendo’ are
named and shamed, with an air more of sorrow than of
anger: the latter solecism ‘is frequently heard in the orchestras conducted by M. Suzuki and T. Hengelbrock’. Evidently Haynes has an argument to make; but to suggest that
these and many other performers have simply taken the
wrong path, ignoring beacons of correct procedure, is simplistic to say the least.
In general, Haynes’s models of binary opposition (intelligent, expressive Eloquent style versus dull Modern; plucky
HIP versus hegemonic mainstream) oversimplify the complex interrelationships and cross-fertilizations that are an
inevitable and, arguably, valuable feature of 21st-century
culture. Furthermore, this tendency to polarize sometimes
leads him up the garden path, for example in his enthusiastic promotion of ‘Period composition’. Haynes would, I
think, align himself with John Butt’s idea that HIP provides
our fractured culture with a ‘patch’ of historicity—by engaging with a self-consciously historical performance style, we
stretch the muscles no longer activated by religion or a
Whiggish belief in progress. But music in Rhetorical style by
present-day composers would lack the necessary ‘charge’ of
historicity; if confined to the academic practice of ‘stylistic
composition’ it might teach us something about style, but I
would not waste anyone else’s time on my Corellian trio
sonatas, any more than Robert Levin would publish transcriptions of his much more wonderful improvised cadenzas. Because Haynes describes HIP only in terms directly
opposed to mainstream practice (which of course includes
contemporary composition), he is forced to take the view
that ‘Period composing’ is ‘the most profound use we musicians have yet made of Period styles’. By contrast, ‘most
modern composers are involved in inventing a system, a
new style as it were, for every new piece…new and unique
bottles, wine unspecified’. Even allowing for the possibility
that Haynes knows something I don’t (do composers invent
a new style for every new piece?), I doubt that contemporary
‘Rhetorical composition’ can succeed in turning the tide of
mass disaffection with ‘classical’ music where contemporary
‘Contemporary composition’ has failed.
I suspect that Haynes’s descriptions of HIP’s past,
present and future are derived not from a thoroughgoing
survey of contemporary culture, but in part at least from
nostalgia for the movement’s early days. This is never
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authentic): even his bête noire, Modern style, is ‘for a very
limited repertoire…the most appropriate’. This seems to
evoke a very postmodern scene, with an almost infinite
number of styles (one for each, or each version of, or
each past performance of a piece) playfully coexisting on
the surface of culture; but any such system is untenable
without someone to make the judgement as to what is
historically correct, a decision contingent on the judge’s
personal tastes and prejudices. Haynes suggests that we
have intuited, via the experimentations of ‘gurus’, the
correct style for Rhetorical music; but there are plenty of
people who still intuitively prefer Richard Goode’s Bach
Partitas to Leonhardt’s. Some of us even like both.
Haynes repeatedly asserts that HIP’s goal is the creation
of ‘our own’ style, not the re-creation of a vanished past,
yet he refuses to address, let alone contribute to the cultural debate surrounding HIP. Why exactly do we ‘like it
so much’? Haynes’s performances are superbly Eloquent,
but his discourse is decidedly Strait. His argument, while
full of insights and challenges, cannot escape the narrow
boundaries set for it; the reader’s trust in the author is
constantly undermined by his failure to place his observations in their full cultural context. Perhaps, if it stimulates
performers to take rhetoric more seriously, or if it inspires
a new Leonhardt, or even if it persuades music critics to
stop judging performances on whether or not they ‘let the
music speak for itself’, this book will have done its job. But
it is disappointing that Haynes seeks to answer the ‘when’
and ‘how’ of HIP without really addressing the ‘why’.