Musicologie Médiévale

Resources for medieval musicology and liturgy

Some FUNDAMENTAL abuses and changes in the approach towards performance practice

Several performers of medieval music use women's voices where men's voices were certainly or probably intended; others vocalise untexted parts where instruments often seem more appropriate; others use (too) low pitches which results in sombre timbres where medieval sources often rather seem to imply a tendency, a liking for "middle" or high pitches, i. e. rather bright timbres; others sing with a deliberate nasal timbre where medieval sources warn to do just that; other performers use a wide range of different instruments for accompanying (for instance in songs) where medieval sources rather imply a more limited range of instruments (such as harp, vieille); other performers even do not refrain
from mixing their approaches with still living oral traditions (for instance of the orient) which is a hypothetical and in most cases improbable approach and results more in "cross-overs" than in "historically informed" performance practice: These are just some of the most obvious negative or "dubious" points to be observed in the approaches of today's performers. It seems that quite a number of performers are rather searching for "effect" (often resulting in "alienation" effects) than for making early music with the appropriate, the probable performance practice. They probably do this in order to become more "conspicuous" on the "market" of early music. So they often seem more interested in their OWN views than the true or probable meanings of source informations and in "selling" their performances than in a truly serious approach towards performing early music, based on sources. The musicians who make such bad choices in terms of "historically informed" performance practice and style are often good musicians who are able to sing and play well - but their "attitude", their "awareness" does not seem to be that of a musician who wishes to come close to performance practices as implied by historical sources, and their zeal does not go so far as to go for a truly "idiomatic" approach towards style(s).

It is also evident for attentive listeners who compare medieval sources with performances that MANY things which are implied and described in such sources as appropriate performance practice(s) are often NOT being performed. And it is also obvious that we do not have performers who are really specialized on certain repertories (for instance ONLY French Ars nova, or ONLY Ars subtilior etc.) which would be the best prerequisite for developing a truly IDIOMATIC approach towards medieval music.

In my view it would be healthy if some fundamental things in early music, and ESPECIALLY in the revival of medieval music would change: 1.) We NEED a thorough documentation of performance practice informations from all kinds of sources in the form of an online database WITH English translations and notational examples (possibly also audios), so that everyone can inform himself more easily. 2.) Performers need to change their ATTITUDES towards performance practice - historically informed performance practice is NOT something where a performer can "interpret" sources merely
according to one's own "phantasies" and "likings" and the means that an ensemble has (such as the number and types of voices or instruments etc.), it is NOT something where every musician can take as many liberties as he/she wants: GOOD and TRULY informed historical performance practice OBLIGES the performers to take into account as many RELEVANT performance practice source informations as possible for a given repertory and to MAKE MUSICALLY CONVINCING CHOICES in USING them. And that means that a performer cannot simply turn his OWN views into a relevant source information (as really often happens in early music) - it has to be WELL FOUNDED, musically "intelligent" and FITTING - if there is no certainty in applying a certain source information, in finding the true meaning of a source information, then there should at least be PROBABILITY. 3.) We NEED performers who are willing to really specialize on certain repertories in order to attain a higher standard of stylistic refinement: without rehearsing and performing a certain repertory for a long time it seems rather unlikely that musicians can really develop a high degree of "stylistic suppleness" and aptitude, as desired by connaisseurs.

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Replies to This Discussion

You seem to be very certain about "the true or probable meanings of source informations" and certain performers missing the point. How can you be so sure? Where did you find your wisdom?

musicians are only beginning to be interested in manuscripts. It would be great to get a database on musical practices ... and especially the "danger" seems to do nothing and not allow progress together; which does not induce a monolith vision interpretation modes.
thank you for your ideas

I completely agree with what you say in your third paragraph
But musique is a mixture of scriptures and transmitted tradition. All the authors given by Luca and a bunch of others should have been. The next step is to see where and when the chain is broken


Luca, going back a few pages on your document ( p.634) I can see an interesting comment about the psalmodic in the Sistine chapel. How do you think it should be taken, with what we now know about ROM?
Sorry.i erased some of the message. All this chain of basic authors should be translated and published on the net.

ROM et MIL notent les ornements de manière analytique, GRE le fait de manière sténographique

Do we actually have a list of ornaments they would use in the psalmodic for each mode?


Ricossa a dit :

ROM et MIL notent les ornements de manière analytique, GRE le fait de manière sténographique

To all of the above you can add the typical lazy and uninformed attitude to the pronunciation of medieval vernacular languages in the performance of medieval music. It's clear from the great majority of recordings, especially of the Galician-Portuguese cantigas which are particularly abundant, that many performers' delivery of texts is based on little more than half-informed guesswork—sometimes seemingly at the point of delivery. Not only that, but they seem happy to publish recordings in which they have clearly got lost in the text or fluffed simple words, and must be aware of having done so (presumably because they think the audience will never know, so it doesn't matter, does it?) when those same performers wouldn't dream of letting instrumental mistakes see the light of day. More generally, attitudes to conveying the meaning and structural form of medieval vernacular lyrics with the integrity they deserve are typically very poor—it is depressingly common to hear recordings of the Cantigas de Santa Maria where the performers leave out half of the stanzas seemingly at random, with what's left making no sense at all (often not even grammatical sense due to enjambment, but always destroying the story).

Of course you're right but... all linguists pronounce in the same way today ?

right. The problem touches also historical pronunciation of latin in different times and places.

Not necessarily; it depends on what evidence is available and there will often be some uncertainties (e.g. affricates and the realization of "v" in the Cantigas de Santa Maria). The point is that, in my experience, most performers never get anywhere near to basing their pronunciation on the best available evidence. The attitude that "experts disagree so I'm going to disagree with what the experts agree on" is just an excuse for laziness.

Terrasa Xavier said:

Of course you're right but... all linguists pronounce in the same way today ?

I worked once with Rocco Distillo in Calabria about Troubadours songs, and he read for me the texts. I even asked a worker on a wine field of the région du Var who spoke provençal fluently, to read the canzon de la lauzeta of Bernart de Ventadorn.

He read it and said: "Je ne comprenn pas un mot!" Nevertheless, his beautiful pronounciation was very precious for me.

The main problem is that musicians expect too much from linguists. We need to work together, because liquescent forms in notation sometimes offer details about local pronounciation. But these are aesthetic details far from our possibilities. I agree with Andrew, that a clear pronounciation which gives sound to the poetic structure, is already a lot.

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