The Early Music revival, does anyone still care?

Early Music (i.e. music up to around 1800) started to become more widely popular after World War II. This blog will primarily be about the pioneers who re-discovered this repertoire and started playing it on original instruments, or modern copies, in the authentic style, which is now often called historically informed performance, or HIP for short.


Why now?

The idea for this blog has grown out of research into the life of my harpsichord teacher, Mrs Mary Potts of Cambridge – herself a student of über-pioneer Arnold Dolmetsch, back in the 1920s. Apart from a tiny entry in a musical Who’s Who, her obituaries and a couple of mentions by now-famous students, I could find nothing at all about her.

Mary’s story

After much intensive brain-racking and some good luck, I managed to find people who knew her well; and now have much more information about her life, her BBC broadcasts and live performances (on her 1775 Shudi harpsichord), her students, her influence and her role as ‘great appreciator’, which has often been referred to. This blog will, in part, follow the ‘making of’ Mary’s story –  through the words of those who knew her – which may, one day, become a documentary film.

But apart from fond memories and funny stories about Mary, many of those I have spoken to; have participated in, or witnessed first hand, the enormous changes in the way that early music is performed, as it has become appreciated by a larger public worldwide.

Everyone who’s anyone

I have already been in touch with most of the pre-eminent performers, conductors and scholars (whom my teacher either knew personally, had performed with or taught during a professional life which spanned more than 50 years). Between them, they can fill in some of the many gaps in our knowledge of the revival’s back-story, and help create ‘living’ biographies of musicians who deserve to be remembered. And, at the same time, this will help clarify trends and influences; and expose previously unseen connections.

Is it just me?

But, I wonder, is there anyone else who is interested in seeing these interviews, reading a composite of the often scant information currently available about these ‘pioneers’; and hearing extracts from ‘old style’ authentic performances from between 1920 and 1980?

Personally, I’m fascinated by the whole early music movement, the gradual (and continuing) re-discovery and the many players and semi-conductors who led us to the playing styles that we have today. And I’m keen to find out more about those largely forgotten or unacknowledged people who – like Mary Potts – helped to get us here.

But am I the only one? [Please comment]

7 comments to The Early Music revival, does anyone still care?

  • No, it’s not just you: you are not alone. And I think what you want to do would be valuable if done.

    On the other hand: I’m anything but sure that the main aspects that make older practices of playing “early music” interesting are really their influence on “modern” styles of playing.

    IMO some of these “old” performances/recordings of “early music” were much more “modern” at their time than many contemporary performances/recordings are in relation to our time.

  • Bravo for the initiative. In fact, there are “old” recordings of Bach concertos by the “old” Academy of Ancient Music with Hogwood much more interesting and rich musically than more contemporary performances, which are returning to the trend of the 50s and 60s, of doing Adagios as slow as possible and Allegros as fast as possible (“let’s show them how fast we can play”).

    For some reason, every generation seems to feel that “early music really started with my generation” ( I heard this in the 70s, 80s, 90s, etc,). I love to tell people that the movement of early music started with Fetis in the 1830s, when he started the “Concert Historiques” with the instruments of the Brussels Conservatory.

    We, the living ones, are all part of a long line still moving since then, since 1832, discovering, questioning, bringing to light (ah, this part “questioning” of which we were proud of is now becoming “demodé” as people learn early music in conservatories, and just follow their teachers instructions – easy!). Anyway, it is uplifting that someone like you is corageous enough to open the door to the recent past, and acknowledge the tremendous debt we have to all those guys! No, it did not start with us, and I am happy you are bringing it to light. Before it gets buried in the dust of time.

    Dr. Myrna Herzog

  • David Fox

    Another Bravo! In the late 1970s I was fortunate to be introduced to HIP through Hogwood’s Brandenburg Concertos boxed set – the accompanying detailed notes piqued my interest. Soon after I was even more fortunate to meet Peter Watchorn, most recently founder of the Isolde Ahlgrimm Facebook group through which I found your site.

    Good luck with the work – its so important that the full picture of the early music revival is painted.

  • Bravo again! It is very important that we do not forget these people who helped us rediscover the original sources and playing techniques. My mother was a member of the Westfälische Kantorei, who, under their conductor Wilhelm Ehmann sang the first performances of Heinrich Schütz etc in the fifties. I studied the viol with August Wenzinger, one of the founders of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Hannelore Mueller, a pioneer gamba and baroque-cello-player, Wolfgang Eggers, who started gamba-playing in the fifties and Wieland Kuijken and I knew Gusta Goldschmidt, a pupil of Wanda Landowska and one of the first lute players in the 20th century. They all were pioneers in their own field and we all should admire their knowledge and musicality – without them we would be nowhere!

  • Fantastic! I subscribed to the news feed and will be following your blog… You caught my interest through a post made by Ernst Stolz on Facebook. I think your initiative is wonderful, and frankly, in my own small musical efforts, I have felt for many years comfortable with the idea that being an Early Music pioneer is a passionate quest and what I wish to truly identify with. My compliments to you, and greetings from Parma, on behalf also of my colleagues of Silentia Lunae.
    – Maria

  • Scott C. Schwartz

    Back 50 years ago when I first started playing lute, early music was still aimed at amateurs (like me) participating in the process of creating harmonies, both interpersonal and harmonic. The present decades have produced tremendous virtuosity but a sense of detachment from the process, since most of us do not have the capability of investing that amount of time. I mourn the loss of home consorts. It’s easy to put on YouTube and hear music played but much harder to call your friends and get together. I am THRILLED that this blog brings back the spirit of those pioneers, and I think you deserve great credit for your courage!

  • Geri S Hoekzema

    I’m interested. For nearly 20 years I sung in a local madrigal group that recently disbanded due to changing situations of various members. I miss it; sitting in an audience and listening to professional performances is nice but doesn’t take the place of singing together in someone’s living room or at a community fair. I wish it were easier to get avocational musicians in general more interested in Renaissance music. Thank you!

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