For any musician there can be a fear of the baroque style due to difficulty in interpreting performance practice. There are discrepancies as a result of the vastness of interpretations and research over time. This complexity in interpretation is compounded further for the tubist because there is no music composed for the tuba from the baroque era. The result is a lack of aural tradition and understanding.
Let us start by acknowledging the dates of the baroque period, which according to our dear friend Donald J. Grout were approximately 1600-1750. Since the tuba was not invented until 1835, there is a need for borrowing of repertoire. This calls for an understanding of instruments and styles that precede the tuba. Can you imagine a performer or educator who has not been exposed to solo literature from before 1950? Playing an instrument with a relatively short history is no excuse for being uninformed.
Becoming an informed performer is no easy task. It requires research skills and careful judgments when applying new information to tuba and euphonium performance. Regrettably, the sometimes unfriendly nature of the process has led to naïve interpretations of baroque music in our field. Yet the result of research will bridge the gap between the instrumentalist and baroque performance practice and will yield an informed performance.
The first ingredient for an informed performance is an understanding of the development of baroque scholarship and how it has evolved into what we know and use today. This includes knowledge of what resources are out there that can help us understand historical baroque performance practice and adapt it to our own performances. The interest in baroque performance practice has been a relatively recent phenomenon. During the first half of the 20th century, there was little research with relation to baroque music and even less in terms of performance practice. Many of the performances prior to that time were done with little or no knowledge of the original interpretations. A baroque period musician would have had common knowledge about style; for this reason, many relevant performance instructions were not written.
It was not until 1950, the bicentennial of Bach’s death, when a scholarly approach to baroque music was emphasized. Numerous festivals were held and a movement to perform baroque music on a regular basis with informed performance practice began leading to the consultation of primary resources and performing baroque music with respect to a standard expectation.
This revitalization of the baroque can be attributed to the well-known teacher and composer Paul Hindemith. Hindemith felt that the performances should restore the performing conditions of Bach’s time, meaning instruments should produce sounds as they were in the baroque period. In his view, such restoration would give the performer and listener the correct intentions of the composer.
By 1960 musicians were performing on period instruments and ornamenting music with primary resources in mind. Many essays and articles were written indicating that best performance practice was to follow the teachings and record of the past with less regard to personal choice or musical judgment. It was considered progress to make use of period styles and instruments, and play as closely to the original set-up as possible. The study of baroque music continued to evolve in the 1960s and 70s in detailed historical studies and specific theoretical analyses. The idea of creating “rules” from the primary sources for baroque performance practice became standard. This established the idea that we must produce historically “accurate” performances or performances that would be identical to those of the past. The notion of historically accurate performance differs from the more recent idea of “informed” performances where restoration and recycling is the norm.
Baroque scholar John Butt states in his book Playing with History that “research into performance practice is categorically distinct from performance and that good scholarship does not necessarily result in good performance.” He also states that “new discoveries should not parallel a new way of performing but should help create an idea within oneself to perform with historical thought.” His comments are the essence of what constitutes a historically informed performance, or as I like to call it, a HIP performance (yes, the P is redundant, but….) Let us look at a HIP performance more closely.
A HIP performance is not a copy or reproduction of a performance from the 18th century but an understanding of the past balanced with good musicianship. Our ears of today are much different from those of the 18th century. It would be impossible to create a historically accurate performance unless you could find someone who had not listened to music written later than about 1760 but was extremely knowledgeable about music prior to 1760. What can the modern musician do? We can get the composer’s important points to the audience. For baroque musicians, this centers on the emotional qualities, or affect, and the setting in which the piece was to be performed. Affect was extremely important to the performer of the 18th century and is vital to a proper HIP performance. Regardless of performance practice convention, the affect of the work can and should be demonstrated by the modern musician.
Understanding for whom a work was intended is vital to a HIP performance. To be a performer in the baroque period, one must have been employed by the church or have been an upper class citizen. Musical instruments were expensive and only the church or the wealthy could purchase an instrument. Many of the sonatas and concertos that are now transcribed for low brass were originally intended for wealthy people in a chamber setting. This means that the music is often light in nature and would have been used as musical entertainment. It was especially popular for a wealthy patron to commission sonatas for themselves. These upper class citizens often learned to play a musical instrument for fun and to show off for others. It is important to know these details, such as the circumstances of the composition, before performing baroque music so as to create a historically informed performance. Sometimes, with a moderate amount of work, the specifics of the individual composer and piece can be discovered. This is where we must turn to reliable written sources for details.
There are numerous sources for information about baroque literature. One false step that young musicians often take is not researching the composer’s life and circumstances. It is easy to dive right into playing the notes and figuring out good ornamentation without gaining knowledge of the background of the music. Some places one might begin are the baroque chapters of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the New Grove French Baroque Masters and New Grove Italian Baroque Masters, and the book Music in the Baroque Era by Manfred Bukofzer. I have found these resources to be particularly helpful in contextual information, but they are only a place to begin and a small sample of the many resources available.
Once a basic context of baroque history has been established, we can turn to more specific resources that will guide us in making performance practice decisions. Such resources will include detailed analysis of baroque ornamentation, specific uses of the music and an analysis of the process of baroque research. Robert Donnington wrote two insightful texts about baroque literature entitled Baroque Music Style and Performance and Baroque Music. I have found Baroque Music Style and Performance to be a tremendous resource. This book has the best specific written out ornamentation ideas of any modern published text. It should be in everyone’s library. However, I do consider Donnington to be a member of the HAP school of thought. His text reads a bit like a rule book rather than a resource for guiding the process of making musical decisions. One should be cautious to not use this book (or any other book for that matter) to create rules for baroque performance, but rather as a clear explanation of a particular school of thought.
Another good resource is Fredrick Neumann’s book Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music. It is a well written and insightful resource for a wide scope on baroque music and ornamentation. He has detailed descriptions of ornamentation from each region of Europe. The book also contains good musical examples and has great detailed explanations. One needs to be knowledgeable about the subject matter before opening the book, lest they be overwhelmed by the information.
The final ingredient necessary for creating an informed performance is listening. Musicians of the 18th century would have learned most of their style, technique and ornamentation by listening to other performers. We now have access to abundant recorded materials that can help us gain insight to baroque music. It is difficult to know where to begin, so I have included a short list as a starting place. J. S. Bach: Suites for Violoncello, BWV 1007-10012 Volume 1 Anner Bylsma, cello Anner Bylsma was a wonderful Dutch cellist that won first prize in the 1959 Pablo Casals Competition. He was the first cellist to record the Bach Cello Suites on a Baroque Cello. I suggest this recording as he has a musical and thoughtful (HIP) approach to the pieces. There are tremendous ideas and examples here for performance practice that we can take in. He made a second recording of the same music in 1992 on the large Servais Stradivarius (now housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History) and on a five-string violoncello piccolo. The Stradivarius has a much larger sound than many other recordings of the suites and gives a great example of broad baroque playing (which is quite helpful to us tuba and euphonium players!). J.S. Bach: Suites for Cello Volume I & II Pablo Casals, cello Pablo Casals is regarded as one of the preeminent cellists of the first half of the 20th century. His relationship with the Bach Cello Suites dates back to early in his career. In 1890 he discovered a used copy of the suites in a second hand sheet music store. He was thirteen at the time and studied the suites for twelve years before performing them in public. The Bach Cello Suites were basically unknown as complete works until Casals brought them to the public eye. Although Casals’s performance of the suites on the album has a great deal of romantic influence, he captures the feeling and affect of each movement masterfully. Sonatas for Bassoon and Continuo Danny Bond, Bassoon When looking for a performance of the true style of the baroque period, this recording by Danny Bond is a place to start. His performance here is a model of combining the best of historically accurate performance with historically informed. He performs on a baroque bassoon, which has a different sound from what we are used to with the modern bassoon. The recording showcases appropriate and interesting ornamentation and style. Danny Bond is currently principal bassoon with Frans Bruggen’s Orchestra in the Netherlands and Nicholas McGegan’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco. He has played with numbers early music ensembles in Europe including Concentus Musicus, Academy of Ancient Music, Frieberg Baroque Orchestra, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Leonhardt Ensemble, La Petite Bande, and Musica Antigua Amsterdam. Benedetto Marcello: Sonatas for Recorder and B.C./Sonatas for Cello and B.C. Stefano Bagliano, cello The Marcello Sonatas have become a mainstay in the tuba and euphonium repertoire. There are many great recordings available by cellists and low brass players alike. This recording in particular truly captures the affect of each movement of the sonatas and also showcases great ornamentation that is easy to borrow for our own performance. Stefano Bagliano is a young Italian cellist most well known as a member of the Trio de Parma.