In this episode of The Counterpoint Club, we explore the history of history. More specifically, the history of Historically Informed Performance, or HIP. Sarah looks at how the HIP movement started and discusses how historical documentation informs musical interpretation and expression. Brandon offers practical suggestions about how to actually use this knowledge in one’s playing. We interview the incredible violinist Rachell Ellen Wong, who was recently the first baroque musician to be awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant!
Historically Informed Performance (HIP) is an approach to the performance of Western classical music. It is based on the study of musical sources that aims to recreate the stylistic characteristics of the period in which the music was performed using period instruments and performance practices. HIP is also called period performance or authentic performance. The movement toward HIP practices started in the late 1960s and was particularly strong in the 1970s as, ironically, a modernist response to the modernist break with earlier performance traditions.
There are no sound recordings that exist before the late 19th century, so reconstructing the sound worlds of earlier eras is informed by treatises, pedagogic tutor books, concert critiques, other historical evidence, and period instrument artifacts. While there was quite a lot written down, there are also many elements about performing music that are not part of the historical record. It is left up to the performers to interpret this record to create something new that is influenced and grounded by research.
Understanding in some small way how music was thought about and performed, and what spaces it was performed in, enables us to give a more convincing performance.
Here is a dynamic (and irresistibly fun!) full recording of the Fandango movement from the Luigi Boccherini Guitar Quintet in D-Major, G. 448. Sarah doesn’t want to admit how many times she watched the video after discovering it! We hope you enjoy it as much as she has.
In the podcast, Sarah mentions that her favorite baroque chamber work is the Sonata Duodecima by Isabella Leonarda. Here is a wonderful recording of Rachel Podger, baroque violin, and Daniele Caminiti, archlute, at the Timisoara Early Music Festival 2019.
Brandon provides some practical ways to begin a researched approach to a piece of music from a different time period and/or culture using the first movement of Corelli’s Trio Sonata No. 12 in G Major as an working example.
Composers may not always explicitly state things like tempo or articulation, but they can give us clues. In the musical example included in the accompanying worksheet, Corelli calls the opening movement “Ciacona,” which was a popular baroque dance, with very specific conventions that players of the day would have known. Thankfully many of these conventions are written down in dance treatises of the day, so we can use that information to help inform our interpretation. It takes a little bit of sleuthing, but we think it’s worth the extra effort, and really helps the music come alive in new and exciting ways!
We were thrilled to be joined by Rachell Wong for our guest interview. Rachell is an incredible violinist, who specializes in Baroque performance. We were so glad to hear her thoughts on HIP music-making.
Recipient of a prestigious 2020 Avery Fisher Career Grant (the first baroque recipient in the respected program’s history) and Grand Prize winner of the inaugural Lillian and Maurice Barbash J.S. Bach Competition, violinist Rachell Ellen Wong is a rising star on both the historical performance and modern violin stages, and has performed throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Costa Rica, Panama, China, and New Zealand. A sought-after collaborator, her growing reputation as one of the top historical performers of her generation has resulted in appearances with such respected ensembles as the American Bach Soloists and The Academy of Ancient Music, and tours with Bach Collegium Japan, Les Arts Florissants, and others. Equally accomplished on the modern violin, Ms. Wong made her first public appearance with the Philharmonia Northwest at age 11 and has since performed as a soloist with such orchestras as Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Panama and Seattle Symphony.
Passionate about chamber music as well as orchestral and recital music, Ms. Wong is a founding member of New Amsterdam Concert, a New York-based period-instrument string ensemble comprising Juilliard graduates specializing in one-on-a-part performances of music from the Renaissance through the High Baroque. Fellow members include violinist Isabelle Seula Lee, violist Andrew Gonzalez, cellist Keiran Campbell and harpsichordist Robert Warner. With acclaimed keyboardist David Belkovski, she co-founded Dioscuri, a dynamic, versatile ensemble that focuses on music from all periods on historical instruments.
You can find out more about Rachell on her website.
Here is a stunning performance of Rachell playing Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata for unaccompanied violin:
And here she is with violist Andrew Gonzalez performing the Mozart Duo in B-flat for violin and viola:
What have you learned about HIP? Are there any new techniques you’ve heard about here that you’d like to try? What is your favorite HIP ensemble or recording you’d like to recommend? Leave us a question or comment about HIP music in the comment section below. Alternatively, you can find us on Instagram and Facebook.