Early Music Vancouver presents music of the past in ways that are attentive to and inspired by styles, conventions, and conditions that existed when the music was first conceived.
This approach, sometimes called “historically informed performance (HIP),” invites discovery – the joy of hearing something beautiful for the first time or in a fresh way. It fosters immersive learning about history and human culture. It provides opportunities for empathetic encounter, seeking to understand and contextualize how musicians and audiences of different times and places have interacted with music. Although usually applied to music of European heritage, historically informed performance offers a platform for cross-cultural dialogue and exploration of diverse perspectives and relationships with the past. Most of all, it encourages curiosity from both performers and listeners alike.
More broadly, the phrase “early music” might be defined in various ways. It may simply refer to music before our own time or specifically to European music from a time before norms of concert performance became established – perhaps 1800. The so-called Early Music Movement has encompassed many different attitudes and practices, including museum-like curation of musical artifacts, excavation of forgotten musical repertoires, exploration of lost performance styles, revival of extinct or antique musical instruments and rejection of assumptions about the superiority of modern instruments or vocal styles, attempts to perform the music of the past in ways that authentically represented how that music was first heard, and creative mixing of music of the past with folk and popular musics of today. This inquisitiveness about historical music has flourished around the world in western classical music since World War II, sometimes instigating polemics, but also providing rich, new musical insights and experiences.
One of the most visible aspects of historically informed performance is the period instruments. Musicians presented by EMV play antique instruments or modern replicas of instruments that would have been familiar to musicians and composers of the past. Sometimes this includes instruments with no modern descendants, like the cornetto, a curved wooden tube with fingerholes like a recorder played with a small trumpet-like mouthpiece. At other times, instruments look substantially different from their modern counterparts. Historical woodwinds, for instance, have fewer keys, making fingering trickier but offering greater timbral diversity throughout an instrument’s range. Stringed instruments are subtly different from their modern equivalents, using gut strings that provide a warm, colourful tone rather than steel strings, for example. Historical keyboard instruments are incredibly diverse, using a variety of different mechanisms and shaped by local building traditions, the genius of individual instrument builders, and intensive experimentation, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Period instruments allow different expressive possibilities and help performers and audiences to experience music in a way akin to how the composer imagined it.
– Christina Hutten
If you would like to read further, you can explore the following resources:
The Early Music Instrument Database hosted by Case Western Reserve University https://caslabs.case.edu/medren/
Kelly, Thomas Forrest. Early Music: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Wilson, Nick. The Art of Re-Enchantment: Making Early Music in the Modern Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Haynes, Bruce. The End of Early Music: A Period Performer’s History of Music for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Kuijken, Barthold. The Notation is Not the Music: Reflections on Early Music Practice and Performance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.