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NYT Review: Hilary Hahn Plays an Unabashedly Romantic Bach


GeorgeH
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Qb., plenty happened before Bach.  Look up on YT,  Josquin des Prez, Palestrina, and Thomas Tallis.  From there you could trace music back to the Medieval and probably to Greece.  Detailed instructions in the score didn't come along until very late,  the late 19th century really.  Might be the beginning of the implosion.

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detailed instructions in the score weren't necessary in the pre-classical era, since music was local at the time. In most cases the composer performed his own music, or led the performance. In some cases the composer's son took over, however people wanted to hear new music, not that old stuff. (That's one of the reasons Mozart got into trouble near the end of his short career, writing stuff like The Magic Flute which was a significant departure from his previous operas: fashion had changed; he was becoming a has-been.)

The whole idea of generation after generation playing Palestrina or JSBach was foreign to Palestrina or Bach. Hence they did not write in any performance instructions for people they did not know.

JS Bach was notably less famous than his sons, who got around more and were much more fashionable than JSB with his fuddy-duddy predilection for fugues. Correct me if I'm wrong but JS Bach's work survived for revival by Mendelssohn et al because musicians used his Clavierubungen and violin solo works for study purposes. Mozart, who'd been a fan of Johann Christian Bach (the youngest son who'd become a success in London), discovered JSB manuscripts at the home of a noble patron and went to town on fugal techniques. Chopin used the Well Tempered for warming up every day.

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14 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

Szeryng's has been considered maybe the bestfor a few decades (present on YT).  At this point I just want to hear something new, not going to be from the HIP community or even HH.  I was listening to Arnold Steinhardt's and enjoyed the super-pure intonation of all the double stops.  

Szeryng and Nathan Milstein are maybe the best recorded examples of the romantic, monumental style of playing the S&Ps. There are two Milstein recordings. There are two Steinhardt recordings*, too, btw, although I would not put him in the Milstein class.

The odd thing about Hahn's recording Bach this 'unabashed' way is not that her playing seems to be totally insulated from any HIP influence. It's rather that she sets herself up this way to be competing with greats like Milstein, Szeryng and Szigeti, and she's just not up to this, yet. 

* On a cd included with his delightful book Violin Dreams you get both recordings on one cd.

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On 10/26/2018 at 2:09 PM, mathieu valde said:

It is been already discussed - if you prefer language being spoken not as you as a native speaker  expect (and Bach expected btw ) but as someone imagines it should be spoken,( imagine result of speaking French by somebody having no idea what it should sound :D ),  than you of course will not like  Historically informed Perfomace .

If music were a language, then all you would need are the notes on the page to communicate its meaning, but it isn't a language, and the notes on the page are the least important part of musical expression.

Even in spoken language, context, expression, inflection, volume, and nuance are what bring meaning to the words. The phrase "I love you" can be spoken in so many different ways as to have many completely different meanings for the literal words "I love you" (including the complete opposite meaning).

The so-called HIP performances are fine for people that believe that music should be frozen in time and only played one way for eternity. This is an on-going argument in other music genres, too; it is always the historical purists versus the innovators. Each to his or her own.

Since it seems that HIP supporters feel that they can divine how Bach would have wanted his music played despite none of them ever having heard a note played or recorded by the long-dead musicians of that period, I feel equally confident and justified to state the following:

Bach would have been utterly delighted by Hahn's performances of his sonatas and partitas.

 

 

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I think people are forgetting that music is also an abstract language, with no instruments needed.  This may especially apply to Bach, witness the Art of Fugue. Bach, apparently, did not give any instructions for how to play it, thinking it, perhaps, as an abstract dissertation on counterpopint.   I think many performances of that music can be done effectively with many different instrumentations.  The important thing is what you are trying to express with the instrumental performance.  Whatever it is it is implicit in the notes of the score.

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On 10/26/2018 at 4:11 AM, Herman West said:

I'm not saying the reviewer is right (because I wasn't there) but it's pretty clear why she felt this way. Perhaps it bears mentioning that the reviewer was first trained as a violinist. She is not your typical dilletante reviewer.

By (literally) encoring the Chaconne it became clear to the reviewer how deliberate Hahn's performance was. The encore was too much a repeat of the first time around. She had expected more spontaneity or at least expansion of the first Chaconne.

Maybe Hahn isn't really the kind of performer who lets her hair down; and maybe the Chaconne isn't the kind of piece for letting one's hair down.

I didn't like her interpretation myself.  But I would like to remember not to make a judgement of Hahn herself and her choice of instrument, keeping in mind that this was one performance.  I imagine we've all, for whatever reasons, failed to perform up to what we wished to.  Some of us didn't like the performance but perhaps she had an interesting concept that she failed to put across.  I haven't heard Rachel Podger's performance but, just from what has been said above, I could imagine someone wanting more force in the interpretation. 

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6 minutes ago, gowan said:

I haven't heard Rachel Podger's performance but, just from what has been said above, I could imagine someone wanting more force in the interpretation. 

No need to imagine 

Not at all dogmatically "HIP" I'd say, and quite forceful in its way although not as epic as e.g. Kogan. I notice her fingerboard isn't the shorter "baroque" length but very much like today's standard

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1 hour ago, GeorgeH said:

<snip>

The so-called HIP performances are fine for people that believe that music should be frozen in time and only played one way for eternity. <snip>

 

Bach would have been utterly delighted by Hahn's performances of his sonatas and partitas.

 

 

No two HIP performances are the same, and certainly the way to play in a HIP style has progressed or changed a lot over the past half century (it started in the sixties), so I think it's fair to say these people don't believe in freezing Bach.

There is no way of telling what kind of modern perfomance Bach would have liked, since he didn't imagine (most likely) anybody playing his music after three centuries.

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1 hour ago, Herman West said:

There is no way of telling what kind of modern perfomance Bach would have liked, since he didn't imagine (most likely) anybody playing his music after three centuries.

Perhaps that alone would have been enough to delight him! :)

He would also have been able to tell us if Cremonese instruments have improved after three centuries. :D

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On 10/27/2018 at 3:15 PM, mathieu valde said:

OMG. Wrong. Generally speaking  - in those times musicians were speaking their music as actors interpret their material . They live and behave ,speak with a emotions of their dramatic personae - it is not only about contrasts of tempo and loudness. Most of HIP younger generations is taught to do same. 

I am glad to hear that I was under a misconception about what a "historically informed performance" entails. This is not only more authentic, but more musically valid - therefore strengthening the role of that kind of performance in addition to updated performances.

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22 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

If music were a language, then all you would need are the notes on the page to communicate its meaning, but it isn't a language, and the notes on the page are the least important part of musical expression.

WRONG - Check every music theory book.

Even in spoken language, context, expression, inflection, volume, and nuance are what bring meaning to the words. The phrase "I love you" can be spoken in so many different ways as to have many completely different meanings for the literal words "I love you" (including the complete opposite meaning).

RIGHT -  HIP people do exactly that, like actors do.It can (should)be very different always depending of your personal feelings at the moment.  "Romantic" way plays always very same - it is always very pathetic and monotonic.

The so-called HIP performances are fine for people that believe that music should be frozen in time and only played one way for eternity. This is an on-going argument in other music genres, too; it is always the historical purists versus the innovators. Each to his or her own.

WRONG - Check my posts earlier and/or  ask any HIP musician...

Since it seems that HIP supporters feel that they can divine how Bach would have wanted his music played despite none of them ever having heard a note played or recorded by the long-dead musicians of that period, I feel equally confident and justified to state the following:

Bach would have been utterly delighted by Hahn's performances of his sonatas and partitas.

WRONG- There are so many instructions how to perform music and especially dances. Bach will probably not recognise his music hearing Hilary's perfomance.

NB: You are so uninformed, I wish you to read more.... :)  and think more....

 

 

 

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Huh.

Well, obviously Bach would love to hear Hahn.  He would easily recognize his music... he wasn't an idiot after all.

But, otherwise, I agree with Mathieu... Baroque music when HIP feels much more like jazz.  I think there's a reason why (gross generalization based on my experiences and conversations) symphony orchestra players are largely depressed and baroque ensemble players are happy.  There's much more variety and music-making in a good period ensemble these days than just about anywhere.

 

It holds true for New Music groups as well.  Anywhere where performance is thoughtful instead of mechanical, musicians are happier and healthier.  

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As Haydn said, accurately, way back when, “What is the use of such rules? The ear should be the only judge. I would much prefer that someone try to write a really new minuet.”

Everything Bach wrote was either a dance, or sacred. Everything was steeped with the reverence of the Churchg or the joy of the Dance so the  Chaconne should have that sense as well.

Regardless, play it anyway you wish, so long as you do so honestly.

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1 hour ago, Stephen Fine said:

 I think there's a reason why (gross generalization based on my experiences and conversations) symphony orchestra players are largely depressed and baroque ensemble players are happy.  There's much more variety and music-making in a good period ensemble these days than just about anywhere.

 

Not so sure about the variety of baroque. Perhaps there's a reason (to borrow your phrase) a lot of HIP conductors have moved into the classical and then romantic rep.

One reason people seem depressed is because once you've found a spot in a good orchestra, there's nowhere to go. You can't be promoted to a bigger violin. That's why a lot of people in straight jobs might as well be in an orchestra. They're stuck, too. It's life.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I found this the other day.  I think it's probably the nicest solo Bach I've ever heard.  After you listen, mentally compare it to typical "historically informed" performance and teaching and decide which makes more sense and which is probably closer to the the original intent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbBvhXfziWU

 

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Maybe one last shot?  Biber's sonatas from a generation or so earlier wouldn't sound at all right played in such a warm and loving way. In recent times it's only since baroque specialists started to adopt a more austere style that Biber came properly into the repertoire. Not necessarily balm to everyone's ears of course. If we could miraculously hear Mozart, Brahms or whoever played as the composer intended (or expected) their music to be heard we wouldn't necessarily like it

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