One of the barriers that people might find in using historical sources is the notation. Things like different clefs as well as simply the style of notation can throw people off. It is definitely something to get used to and your skill will only get better by actually doing it.
One major perk I see playing from original prints is that it can sometimes convey a better sense of the musical expression. Compare these two prints of Hotteterre's G minor prelude. Notice how the slurs are notated differently - we get a better sense of the motion of the notes in the original print (top) instead of a slur that just stays "neutrally" above.
Also look at how some notes are barred together - they give us, I feel, a better visual indication of voicing (lower vs. higher), and those curvy bars just reflect a little nicer the fluidity and elegance of the music compared to the straight ones.
There are advantages to using both, especially when modern editions sometimes come with some background information which can be really helpful. In any case, always take your time with the music and enjoy your own discoveries in every piece, in every musical landscape.
In preparing for my upcoming lectures and workshops, I’ve been thinking a lot about ornamentation in baroque music and most importantly, the affect of ornamentation. What often goes missing in the general conversation is what to do when. Ornaments definitely contribute to an expression and should not be applied arbitrarily. And then depending on how you play an ornament, you can achieve so many varied nuances which can truly enhance the overall enjoyment of a piece, for the audience as well as for us performers.
Take a mordent for example, which can usually be characterized as a joyous, brilliant gesture. To play a mordent (pincé) instead of where a port de voix (appoggiatura) should go could change the affect completely and go against the music.
A case in point is the lovely "Le Rossignol en amour" by François Couperin, who indicated that this piece can be played on the flute(originally for harpsichord), if played well.
You see in the opening gesture the first mordent (1), but Couperin continues the phrase subsequently with adding a port de voix and a mordent (2). Couperin didn't write this small differentiation based on his whims, but it was a deliberate choice in this stepwise part of the melody, because it's the appropriate place to introduce the charming sentiment which prevails the piece. Try swapping out the port de voix and just simply play the mordent at (2). You'll find that all of a sudden the music has a very different character. Perhaps proud, or stately, but certainly not tender and endearing, which is what we want to experience in this piece. Try continuing even further with only mordents - at (3) it feels ungraceful and would definitely not belong there.
Not all baroque composers wrote down the little graces so carefully and consistently as Couperin did. So by observing and understanding which ornaments go where and why, we can then also learn how to ornament on our own, more in style and according to the taste of the music!
At our recent French Baroque Flute Meet-Up, not only was I happy to meet others who share the same love for French baroque music, but I was also really excited to know that a few people appreciate French baroque composers like François Couperin just as passionately as Maurice Ravel. I'm a big fan of Ravel, and I also think that masterful balance between meticulous crafting of composition and enchanting beauty is a hallmark to be found in these two composers, even if they're centuries apart.
French baroque music is very much based on the French language. Poets, composers, and lyricists followed a strict and thorough scheme in creating their works, which guaranteed understanding from the public.Taking that idea further, consider one of our greatest treasures, the flute solo "Syrinx" from Claude Debussy. In the above recording by Juliette Hurel, one has the rare opportunity to hear the music performed as conceived, with the original text from Gabriel Mouray recited.
For me personally, I hear how the sonic characteristics of the language and the music compliment each other.The countless subtle nuances in both mediums are central to the performance, yet they're not there to impress or make a statement. Maybe it's like French cuisine - you're supposed to be just amazed by the flavors but can't quite figure out exactly what ingredient makes it amazing!
🇫🇷 FIND OUT MORE about French baroque music in my next online classes on Traverso Practice Net.
There was a request for me to share some thoughts about articulation in the music of J.S. Bach. Thanks for the suggestion!
I don't think what I'll talk about here is exclusively only for Bach, but I do think that Bach or German baroque music in general has certain characteristics which demonstrate quite clearly my concept. Click on the video below to listen to three ways of playing the first measure of this Bach violin sonata, each with a different combination of tonguing and breath work. You may want to turn up your volume and hear it a couple of times to fully recognize the subtle but important differences.
from J.S. Bach's Sonata in B minor for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord
I'm currently preparing this piece for a performance and honestly, I've been feeling stuck with that first measure for awhile! And while I was using varied articulation, there was something about the tonguing and the breath that didn't quite match up, or wasn't refined enough. It sounded stiff and dull just like Example 1 or 2.
Basically, I would suggest here the tonguing pattern T DR(it) 'TR D(it). R is like the Latin hard R. The (it) or apostrophe signals stopping the sound with the tongue, which is very important in baroque music to give a clear shape to phrases, and also establishing metric stability. I'd tongue the second T (note E) a bit lighter than the first T (F#), but I also realized I can create a nice gesture on the E if I gave more of an impulse with the breath there, which is what you hear in Example 3. It propels the melody forward and gives it a good swing.
Not all T D R's are the same, a T could be slightly more forward or slightly more backward in your mouth. Stopping the sound has also its variants. On top of all that, there's the question of how you use the breath to further sculpt the sound, which means working on flexibility in directing the air. I like to think of articulation as sculpting and carving the sound like a sculptor working with an extremely fine knife. This image works particularly well with German baroque music as it echoes the music's defined, perhaps slightly edgy structure. It brings clarity to the counterpoint. It fits the language well if you're working with a singer.
Do let me know what differences you hear in the above examples! More on the concept of sculpting sound can be found in my video workshop "Music & Imagery - playing with a 3-dimensional sound".
This is a wonderful short film about a current Ansel Adams exhibition in the de Young museum in San Francisco. Make sure you don't miss the film at 4:19 where the comparison between music and photography is made. However, the whole film points to a wealth of connections between music and photography, so I highly recommend you watch it in its entirety.
Ansel Adams: The negative could be compared to the composer's score, and the print is a performance. If you have succeeded, you have a negative which has the basic information required and you can perform it. But it doesn't mean you always have to print it the same way.
Our "negative" in music is the score, which contains information so that we basically know how a piece goes. But it doesn't mean we always have to perform it the same way. The art of interpretation is most exciting when it's based on solid foundations. Also, the pre-visualization that Ansel talks about in the beginning of the film is enlightening - besides being able to "see" what your photograph should look like, it's more important to be able to feel it.
Music is not the notes we see on the page. Landscape photography is not a reproduction of a scenery. In both cases and in both disciplines, it's about presenting an expression, a special moment in time, an essence. However, there are times when it can be hard to make that happen. Maybe we don't quite understand the score yet. Maybe we haven't spent enough time with the surrounding to really know what we want to say with our image. Maybe our approach isn't in line with what we want to express, maybe our technique still needs to widen and develop.
Studying with someone is not so that you can be in the same footsteps as your mentor, but rather to take a legacy forward in your own way. Asking questions is not invalidating a tradition, but rather a way to "push and stretch the medium further"(Misrach).
Art is always about going beyond the natural boundaries of the discipline.
Folks in the San Francisco area should visit the exhibition! (until July 23, 2023): www.famsf.org
ABOUT THE BLOG:
I got inspired to document my own observations in flute-playing and music-making. Also, I thought it's important to pass on the teachings of the great Wilbert Hazelzet, as well as many other mentors who have influenced my artistic visions one way or the other. Enjoy this potpourri of tips, inspirations, and musings.
I'm specialized in coaching historical and modern flutists. CONTACT ME directly to set up a session, in person or online.