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What Is HIP, And Why Is It So Controversial ?

   If you're new to classical music ,  HIP stands for "Historically informed performance" , in other words,  the use
of  the instruments of the past  when performing composers such as Bach ,Handel, Haydn,Mozart and Beethoven etc,
which were quite different from the ones used by modern orchestras and other musicians, such as pianists .
Or carefully reproduced replicas of them.

   Not only using the old instruments, but following the research on performing styles of the past which musicologists have dug up after much effort . Over the centuries, instruments such as violins,cellos, flutes, oboes, bassoons,french horns, trumpets and tympani have changed considerably in design and methods of playing.  Instead of steel , the bows of string instruments were wired with material made from the intestines of animals such as sheep. This is called using "gut strings". The bows in general were shaped differently , and there were many other  subtle differences in design which you can't see from a distance .

   Flutes were made out of wood, not steel ,and  were much simpler in design .   French horns and trumpets ,up until the early 19th century , had no valves , and every time a player would play something in a different key , he had to  use a different length of tubing called a crook .  These early brass instruments could  not play all the notes of the scale over the series of octaves , and composers could not just write any melodic line for them . 

    Pianos were much different , and lacked the big sound of something like a modern Steinway, and sounded very different .  But within the past 40 years or so , some  classical musicians were curious to try to recreate the sounds which composer such as Bach, Mozart , and Haydn and others actually heard in their lifetimes , or at least tried to come as close as possible to this, as we don't have a time machine yet .

   So these musicians, some of whom are quite famous today ,  created ensembles dedicated to  "historical authenticity" in performance , and  some of these ensembles and orchestras have become world famous , such as Concentus Musicus of Vienna,  The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment ,  the Academy of Ancient Music
in England ,  and  others in  the Netherlands and Belgium .   And ever since this, more and more period instrument  orchestras and ensembles  sprang up all over Europe and America ,and even Japan, where western classical music has long been popular .

   "Period Instruments" is the term many give to these old instruments,or reproductions.  Many critics and listeners  have  been delighted by live performances and recordings by these groups, but others have  found them  downright unpleasant to hear .  One critic stated some years ago that "we need a return to the string instruments of centuries ago about as much as we need a return to the dentistry of centuries ago",or words to that effect .

    There are now countless recordings of  these period instrument groups available , of music by  composers  by Bach,Handel, Vivaldi,  Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert , and  even of later composers such as Brahms,
Tchaikovsky,Dvorak and even Mahler, who died only a century ago.  Some have questioned the need for this extension, as the later you go, the less difference there is.

   Modern instrument orchestras still play the music of Mozart, Haydn,Beethoven and Schubert on modern instruments,  but some conductors have attempted to bring elements of the period instrument style of playing, such as the avoidance of string vibrato, or reducing it.  Some dogmatic HIP musicians such as the British conductor Sir Roger Norrington, are convinced that string vibrato is a recent phenomenon ,dating back only about  80 years or so, but other scholars and musicians dispute this. 

   Unfortunately, some prominent HIP musicians have been rather smug and arrogant about their alleged "authenticity", and have made statements  belittling and dismissing modern instrument performances which do not use  period instruments and conform to what is known as "performance practice", or the  use of the latest research into how the music MAY have been played in the past.

    It's true. We don't know exactly what the music sounded like in the past, or  what long dead composers would or would not have approved of when it comes to the way their music was performed .  And we never will, unless  some one actually invents a time machine that works. 

   Among the prominent conductors who have led period instrument orchestras (as well as  mainstream ones are   Nikolaus Harnoncourt of Austria, Norrington, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and Christopher Hogwood of England,
 America's William Christie,  Frans Bruggen of the Netherlands, and Philippe Herreweghe of  Belgium .

    Some violinists and pianists have also made careers  playing almost exclusively  on period instruments ,such as  violinist Andrew Manze of England and Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma , and  pianists such as  Malcolm Bilson
and  Hong Kong -born Melvyn Tan  on old fashioned pianos. 

   Some prominent musicians,such as the renowned  violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman , have heaped scorn on the whole movement ,dismissing it as a worthless fad.  HIP is rather like a religion in some ways. It has its true believers, the musicians who claim that this is the way to do the music of the past,  and  who claim to have a monopoly on the truth,  the atheists,  Perlman and Zukerman, and the agnostics, such as yours truly, who has found the HIP performances interesting to hear, but is somewhat skeptical about how "authentic" they actually are.
    But like it or not,  the period instrument movement is here to stay.  It has certainly made our musical life more interesting.   
Posted: Aug 24 2011, 07:52 PM by the horn | with no comments
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