Performance Practice Method

The study of performance practice is an area of musicology that includes the study of how music was traditionally performed in the time period it was written in. This encompasses many different aspects of musicality such as ornamentation, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. It can also include nonmusical elements such as the seating of an orchestra. For example, the seating diagrams of 19th-century orchestras have been published many times, giving a glimpse into how musicians of the era thought an orchestra should be set up. An interesting pattern with many of these diagrams is when a chorus was present; the chorus was placed in front of the orchestra.[1]Along with studying many aspects of music (history, theory, performance practice, etc.), musicologists also study the compositions of prominent composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to create an understanding of what their intent was for the piece.

The scholarship of performance practice is an area that is only a little over a century old as one of the first books that covered the topic was Edward Dannreuther’s book Musical Ornamentationpublished in 1893-1895. Throughout the 20thcentury, more books were published discussing performance practice including Lanowska’s La Musique Ancienne in 1904 along with Dolmetsch’s The Interpretations of the Music of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuriesin 1915. Due to the increase of the study of performance practice in the 20thcentury, scholars began to create programs were the subject could be studied and perfected. This began with the opening of the Basel Schola Cantorum in 1933. This institute was founded with the goal of studying and implementing the performance practice of musical compositions from earlier time periods. The students that attended this institution had to follow a curriculum that included the study of many different aspects of performance practice, such as ornamentation and notation.  Over the next 30 years, the institute had amassed a large collection of instruments from earlier periods. With the creation of this institution, the groundwork of academic study of performance practice had been created.[2]

Throughout the 20thand 21stcenturies, research has been conducted on the performance practice of almost every major composer throughout different musical periods. Musicologists have researched performance practice from Medieval chants to Modern compositions. This research allows musicians of all levels to develop an understanding of what the composer originally intended with the compositional techniques commonly used in their music. However, this research has also opened the room for debate about what was the composer’s intent. Frederick Neumann and Richard Maunder argue that Will Crutchfield’s statement that “… that every feminine ending in Mozart, be it in recitatives of closed numbers, musthave an appoggiatura of some kind”[3]is not accurate, because Mozart left the decision up to the singer. Neumann argues that appoggiaturas should be left out when “its specific effect is out of place.”[4]Neumann then continues to discuss the interpretation of vocal appoggiaturas by presenting the idea of using the instrumental parts to reference how the vocal line should be performed. He also mentions that if no appoggiatura is written for the vocal or instrumental parts that does not mean one could not be added, but should be a guideline to consider for adding or leaving out the effect. 

The study of performance practice has led many musicologists and musicians to answer a big question – Is the music being performed authentically? David Irving says, 

“Historians emphasize the importance of the currency of interpretation,  .. an underlying assumption of historical method is that in writing history our understanding of the past is informed and constructed by our present-day concerns. If history is the interpretation of the past, and historiography is the way we interpret the past through the written word, then historicization is the act of making or representing something as historic. … Crucially, it involves the careful positioning of our own perspectives on the most abstract dimension of past human cultures – organized sound – and intentionally recreating some form of representation.”[5]

Irving continues to discuss this idea of an “authentic” performance by addressing two concerns. The first being that an “authentic” performance is derived from the concerns of a musician’s taste in music rather than a performance that strictly follows the original intent of the composer. The second concern is the idea that performance practice has become influenced by the interpretations of modern-day musicians. Irving goes on to point out that musicians who perform Baroque or Classical music approach the pieces as a modern musician rather than approaching the music using performance practice techniques of those eras.[6]

The study of performance practice has allowed musicians to gain a broader understanding of the intent of composersin earlier time periods. It has also allowed musicians to perform the music closer to the original intent on historically accurate instruments. However, this has led to debates on what is a historically “authentic” performance, and what is not. 

Work Cited

Duckles, Vincent, Jann Pasler, Glenn Stanley, Thomas Chistensen, Barbara H, Haggh, Robert Balchin, Laurence Libin, et al. 2001 “Musicology.” Grove Music Online. 6 May. 2019. https://0-www-oxfordmusiconline-com.lib.utep.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/978156592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000046710.

Irving, David R. M. “Historicizing Performance Practice: Early Music Through Time and Space” Early Music 41, no. 1 (2013): 83-85. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43306805

Joseph, Deanna. “NINETEENTH-CENTURY PERFORMANCE PRACTICE: Reassessing Tradition and Revitalizing Interpretation.” The Choral Journal 54, no. 9 (2014): 18-31. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43051020.

Neumann, Frederick, and Richard Maunder. “Performance Practice in Mozart.” Music & Letters 74, no. 4 (1993): 653-55. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/737627.

Somorjay, Dorottya Fabian. “Musicology and Performance Practice: In Search of a Historical Style with Bach Recordings.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 41, no. 1/3 (2000): 77-106. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/902569.

Trice Mayhall


[1]Joseph, Deanna, Nineteenth-Century Performance Practice: Reassessing Tradition and Revitalizing Interpretation, No. 1, 2013, 83. 

[2]Somorjay, Dorottya Fabian, Musicology and Performance Practice: In Search of a Historical Style with Bach Recordings, 2000, 78.

[3]Nuemann, Frederick and Maunder, Richard, Performance Practice in Mozart, 1993, 653.

[4]See Neumann and Maunder, 653.

[5]Irving, David, Historicizing performance practice: early music through time and space, 2013, 83.

[6]See Irving.


Works Cited

Irving, David R. M. “Historicizing Performance Practice: Early Music Through Time and Space” Early Music 41, no. 1 (2013): 83-85. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43306805

Joseph, Deanna. “NINETEENTH-CENTURY PERFORMANCE PRACTICE: Reassessing Tradition and Revitalizing Interpretation.” The Choral Journal 54, no. 9 (2014): 18-31. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43051020.

Neumann, Frederick, and Richard Maunder. “Performance Practice in Mozart.” Music & Letters 74, no. 4 (1993): 653-55. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/737627.

Somorjay, Dorottya Fabian. “Musicology and Performance Practice: In Search of a Historical Style with Bach Recordings.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 41, no. 1/3 (2000): 77-106. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/902569.

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