This was posted by Rob Wegman to the med-and-ren list and reflects some of
the matters we have agonized over. It seemed worth sharing:
Lee Davis, SCSU
[log in to unmask]
On Fri, 27 Nov 1998, Nick Sandon wrote:
> Sarum chant
> Drones: why?
> rhythmic groups: why??
> Byzantine sounds: why???
> Perhaps you have evidence to support this approach;
> otherwise it seems thoroughly misconceived. What is the
These questions irresistibly call to mind Richard Taruskin's essay 'The
Pastness of the Present', of which the following passage in particular
seems worth quoting:
A performance simply cannot merely reflect the sketchy state of objective
knowledge on a point of performance practice, it must proceed from the
conviction that a full working knowledge is in the performers'
(subjective) possession. While generations of scholars chew over [Arthur]
Mendel's seven pages of problems, what is the poor performer who wants to
sing some Josquin des Prez to do? Wait till all the evidence is in and all
the articles are published? He will probably never open his mouth. Rejoice
that the answers have not been found and he is free to do as he likes?
That is certainly one solution--but he who would do so risks rebuke these
days from scholars whose implicit attitude seems to be, 'Shut up until we
can tell you what to do.' This kind of destructive authoritarianism is
rampant in reviews of performances of medieval and Renaissance music,
where just about any performance at all is open to the charge of 'mixing .
. . musicology and make-believe', if that is the kind of tack the reviewer
wishes to take. Professor Mendel himself, sad to say, made a habit of
giving performers, in Grout's words quoted earlier, a 'bad conscience'
about what they were doing, by challenging them to justify it on hard
evidence. He presided over a terrifying workshop at the Josquin Festival
Conference in 1971 on the performance of Josquin's Masses, and used the
positivistic inductive method as a veritable stick to beat modern
performers. No matter what they did, Professor Mendel could find some
theorist or source to say them nay. Nor can I ever forget the time
Professor Mendel travelled up to New York to hear Nikolaus Harnoncourt
lecture at Columbia about his ideas on Bach performance. The professor
played the grand inquisitor: 'But Mr Harnoncourt, do you *know* that's
true?' he intoned again and again. Mr Harnoncourt could only splutter.
From: 'The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past', in
Nicholas Kenyon, ed., Authenticity and EArly Music (Oxford, 1988),
137-207, at 202.
Rob C. Wegman
<[log in to unmask]>