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Composers' Intentions?

Composers' Intentions?: Lost Traditions of Musical Performance

Andrew Parrott
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 421
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  • Book Info
    Composers' Intentions?
    Book Description:

    These selected essays by conductor Andrew Parrott reflect the thinking behind some four decades of his ground-breaking performances and recordings. Bringing together seminal writings on the performance expectations of, amongst others, Monteverdi, Purcell and J. S. Bach, this volume also includes the full version of a major new article calling into question the presumed historical place of the 'countertenor' voice. Focusing primarily on vocal and choral matters, the time span is broad (some five centuries) and the essays multifarious (from extensive scholarly articles to radio broadcasts). Authoritative, provocative and readable, Parrott's writing is packed with information of value to scholars, performers, students and curious listeners alike. ANDREW PARROTT is the founder and director of the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players. His book The Essential Bach Choir (The Boydell Press, 2000) has been acclaimed as 'a brilliant piece of research' (BBC Radio 3); 'utterly fascinating' (Gramophone); and 'a document which will itself no doubt be a subject of study for years to come' (Times Literary Supplement).

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-508-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Andrew Parrott

    • 1 Composers’ Intentions, Performers’ Responsibilities
      (pp. 1-15)

      When the first issue ofEarly Musicappeared in 1973, its intended readership of ‘listeners, performers and instrument makers … scholars and students’ may well have shared at least one broad understanding:² that the recent ground-swell of interest in ‘pre-Classical’ music had been due in no small measure to the efforts of performers (and instrument builders) in learning and adopting earlier practices. Or, to put it another way: that the exploration of earlier performance styles and conventions was not merely of academic value but had opened up something of practical significance, with the capacity to breathe new life into forgotten...


    • 2 A Brief Anatomy of Choirs
      (pp. 16-45)

      Josquin des Prez, Tallis, Victoria, Monteverdi, Charpentier, Bach – the great choral composers of the past may be presumed to have understood the inner workings of their choirs comprehensively well; most had received a choirboy’s education and virtually all spent a lifetime amongst their chosen singers. But to what extent do we share their understanding? Was Dufay’s body of singers little different from that which Handel knew some 300 years later? Has ‘the choir’ somehow managed to remain essentially one and the same thing through the ages to our own time? Though much transcribed, discussed and performed, music written for...

    • 3 Falsetto Beliefs: The ‘Countertenor’ Cross-Examined
      (pp. 46-121)

      Today’s ‘countertenor’ – a man whose singing is exclusively or predominantly in falsetto – is widely seen as the very emblem of early vocal music. Once confined to the Anglican choir-stall, he is now accepted in all manner of vocal ensembles and has achieved international status as a soloist, not least on the world’s great operatic stages. Naturally enough, the rise of this new/old voice-type has attracted plenty of comment and speculationen route. Yet for the most part the modern countertenor’s historical credentials have simply been taken on trust. Indeed, the undoubted complexity of establishing a reliable history for...

    • 4 Falsetto and the French: ‘Une toute autre marche’
      (pp. 122-145)

      Few areas of musical study have engendered as much confusion as the (sometimes) interrelated topics of the ‘falsetto’ voice and the singing of ‘alto’ parts in earlier centuries. Some of this confusion is entirely understandable: at almost every turn we may encounter unknowable pitch standards, terminological riddles, or a sheer dearth of evidence. Much of it, however, is of our own making: in particular, the endemic failure to distinguish different repertories, different traditions, or different periods, coupled not infrequently with an apparent belief in a single ‘true countertenor’ of the past.

      My broad aim is thus to encourage some fundamental...


    • 5 Transposition in Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610
      (pp. 146-193)

      Ours is an essentially conservative musical climate, and attempts to reproduce historical styles of performance still tend to be viewed with suspicion. It is therefore not surprising that to transpose parts of a recognized masterpiece should be regarded by some almost as an act of heresy. I first directed a performance of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers in 1977, and on that occasion,¹ as on subsequent ones, the psalmLauda Jerusalemand the Magnificata7were given a 4th below their written pitch. (The discussion that follows is quite independent of absolute pitch standards appropriate to Monteverdi’s music: the issue is that...

    • 6 Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 Revisited
      (pp. 194-204)

      In this short anniversary paper I wish to offer some observations on three aspects of the Vespers music contained in Monteverdi’s great 1610 publication.¹ All have received much less scholarly attention than they merit for the simple reason, certainly in two cases, that they are seen as belonging primarily to the world of the performer rather than to that of the scholar/editor. And because both scholars in general and editors in particular usually feel at liberty to side-step such questions, performers (who may or may not possess musicological skills) are themselves tempted to follow suit, tacitly encouraged in believing the...

    • 7 Monteverdi: Onwards and Downwards
      (pp. 205-227)

      Fresh from directing a performance of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers in New York, I was a little surprised to read in Roger Bowers’s article in last November’sEarly Musicthat downward transposition by a 4th of its high-clef movements was supposedly no more than ‘theoretically’ possible.¹ While Bowers argues that ‘the properties of the music itself deny its applicability’,² my own recent experience (with bothLauda Jerusalemand the Magnificata7down a 4th) had been of an ease and naturalness that seemed to render further theoretical justification wholly unnecessary.³ Bowers wholeheartedly accepts the need for downward transposition; it is the...

    • 8 High Clefs and Down-to-Earth Transposition: A Brief Defence of Monteverdi
      (pp. 228-236)

      ‘Some favour a perfect 4th; I a major 2nd.’ Thus Roger Bowers, embarking on a recent second attempt to promote a rather idiosyncratic hypothesis of downward transposition for Monteverdi’s high-clef writing, notably in the 1610 Magnificata7(see Bowers, ‘“The high and lowe keyes come both to one pitch”: Reconciling Inconsistent Clef-Systems in Monteverdi’s Vocal Music for Mantua’,Early Music39/4 (2011), 531–46). Undeterred by the fact that in similar contexts the composer’s contemporaries appear invariably to have avoided the smaller interval of transposition (↓2nd), Bowers elaborates a theory manifestly born of a strong personal aversion to the conventional...


    • 9 Performing Purcell
      (pp. 237-286)

      The anniversary in 1959 of Purcell’s birth was also that of Handel’s death, and for any assessment of the current state of our knowledge of Purcellian performance practice Handelian scholarship provides a useful yardstick. As a result particularly of further Handelian celebrations in 1985, a great deal of detailed research was undertaken that can now assist the performer and thereby illuminate in performance the music of England’s great adopted son, while even with plans for 1995 firmly in place, it is clear that the pace of equivalent research into our Orpheus Britannicus has been decidedly slower. It may be argued,...

  9. J. S. BACH

    • 10 How Many Singers?
      (pp. 287-289)

      Massed voices will always be a potent musical medium. But performances [of J. S. Bach’s ‘choral’ works] by 16 or so singers have now become commonplace (and some of us use fewer), reminding us that Bach’s music can speak equally powerfully in many ways. So, with choir size, is personal taste all there is to it?

      At the heart of Bach’s incomparable output of church music stands the choir. And, just as we rightly expect Abbado, Rattleet al. to know a thing or two about Mahler’s orchestra, so ought we to be able to assume that our Bach experts...

    • 11 Vocal Ripienists and J. S. Bach’s Mass in B minor
      (pp. 290-327)

      Not my words but those of the eminent Bach scholar Arnold Schering, written some 90 years ago.¹ While ‘monumentality’ may be less prevalent today, the ‘continuously choral scoring’ to which Schering objected is still routinely promoted as Bach’s own preferred practice. In this, the Mass in B minor differs not at all from the composer’s other church works. Yet, in common with an overwhelming majority of those works, early sources for the Mass contain no suggestion whatsoever of any requirement for ripieno singers. (A brief reminder: the ripienist’s role was toreinforce– not toreplace– the concertist in...

    • 12 Bach’s Chorus: The Leipzig Line
      (pp. 328-346)

      Readers who might have preferred the so-called debate on Bach’s choir to have concluded long ago – myself included – may nevertheless be curious to understand why it has dragged on for almost 30 years. The foregoing article by Andreas Glöckner may help to supply an explanation.* It illustrates how a handful of highly influential German scholars have responded to the challenge of reassessing old certainties, while its studied scepticism invites doubt: is it shaped more by scholarly thinking, or by a simple desire to bury the subject as far beyond the reach of scrutiny as possible?

      This response will...


    • 13 J. S. Bach’s Trauer-Music for Prince Leopold: Clarification and Reconstruction
      (pp. 347-360)

      With the unexpected death of the 33-year-old Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen in November 1728 it fell to J. S. Bach as the Prince’s honorary (or ‘non-resident’)Capellmeisterand erstwhile employee to supply and supervise music for the ensuing funeral ceremonies. These were set for the following spring, doubtless to allow the fullest possible attendance from around the principality and further afield, while over the winter months the Prince’s body (duly embalmed, one must presume) lay in Cöthen’s small court chapel.² At the centre of elaborate funeral proceedings, painstakingly documented in court records,³ were

      a Burial Service (Beysetzung), held late at...


    • 14 Performing Machaut’s Mass on Record
      (pp. 361-367)

      Given the acknowledged historical significance of Guillaume de Machaut’sMesse de Nostre Dame, it is remarkable that few performances appear to have been scheduled for the 600th anniversary of the composer’s death. Clearly, several problems confront anyone attempting to present the work in concert: apart from the dubious box-office appeal of 14th-century church music and the uneasy relationship of liturgical music with the concert hall, this is demanding music, employing a vocal line-up quite different from today’s predominant SATB formation and an idiom quite foreign to most of today’s singers. Moreover, the Mass has frequently been assumed to require multiple...

    • 15 ‘Grett and solompne singing’: Instruments in English Church Music before the Civil War
      (pp. 368-380)

      The spirit of enquiry that characterizes current work on performance practices of the past appears as yet to have had little impact on the world of English church music. The principal reason for this may be the belief that Anglican choral singing has continued in an unbroken tradition from at least the Restoration up to the present day. Even the music of Tallis and Byrd has never entirely disappeared from its repertory, making it all too easy, when listening to such music sung by today’s cathedral or college choirs, to imagine that one is hearing, as it were, the real...

    • 16 Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo
      (pp. 381-384)

      Inhabiting as it does a very different place from that of ‘Opera’ today, the world’s earliest operatic masterpiece richly repays the attempt to understand it on its own terms. With a libretto entirely in verse and a setting which eschews verbal repetition,L’Orfeorelies predominantly on a form of recitative designed to enable each character ‘almost to speak in music’ (as Caccini put it) and to be intelligible at all times. As a consequence, high vocal extremes are absent and ranges modest (Orpheus himself barely exceeds a 12-note compass); pure vocal display is reserved for just two key moments; and...

    • 17 Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on Record
      (pp. 385-390)

      Almost 90 years ago George Bernard Shaw was asked to review an amateur Purcell–Handel concert at Bow in London’s East End. ‘… entirely unacquainted with these outlandish localities and their barbarous minstrelsy’, he nevertheless set off (with a revolver as a precaution for his hazardous journey), determined not to leave Purcell’s great music to the mercy his paper’s other music critic. Although the ‘Bowegians’ evidently did not do Purcell full justice, GBS was delighted with the music. ‘Dido and Eneas’, he declared, ‘is 200 years old, and not a bit the worse for wear’.

      For all the professionalism of...

    • 18 ‘Hail! Bright Cecilia’ (Purcell at 350)
      (pp. 391-396)

      In November 1692 it was once again Henry Purcell’s turn to provide music for his fellow ‘Masters and Lovers of Musick’ as they honoured their ‘great Patroness’ St Cecilia with a feast that evidently ranked as ‘one of the genteelest in the world’. And the 33-year-old composer certainly excelled himself:Hail! bright Cecilia, an ode ‘admirably set to Music by Mr.Henry Purcell’, evidently went down so well with the musical assembly that it was performed twice ‘with universal applause’.

      It is indisputably an exceptionally fine composition, a shining example of a distinctively English genre – the choral and orchestral...

  12. Selected Recordings
    (pp. 397-397)
  13. Further Writings
    (pp. 398-398)
  14. Index
    (pp. 399-407)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 408-408)