Teaching musical style of the period

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    Your suggestion to listen to recordings is an excellent one! Suggest that they choose only

    recordings made with ensembles that are known for playing in the authentic style of the

    composer’s time, preferably with period instruments. Also, there is a very good book by

    Neumann on the art of Baroque ornamentation. Individual expression is fine, but I agree

    with you that it is preferable to stay within the historical context. Otherwise, your whole

    programme sounds the same! Audiences love variety. It also helps to get “back-up” in the

    form of a lesson or master class with someone who is an expert in that period, and who is

    not necessarily a harpist. There is a growing interest in authentic performance, so there

    are lots of CD’s and live performances available that should help your student notice the



    “Ornamentation: a Question and Answer Manual” by Valery Lloyd-watts and Carole L. Bigler. Published by Alfred.

    This is an excellent resource for understanding the differences in both ornamentation and overall aesthetic of the different periods in history. It includes a chapter titled “An overview of the influence of art and architecture on the development of music”. It includes chapters on the use of ornamentation in each style period and a chapter on how to realize ornamentation in Baroque music. It is a concise reference with 64 pages and costs about $9 US dollars. Alfred also has performance practice videos, one for each style period for piano. It would be quite excellent if a harpist/scholar were to do a series for harp!


    Both of your answers are excellent. Students don’t listen to other musicians

    often enough, and that is such an important way to learn interpretation.


    Young students may feel they are “interpreting the music” by “expressing themselves,” but I think they have to be guided by their teacher in what the music calls for. I disagree with using any period-instrument recordings as I find them to be least musical and expressive performances of music I have ever heard, in most cases. I think the finest recordings of baroque and classical music were made by groups like the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, I Musici and such. They played with full understanding of ornamentation as I recall, which is necessary to play any music, but with melodic feeling. I think I was shaped greatly by my exposure to Handel’s Sonatas for flute/recorder, which I heard over and over, and hearing continuo playing. The classical values of baroque music actually go against “personal” expression as they call for balance and emotional sort-of abstraction. I was discussing that with my voice teacher, and we agreed that the factor of performing for aristocrats and royalty may have called for not showing open emotion, that it had to be balanced with formality, pomp and ceremony. It is hard sometimes for the student, but they have to learn to speak the language. I would look for small places where it is innocuous to give them a free choice in what to do. One doesn’t want to be oppressive. One thing about baroque music is that two people can play the same piece in the same way, and it will sound different, and the personality of the player will come through. The student should learn to have faith in the process. When they have mastered more of their technique and tone quality then they will have more to work with. Ruth Slencynska wrote an article or handout that gave a brief but thorough list of ornaments and how to play them. The piano collections by Denes Agay sometimes do so as well. I recommend reading C.P.E. Bach’s The True Art of Keyboard Accompanying, because it is so clear, explains ornamentation and style so well, and because it is actually rather funny and entertaining. The Neumann is a great compendium. I am still waiting for someone to come up with a volume for harpists, reflecting the music and composers we deal with, like Dussek, Spohr, Nadermann and such, some of whom have a style not like keyboard instruments. I find that in most cases ornaments should be assumed to begin on the beat, whether even in value or short-long. This is true until the late 19th century. Not every one may know that publisher’s editions cannot be trusted. From early on, they printed ornaments incorrectly, turning appoggiaturas into grace notes routinely. I look at what way of playing the ornament will be more expressive, serve a stronger melodic function and be less disruptive rhythmically. Thus, I consistently find I am in most cases playing the ornaments on the beat, subtracting their rhythmic value from the following note. Even in 20th Century neo-classical music, like Ernesto Halffter’s Danza de la Pastora, as it is in the style of Scarlatti, it should be ornamented in that style. This I have found supported in his orchestral score, and the work of a colleague, Palau, who specifies that his ornaments of the same type should be played on the beat. I think it is very clear from the Zingel edition of the Spohr Fantaisie, that regardless of the printing, the ornaments should be treated as classical and played on the beat, expressively. Spohr is a very classical composer. The early 19th century was transitional, with composers writing classically and showing romanticism yet using classical language and figuration, like Berlioz and Schubert. Amadeus published a wonderful book on this period in French music which discusses the harp quite a bit. A friend of mine described telling the students to give the notes a bit of color to be more expressive. I think another way at it is to show how they have been using their head to learn the notes and memorize the music, and now they should listen to it, and use their ear only. That may lead them to do some very nice things. As Carl says, literacy is very important, and the student will gain that from listening to great musicians on other instruments, not just the harp. I would recommend any of the legendary performers of the 1930s through 70s, not contemporary players. You have to learn style from those who had it, with the authenticity of interpretation derived from knowing the culture of the music. Too many modern famous performers are lacking in that.


    Hi All

    Actually, there is an excellent book on period performance for

    harpists. Fuzeau has published a three-volume set of facsimiles of

    French treatises and method books dating from the 17th to the early

    19th centuries. Included are many method books from the 18th century.

    Some of these have tables of ornaments and detailed information on

    fingering. I’ve spent some years studying and practicing these works

    (usually as photocopies from museum libraries) and am very happy to

    see them in a high quality, large format edition. There’s a huge

    amount of information here that’s not easily available anywhere else.

    I highly recommend these books to anyone interested in the subject!




    Are these for all instruments or only for harp?


    Fuzeau publishes facsimile editions for all instruments. Today I

    received a mailing from them about their new reprints of early 19th

    century methods for bassoon! Their catalogue is on line at:

    Have fun exploring the website,


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