Some of you who visit and those who follow the site may have noticed a gap in the music I put up. An explanation of why this is so would not be out of place.
I have spent my life listening to music and, to a far lesser extent, studying it and am familiar with the whole range of the Western tradition of music.
Youtube is a cornucopia of resources for music. There is almost no corner of music performance which is not up on the Web. This allows me to discover composers with whom I am quite unfamilar.
But missing in what I put up and what I listen to is music of the Classical Period and the Romantic Period.
A favorite has always been Baroque music. I find it glorious, such a celebration of life. And the number of composers of the period is vast. Almost every court, large and small, in Europe had a resident composer. And each composer was connected to the movements and styles of the rest of Europe, those countries and areas outwith the area in which he composed and worked. For example, I am currently listing to Carlos Seixas, whose music I haven’t put up yet. He is influenced, by among others, the German style of the period. I am not sure how composers all over Europe were aware of each other’s music. Perhaps as one composer travelled from one court to another the traditions and styles travelled with him. Also you find a German in England, an Italian in a German Court. And so on.
This interconnectedness is all the more remarkable since music manuscripts were not printed during this time but were copied by hand from the original manuscript.
What appeals to me so much about the Baroque period are the sonorities and the instruments. The former has a pungency which is lacking in later periods. The instruments are still not perfected so do not have the almost lifeless smoothness of later instruments. The playing style too is quite different from later periods. There is an exuberance generally lacking in later periods. The musical form is more more interesting and varied than that of later musical styles. Both Classical and Romantic music is restricted to three movements; fast, slow, fast. Frankly boring in that there are no surprises. Baroque also draws on dance forms popular at the time which are usually lively and each distinct in its own right.
Growing up, Baroque music was quite unperformed and unrecorded. The staples of recordings and performances were of the big guns. You can only listen to a piano sonata by Beethoven, for example, no matter how wonderful the music is and no matter how exquisite the permanence of that music is . Finally, I find too music of the Classical and Romantic eras smooth and lifeless. This is not however in the least true of, say, an opera by Mozart, among the greatest glories of the entire corpus of music.
As I say, until my twenties Baroque was absent. Pioneers like Sir Neville Marinner and his group of musicians, Academy of Saint Martins in the Field, and records labels like Argo who paid close attention to the exigencies of the recording techniques required to properly capture the music, began to emerge.
However Marinner’s group employed modern instruments and one felt there was something lacking.
It took people like Gustave Leonhardt and Nicholas Harnoncourt to develop playing and presences styles that mirrored Baroque practice and to adopt the use of original instruments. This transformed the sound of the music. This was accompanied by the emergence of recording companies such as l’Oiseau-Lyre in France and the Archiv label in Germany that had a sensitivity towards the needs of chamber music which, for the most part is what Baroque music is. This development was required because 100 piece orchestras have quite different needs over the smaller ensemble of Baroque music. Instruments like the modern piano are loud compared to the sheer quiet of a harpsichord which was designed for small rooms with a an audience numbering in, at most, twenties, whereas the piano had to fill a vast concert hall with a thousand or so in attendance. And this was before amplification was used in performance.
One must note the exception in talking of sheer volume and note that choral Church music of the Baroque period, and before, was amplified so to speak by the vast, echoing cathedrals in which it was performed. Churches ceased to commission music on a regular basis after the Baroque period and services become austere as a result. Bach, for example, was commissioned to come up with a new, major work every week.
I don’t suppose any of you noticed the absence of the music I talk of above. But here is why. Perhaps in the future I shall be able to return to the music of Tchaikovsky which I so loved as a child, and to Joseph Haydn, whose fabulous music I listened to in my thirties.
Finally, I disliked CDs over vinyl records. The music recorded on CDs is harsh and brittle and lacks the warmth of of LPs. The sound on Youtube is far, far better. In addition, Youtube opens up endless vistas. More and more undeservedly forgotten composers will be rediscovered and revived continually enriching our music listening experience.
Malcolm D B Munro
Tuesday 14 February, 2017