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Why Early Music Does Not Age?
Early music – the term seems to be self‑ explicit: centuries‑old works performed by present‑ day musicians in a manner possibly as close as possible to historical practice. Early music performance now has its own long and separate, highly specialised tradition. One should remember, however, that even the most careful research aiming to reconstruct the performance practice of the past is still nothing but a projection of our own vision of that past. So – is early music really ‘early’? Or perhaps now more ‘our own’? The ideas of the composers may be centuries old, but the vision of performance is quite contemporary. Some topics never become outdated; they have been reinterpreted for ages and remain fresh. The emotions described in medieval songs do not differ from those of our contemporaries. Only the form has changed, but the essence is the same. Those works of the past also inspire the composers of our day, who write completely new pieces for historical instruments. Bruno Helstroffer – an eager promoter of the theorbo – writes for this several‑ centuries‑old instrument. Can we still call this early music? Probably not. We cannot be certain to any extent that early works sound the same today as they did in the past. But it is paradoxes that prove the most fascinating.
Sonatas But Not Only
What would the past be worth without its mysteries and unexplained events? It is the many unanswered questions that encourage further explorations. Certainty is boring, doubt is productive. George Frederic Handel’s Trio Sonatas, published as a pirate print around 1730 under the title of Deuxieme Ouvrage (Op. 2), had in fact been composed from ten to thirty years earlier. Since the autographs have not been preserved, it is hard to established the chronology and precise dating. Most likely they were written around 1717/18, when Handel was professionally associated with the Earl of Carnarvon. The oldest in the collection, Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, was probably composed when Handel was just 17, though Charles Jennens claimed that he wrote it aged 14. We will probably never solve these biographical queries to full satisfaction. What is certain is that the Sonatas were very attractive music at the time of their publication. More than 30 years earlier (1696), another set of music works had been printed: A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord, containing, among others, eight harpsichord suites by Henry Purcell. This small proportion of the prematurely deceased composer’s instrumental output (Purcell died aged 36) was published by his widow Frances and the publisher Henry Playford. It is a priceless collection of British music, one of the very few from the late 17th century. Purcell’s oeuvre was interrupted at his creative heights. We may only sigh and ask rhetorically, what his contribution to European music would have been, had he been allowed to live longer? Questions again...