Historically informed performance (‘HIP’) is all about attempting to recreate the sounds that listeners may have heard in the days before mechanical sound recordings and metronomes. It’s impossible to know for sure exactly how, for example, a concert of Bach’s music in Leipzig may have sounded. However, through musicological research modern musicians are able to make educated guesses, with a view to transporting listeners back in time through sound.
Like any art form, music isn’t static – it has evolved over hundreds of years, not just in sound but in practice. Composers innovate, instruments are improved upon, and the notion of what is musically ‘correct’ is refined. The search for an ‘authentic’ Baroque sound is achieved in two ways: through the use of beautiful ‘period’ instruments, either genuine antiques or else reproductions, fashioned using similar design and similar materials to what would have been available at the time; and in the performance itself, an adherence to the particular musical practices of the Baroque, including a more flexible approach to tuning and temperament.
Among the differences between modern string instruments and those of the Baroque is the use of ‘gut’ strings, made from intestines of sheep or cattle or other animals. The remote cousin of the cello, the viola da gamba, which fell out of favour from the Classical era onwards, is also enjoying newfound popularity.
The warmth of the harpsichord is vital to the sound, and on the upcoming Van Diemen’s Band tour listeners will hear Donald Nicolson perform on a variety of beautiful instruments, including Musica Viva’s very own instrument built by Bill Bright in 1985. Unlike a modern piano, a harpsichord’s strings are plucked rather than struck, lending the instrument a bright and gently percussive sound. Even the flute is made of wood, distinct from the silver or nickel of modern flutes.
The atmosphere of a concert of early music performed on period instruments is quite unlike any other, as the very vibrations in the air seem to glow – close your eyes and you may just find yourself in a Leipzig drawing-room in 1723.
Listen to Bill Bright discuss how he found his way into the unique trade of harpsichord making, where his love for this instrument spurs from and the artist behind the beautiful lid painting.
Van Diemen’s Band Tour information
This Tasmanian Baroque ensemble invites you to explore the historic borderlands of Europe. For centuries generations of musicians wrote dances and masses, symphonies and quartets, as their homelands changed ownership under their feet.
Themes of loss, regret and resentment connect these works, as does hope, underlining Fredersdorff’s belief that music can be a powerful cathartic tool. Just as Van Diemen’s Band invites instrumental guests from across Australia’s state borders, these composers remind us how we’re still united through music – no matter what borders lie between us.