"Performing History"

Joint NZMS / 40th MSA Conference

8-10 Dec 2017 - University of Auckland


Conference Centre, Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries

26 Symonds Street, Auckland, New Zealand

Prof. Mary Hunter

Professor Mary Hunter's interests lie in eighteenth-century opera, the performance of chamber music, the history and ideology of performance, and music in culture. She has received prestigious research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society. She is the author of path-breaking studies in her field, including The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna (Princeton, 1999), which won the American Musicological Society’s Kinkeldey Prize; and Mozart’s Operas: A Companion (Yale, 2008). She actively seeks out collaborative projects with other musicologists, for example as co-editor, with James Webster, of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna (Cambridge 1997) and, with Richard Will, of Engaging Haydn: Culture, Context and Criticism (Cambridge 2012). She has been the editor of some of the most prestigious journals in the field, including the Journal of Musicological Research, the Cambridge Opera Journal, and AMS Studies in Music. And she is herself the author of many articles, in such journals as The Journal of the American Musicological Society, Journal of Musicology, and Cambridge Opera Journal, and in many edited collections. Her current research considers the ideology of performance in classical music culture

Performing history? Written and oral dimensions of HIP performance

That the written score is ultimately authoritative in mainstream classical music performance is taken for granted. But for most of us, most of the time, scores carry within them, unarticulated and usually undiscussed, both the physical traces and the assumptions born of powerful oral traditions. The physical traces are manifested in both explicit and implicit editorial decisions, omissions and additions. The assumptions are what we bring to the scores — the aspects that allow us to state with confidence that “it goes like this.” For a modern string player, for example, a crescendo in Brahms ineluctably suggests more vibrato, and staccato in middle period Beethoven can mean a rougher stroke than we might use in Haydn or Mozart, though the staccato indications in and of themselves did not change in any very clear way. The ideological advantage of this is that oral traditions created, consciously and not, by performers, get folded into the authority of the composer; composers retain their power and performers get to assume the mantle of that power. Studies of old recordings, which vividly illustrate the changing ideas about the soundworlds of each composer seem not to have disturbed this more or less default approach to scores.

One of the excitements around the Early Music movement in the 1970’s and 80’s was the way in which it encouraged performers to “strip away” the “encrustations” of oral tradition and face the musical texts anew, implicitly investing more authority in the written score, even while also empowering performers to add ornamentation and collaborate on a more equal footing with the composer. As these performer-empowering practices became more institutionalized, however, with conservatories establishing departments  in historically informed performance, and a proliferation of recordings, the oral traditions based on the practices of the founders of the movement and their interpretations of both scores and treatises became more powerful, with all the disciplinary authority that mainstream oral traditions have long had, and the moment of seemingly less mediated encounter with scores passed.

This lecture explores questions of oral and written traditions in relation to the idea of historically-informed-performance, with all its (still implicit) ideas of authenticity and historical accuracy, and argues for the value of a critical awareness of the various, and variously powerful, sources of authority in musical interpretation.


Prof. John Rink

John Rink is Professor of Musical Performance Studies in the Faculty of Music at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow and Director of Studies in Music at St John’s College. His performance-related publications are extensive and varied, with an emphasis on nineteenth-century studies. The list includes: The Practice of Performance: Studies in Musical Interpretation (1995), and Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding (2002). He is a co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music (with Nicholas Cook, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and Eric Clarke; 2009); and he is also General Editor of the five-book series Studies in Musical Performance as Creative Practice, which Oxford University Press will publish in 2017.

Rink directed the £2.1 million AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice 2009 to 2015 in partnership with King's College London, the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, University of London, and in association with the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. He currently directs the Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies, which was launched at the University of Cambridge in 2015. He sits on several important editorial and advisory boards, and steering committees related to performance studies. Among numerous other relevant and significant posts, he was an Associate Director of the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM).

Judging yourself: self-reflective evaluation of musical performance [working title]

The point of departure for this paper is Richard Taruskin’s observation that ‘the essential facts of human history’ are ‘statements and actions in response to real or perceived conditions’, which give rise to new conditions ‘in an endless chain of agency’. I argue for the potential relevance to music historiography not only of ethnography but in particular of autoethnography, which is the basis of the practice-led investigation featured here. I begin by exploring recent literature on music historiography and autoethnography before turning to Joan Scott’s (1991) provocative consideration of ‘the evidence of experience’, which informs a case study of my experiences as a member of the jury of the XVII International Fryderyk Chopin Competition, held in Warsaw in October 2015. After surveying both scholarly and anecdotal literature on adjudication, I plumb some of the material from the successive interviews in which I participated as a subject at the time of the Competition. Special attention is devoted to the criteria that I claimed I would use when assessing the seventy-seven competitors, to the influence of decades of musicological research on my musical judgements, and to the questions that I continually asked myself during the performances – including ‘What is each pianist doing and trying to get across? How does the pianist relate thematic statements that may be ten minutes apart? How does he or she move from idea to idea – is there coherence in the progression? What kind of expressive approach is taken, and how is it maintained or manipulated across the piece?’ This leads to consideration of a few especially remarkable performances, on which detailed comment is provided. The intention is for this autoethnographic account to have broader resonances with regard to both the evaluation of musicians in performance and the narratives that we construct about music’s course in time and musical experience in general.