Historical performance has finally arrived (again)



There’s no denying it, the study of historical performance is on the rise in North America. Especially with its inevitable accession at august institutions such as Juilliard and Yale.

Yet the message is not necessarily about growth, where it should more accurately be directed, but about legitimacy, as if its mere presence in a few high-profile institutions makes it a more worthwhile endeavor—something to be taken seriously and invested in.

Sure, there are positive outcomes to more schools having degree programs in historical performance (or at least the option of some kind of focused study). The field will be richer for it, no doubt.

But why does it seem like there’s a fixation on legitimacy?

Why is there a need for our colleagues—those who have little or no interest in historical performance—to respect what we do?

The latter, of course, is a question that can’t be answered in a sound bite, yet it is fundamental to why the message from the johnny-come-latelies (and many of those already arrived) is, more often than not, centered around legitimacy.

Part of the issue is that no one remembers our own history (who came before us), or readily admits that the field has been slowly growing over the last four decades, at least.

Where do you think the faculty who populate these programs come from?

A celebratory piece in the Wall Street Journal about historical performance programs in North America, many of which are taking part in next week’s Boston Early Music Festival, supports my point.

This really stuck out in my mind:

The influx of historical-performance students and faculty at Juilliard has had an impact even beyond the expectations of its president, Joseph Polisi. “Just the sound of the instruments is completely different, and they’re doing fantastic repertoire that we’ve never done here,” he says. “They’re collaborating with the vocal arts, dance and drama departments. We’re all knocked out by it.”

The late harpsichordist Albert Fuller—who introduced early repertoire to and inspired generations of Juilliard musicians—would probably beg to differ.

Read more: Second-Class Repertoire No More (Wall Street Journal)

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