Salonline 2021-09-19 Elizabeth Field — Demystifying Baroque Performance Style:Period vs Modern Instruments

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Sunday September 19, 2021

Emerson Avenue Salonlines Proudly Presents

Elizabeth Field


Demystifying Baroque Performance Style:

Period vs Modern Instruments

Elizabeth Field talks about performing music by Bach and his contemporaries on both period and modern violin –what we learn from period instruments and what we can translate to modern playing.

We think of stringed instruments as relics from the 17th and 18th centuries, but violins, violas, cellos and basses all underwent significant modifications in the beginning of the 19th century, transforming them from their original designs into the ‘modern instruments’ we are familiar with today. 

Elizabeth breaks through the resulting misunderstanding and confusion, demonstrating the difference between “period” instruments and modern instruments, illustrating how different methods and styles of playing these instruments can create very different results. Her goal is not to show that one method is right, the other wrong, or even ‘better’, but to simply inform. Playing style has evolved to suit changing tastes which explains why the music has sounded so different throughout the 250 years since it was written. In accordance with the 18th-century goal of distinguishing ‘expression vs execution’, Elizabeth explains the difference between the essence of the performer’s musical expression and the fundamentals of ‘how’ and on what medium that expression is applied.

Central to this discussion is reconciling two opposing philosophies:

1. Great music pleases a contemporary audience when played in a contemporary style,

2.  Great music must be  reproduced exactly as the composer heard it in order to ‘realize its original intention’.

As a young musician, Ms. Field embraced the second philosophy and went on to earn a Doctorate in 18th-century Historical Performance Practice from Cornell University. However, she grew to be concerned about the hubris of an Early Music Movement which prided itself on being ‘right and correct’ and too easily dismissive of some of the great musical artistry of the 20th-century. This led to a lifelong pursuit of finding ways to interpret notation and be ‘historically informed and expressive’ regardless of what violin she held in her hand. This presentation walks through some of these processes.

Elizabeth will examine  the roots of baroque expression in French baroque dances and some of the fundamental rules of string playing elucidated in the writings of the 18th-century. She contrasts mid 20th century quasi-romantic style of baroque repertoire with the same passages played on a baroque violin. Returning to the modern violin, she shows possibilities of adopting what is learned from the original instrument to a modern setup and technique. The difference in the resulting sound and displayed scores is immediately obvious to anyone, even to those who don’t read music or play an instrument.

Dr. Field traverses three centuries of violin-design changes and performance-style evolution in an eye-opening, one-hour lecture, all brought vividly to life with her amazing ability on the violin.

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