Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Historically Informed Reviewing?

One of my Examiner.com readers took me to task with a comment on my "SummerFest concludes" piece, observing that I never got around to "an actual REVIEW" of the performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's BWV 232 B minor mass setting by the American Bach Soloists and their Academy students, providing only "liner notes" instead. There is some validity to the comment; but I would argue that the article itself was actually wrestling with this whole issue of "historically informed performance" and its implications with regard to any act of writing. Strictly speaking, one does not "review" (or, for that matter, "examine") the celebration of the mass; and the same can be said of any music performed by the organist in the course of the service. There is thus the rather "historically informed" proposition that BWV 232 was never intended for review any more than were all the pedagogical efforts of Bach's Clavierübung volumes. Rather than providing liner notes about the music, I found myself wrapped up in writing an essay about why I should not be writing a review!

I suppose that, in some ways, I was either picking or avoiding (or both?) a fight with the "mission" of American Bach Soloists by observing that there were all sorts of messy details surrounding the concept of a "historically informed performance," most of which tended to get swept under the rug in the face of less messy requirements, like organizing concerts for which people would pay money to attend. When I was at the University of Pennsylvania, I was able to enjoy many advantages of collegium musicum approaches to the performance of early music; but these were entirely academic affairs. Those of us who were not direct participants were more like auditors, in the collegiate sense of the word, than audience. I suppose the problem is that, when the collegium musicum leaves the campus and sets itself up in a public venue (and charges admission), then it ceases to be a collegium musicum; and I find that I am still puzzled as to what it becomes when it moves into that new setting.

So I guess I am making a public apology for being so occupied with questions of being "historically informed" that I let the bread-and-butter of "examining" a performance slip through the cracks; and in the future I shall resist the urge to get too academic!

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