Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Abandon the summer festivals at Bayreuth and Salzburg
In a 1931 article for the Musical Quarterly Percy Grainger urged "all forward-looking" musicians to abandon the summer festivals at Bayreuth and Salzburg and instead frequent Arnold Dolmetsch's Haslemere Festival where they would learn the skills of early music "that so soon will become a necessity to any self-respecting musician". Dolmetsch's festivals in Haslemere, England played a pivotal role in rehabilitating early music and in the last decade of the 19th century he gave the first performances in modern times on the instruments for which they were written of more than 500 works by early composers. He rediscovered the art of making recorders and is responsible for the popularity of the instrument today. Viols were acquired and refurbished by him for his pioneering early music concerts, and he went on to make lutes, clavichords and harpsichords.
Music education was important to Dolmetsch; as well as teaching his own family his outreach activities took him into schools and my header photo shows him teaching at Dunhurst Junior School, Bedales - classical music has many saviours! The perfect Wagnerite George Bernard Shaw was an early champion of the comabative Dolmetsch who was married three times and bankrupt once. The early music pioneer refused to make James Joyce a lute and, because he was too busy, Segovia a guitar. When Dolmetsch, who was born in France, was awarded the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur at the age of 80, he shrugged as if to say "About time too". Despite being dubbed 'the apostle of retrogression' Dolmetsch's influence spread far beyond early music. Marco Pallis, who was one of his pupils, became a leading authority on Buddhism, while - a little-known piece of music trivia - the potter Michael Cardew was an accomplished recorder player who played with the Dolmetsch ensemble, as well as being father of contemporary music enfant terrible Cornelius Cardew.
Far from being an apostle of retrogression Dolmetsch was a man before his time, and the final sentence of his seminal 1915 book The Interpretation of the music of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries carries an important message for our over-mediated digital age: "We can no longer allow anyone to stand between us and the composer". One of Dolmetsch's notable pupils was Suzanne Bloch who had a high profile career as a lutenist in addition to promoting the music of her father Ernst Bloch. For her lute recitals she followed Dolmetsch's practice of wearing period costumes and never used amplification, even when performing in cavernous spaces such as the Town Hall in Manhattan.
Since Percy Grainger's exhortation to abandon the mainstream summer festivals Salzburg, at least has changed and now includes an Ouveture Spirituelle sacred music festival where, this year, a sequence by Hildegard von Bingen rubbed shoulders with a new commission celebrating a Sufi saint. Grainger's prediction that the skills of early music will "soon will become a necessity to any self-respecting musician" proved prescient but premature. Following the early music revival in the 1960s and 70s, performance techniques such as 'white' vibrato-less tone have found their way into music far beyond the 'early' genre. That early music revival also expanded the music market by providing existing audience with new and rewarding discoveries; which provides yet more proof that classical music's big opportunity is its current market. Recorder virtuoso David Munrow introduced a whole generation to the riches of early music through his Pied Piper BBC radio programme and his many records for EMI. Recording producer Christopher Bishop was the catalyst for Munrow's recording career, and he tells the story of it - and much more - in a radio interview with me that is now available on SoundCloud.
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