How late can 'Historically-Informed Performance' (HIP) go? Well, pretty late. In 2014, as part of my British Library Edison Visiting Research Fellowship, I was lucky to be able to spend time studying an extraordinary collection of recordings made by the wind quintet of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for the German Polydor label during the 1920s.
Between approximately 1923 and 1930, the quintet – formed of principal players from the orchestra – recorded dozens of sides of 78rpm records, including works by August Klughardt, Erwin Lendvai, Georges Onslow, Anton Reicha and Max Laurischkus, as well as lots of Mozart and Beethoven arranged by the group's bassoonist, Gunther Weigelt. (Wind players might recognise Weigelt as the editor of the old Leuckart editions of Danzi, Reicha and other early-Romantic quintets.)
But the discs I was really interested in hearing was Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik Op. 24/2, recorded by the quintet c. 1925. This major piece of twentieth-century wind repertoire was first published and premiered in 1922, and has arguably had a ‘continuous’ performing tradition, so I was intrigued to see how close to a modern performance this first recording would sound.
The British Library only had one of the two discs, so it was not until the wonderful 78rpm collector and blogger 'Shellackophile' posted the complete recording last year that I was able to hear the whole thing. You can still download his excellent transfer here. The performance is a revelation: many performance directions disregarded or treated very differently from a modern interpretation, and a huge number of un-notated alterations of rhythm and tempo: very far from what one might expect in the era of neo-classisicm and neue sachlichkeit. This, combined with a ‘gestural’ phrasing style, means that the performance is highly characterised despite an almost complete lack of vibrato or tonal shaping. It just goes to show how recent an ‘invented tradition’ is our approach to this repertoire.
On 17 May 2016, members of Boxwood & Brass will be giving a concert which is a first attempt at emulating this style of performance, using instruments close to those used in Leipzig at this time. The following blogs will give more detail of our preparation for this concert.
by Emily Worthington