Performing Practice in the 21st Century

Up until the 19th century performing practice did not exist as we know it today. As revivals of early music began, people began to wonder how this music would have been performed in its own time? From about 1890 to the present day, performing practice has become a much larger part of the canon of western repertoire. As with any historical practice there can be discrepancies such as misconstrued meanings of the original musical notation or a change in meaning over time. Any student of performing practice must carefully study the musical notation and symbols of each historical period. According to Harry Haskell, the historical performance movement began in 1890 through 1945. During this time there is a sort of revival in the making of early instruments. How can we truly appreciate early music without the instruments on which it was originally played?

Now how does this relate to us in our present day? Why should we care about the historical practice of this music? Most musicians of the 19th century believed that older music needed to be improved by performing it on modern instruments with their volume and added brilliance. A few others believed that unexpected beauties might be revealed if these works were performed as originally intended. I have to agree. There would be no history if we performed all music as we do now. There would be no variety, no unexpected beauty in discovering something we previously did not know existed. How could we take a work that we did not create and assume it needs to be made better? That is inconsiderate to the composers that produced such mastery.

So how do we continue this tradition today? Try to stay true to the composer and the historical period and to uncover the hidden beauties within.

-Jamille Brewster-img_0121


Burkholder, Peter J. “The Baroque era” Borrowing, 8: The Baroque era (accessed January 22,2017)

Brown, Howard Mayer. “General” Performing practice, I: Western (accessed January 22, 2017)

Duckles, Vincent. “Performing Practice” Musicology, II: Disciplines of musicology (January 2014) (accessed January 22, 2017)

Haskell, Harry. “Early Music” Early Music (accessed January 22, 2017)


2 thoughts on “Performing Practice in the 21st Century

  1. ntblack1992 says:

    I’ve always been curious as to what the performance practices are for early vocal music. Was vibrato a big aspect of it back then? It certainly wasn’t on stringed instruments.


  2. clvillarreal2 says:

    What we have to remember, Nathan, is that the vocalists were different back then also so we can never really imitate the way it was back then. Then, we had boys singing instead of women which in itself is different because their vocal chords aren’t as developed as a woman’s. I feel as if vocal teachers of today need to think about the student sometimes more than the technique used back then. We only have one set of vocal chords. If we hurt ourselves, we’re out of luck because we can’t just get a new one and keep practicing. That’s something we constantly struggle with as vocalists, I’d also be interested to see what successful, famous, conductors do when leading vocalists through these issues.


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