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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 1 September 2007

Book Review: Bruce Haynes, Guru of Rhetorical Music

by Tamara Bernstein / September 7, 2007

Bruce Haynes’s latest book should come with a reader advisory: WARNING! The End of Early Music may induce euphoria and cause the reader to spontaneously express their appreciation vocally. Choose your reading venue accordingly.

This tome may also cause major paradigm shifts in how one hears and thinks about music and music making. After this book, many classical music lovers might never use the term “baroque violin” again. With luck, Hayne’s work will lead to increased abandon and wildness in public performances of baroque music.

Haynes, who turned 65 this year, is a soft-spoken man who wears reassuringly comfortable clothes. He is not afraid to speak his mind, and writes on baroque music with an authority to which few can lay claim. In the 1960’s, during the baroque revival, Haynes was one of the revolutionaries who organically mastered period instruments – in his case, the baroque oboe. Alongside an important performing career, Haynes has trained two generations of baroque oboists at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague and in Montreal, where he is a professor at McGill University. He is also an authority on the history of pitch.

The End of Early Music distills Haynes’s lifetime of period music making (or Historically Inspired Performance- HIP, as he prefers to call it) and scholarship into an astute, provocative, and immensely readable text. He carefully takes stock of what HIP has meant over the past four decades, and predicts where it might fruitfully move next.

In many ways, Haynes’ book carries on the great 21st-century burden of extricating so-called classical music from the cultural baggage of the 19th century. Those archaic values have become so ingrained in conservatory training that few classical musicians are even conscious of them, let alone question them.

The brilliant U.S. musicologist Richard Taruskin, whom Haynes cites frequently throughout, has been a key figure in untangling romantic biases from our musical DNA. In the 1980’s, Taruskin, who was a fine gambist himself before retirement, pricked on many HIP balloons while he argued that it had little to do with how baroque music was played in its day, and everything to do with our modernist rebellion against romanticism. That is what led to “strait” (as Haynes spells it) performances of early music – clean but bland concerts that Haynes calls “click-track baroque.”

Taruskin and Haynes are both musical heroes, and their work compliments each other’s well. Both men want us to know ourselves as products of romanticism and our own times. Taruskin launches the debate in one of his “Old Testament” moods, jolting HIP out of its complacency with intellectual brimstone. Haynes takes the more philosophical approach. He believes that HIP has always had a wild and wooly stream running alongside the dreaded strait. Haynes is comfortable with the fact that authenticity in music (he suggests we reclaim the “A-word” from the dustbin) seems “more than anything else… to be a statement of intent” rather than an attainable goal. In other words, the path to HIP enlightenment is so much fun that one should continue the journey, however long it takes (a sentiment ultimately shared by Taruskin).

The heart of Haynes’ book – and the part that could really change the way people (including HIP practitioners) hear and perform music — is the central position he gives to one of the most difficult aspects of 17th- and 18th-century music: rhetoric.

“Rhetorical music,” Haynes writes, “had as its main aim to evoke and provoke emotions – the Affections, or Passions – that were shared by everyone, audience and performers alike. Canonic [i.e., Romantic] music, by contrast, was usually autobiographical in some sense, often describing an extreme experience of the artist-composer: cathartic or enlightening, but above all solitary and individual… Another difference was that while Rhetorical music was temporary, like today’s films—appreciated, then forgotten—Canonic music was eternal and enduring. Rhetorical music was transient, disposable; its repertoire constantly changing. Canonic music was by definition stable, repeatable, and orthodox.”

“What Windows is to computers,” Haynes adds, “Rhetoric was to Baroque and Renaissance musicians: it was their operating system, the source of their assumptions about what music was and what it was supposed to accomplish.” This rhetorical “operating system” consists of small musical gestures or figures – the very things that romantic performance obliterates through long lines and painfully earnest emphasis on every note. Those rhetorical figures had emotional meanings that people of the time more or less commonly understood.

To play baroque or 18th-century music rhetorically is to play not less, but more expressively than romantic (or of course modern) style—as witnessed by reports of 18th-century performers and listeners. They were transported to a degree that would make many audiences and performers—historically informed or not—uncomfortable today.

Haynes dubs rhetorically focused interpretation “eloquent style,” and in opposing it to strait style, he offers a far richer perspective than the basic terms of reference like “boring” versus “passionate.” Non-HIP musicians who read this book—and it should become required reading for students—will also find a route into baroque music that goes beyond the surface issues like crisp eighth notes or curtailed vibrato.

Readers can log on to a companion website to listen to wonderfully chosen excerpts from commercial recordings. Haynes guides the reader through the examples of romantic style of baroque performance from early 20th-century recordings, eloquent HIP and strait HIP.

Haynes’s plainspoken, often witty prose makes complex ideas easy to grasp. His citations include not only a vast array of scholarly sources, but also words of wisdom on style from Coco Chanel, and graffiti found on a bathroom wall in a present-day music conservatory.

He elaborates his ideas with the natural flow of an old hand improvising ornaments in baroque music, and permits himself the delightful subjectivity of treatise writers from the rhetorical era. Just as Francesco Geminiani, writing in 1751, did not hesitate to trash “that wretched Rule of drawing the Bow down at the first Note of every Bar,” Haynes takes “a well-known Period orchestra in Toronto” to task for refusing to allow its musicians to add ornaments to the written scores of canonic 18th-century pieces like Messiah. However Haynes’ does this not to snipe, but to expose 19th-century values underlying an HIP performance.

Meanwhile, scores of readers will be relieved to learn that they are not the only ones who find the Tallis Scholars “boring, without message.” They will also be delighted that Haynes believes that Cecilia Bartoli’s intensely expressive, text-centered performances of Vivaldi “give us an idea how powerful [the old Baroque tradition of declamation] must once have been.”

In the epigraph, Haynes chose three lines from Joni Mitchell’s 1966 song “The Circle Game” that describes us as “captive on the carousel of time”: We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came. Indeed, Haynes analogizes that today’s HIP practitioners are like the Florentines who set out to re-create Greek drama at the end of the 16th century and ended up inventing something totally new—baroque music. Likewise, our most meticulous re-creations of “early music” will inevitably be of our own time.

For Haynes, The End of Early Music merely means the demise of classical music’s Ptolemaic self-centeredness—the delusion that today’s classical music practices represent the norm from which everything else deviates. It also refers to his rechristening of the term “early music” as “rhetorical music”—a far more meaningful term that will surely take root.

By the book’s end, Haynes is still looking forward to uncovering the unexplored realms of HIP—the cultivation of advanced improvisation skills, and composition of music in baroque style. Haynes titles his last chapter “A Perpetual Revolution.” Clearly, the fun has only just begun. n

Tamara Bernstein is a concert curator, recovering music critic, lapsed fortepianist and keen amateur baroque violinist – oops: violinist. She lives in Toronto.

Bruce Haynes, The End of Early Music:
A Period Performer’s History of Music
for the Twenty-First Century

New York: Oxford University Press, 2007

304 pages; 17 music examples; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4;

ISBN13: 978-0-19-518987-2

Price: CA $45.50

(c) La Scena Musicale