Anacortes Arts Foundation

What Is Historically Informed Performance?

Historically informed performance (period performance) is an approach in Western music which adheres to the knowledge, as it is currently known, of the instruments and performance practice of the period in which the music was conceived. Access to examples of earlier musical instruments and historical treatises are the basis on which period performance is formed.  Instruments corresponding to the period of the music being performed are used, as well as technique and aesthetics of the period.

Why Historically Informed Performance?

I am an adventurer.  I like invention.  I like discovery.   

Early on in my career, I was known as a performer of contemporary music:  a disciple of the avant-garde and master of extended technique. So how did I end up specializing in historically informed performance?  Because my interest in experimental music has never been confined to the present day.

Every age has its avant-garde. There was a time when Mozart was incredibly modern; when the string quartet was an experimental configuration; and when the cello as a solo instrument was unthinkable.

Textbooks and program notes neatly parse the history of music into periods clearly defined by common stylistic traits and start/stop dates. In reality, though, the boundaries were never so distinct. Between Bach and Mozart or Haydn and Brahms there are nebulous grey areas:  so-called “transitional” periods characterized by intense musical experimentation.

History largely glosses over these interstitial periods – the works are sometimes strange, non-conforming to any codified style – but I love these self-same works for their sense of freedom and wanton exploration.

There is more to the history of music than we have been told  – and these are the storied I want to tell.

–   Karlheinz Stockhausen  (1928 – 2007)