Grace Notes: Thoughts about informed performance

One of our classes at Trinity Laban is called Informed Performer. Up until 4th year, the class is all about historically informed performance and we learn about various methodologies and how things were done in the days of Bach etc… This was fairly interesting, but playing Baroque music in a period style, on period instruments isn’t really my cup of tea.

Fourth year however provided a much more varied selection of topics and got me thinking about a few things.

In each class we were asked what we thought made a performance informed. Is it playing the piece how it would have been played in the style of the time it was written? Is it playing the piece being absolutely true to the notes on the page and doing exactly whats printed? Is it looking into what was happening in the composer’s life around then and allowing that information to trickle into the performance? Or is it to let your own personality shine through the work and you as an artist have the final say?

I honestly don’t have an answer for this. Personally I think it depends on the situation, such as who you’re playing to (for an extreme example if you have an audition for a period Baroque ensemble you shouldn’t turn up playing as if it were Wagner) and who you’re playing with.

As I’m learning a piece I try and listen to as many different recordings as I can, some old and some modern so as to get a more varied look at it. I also try to find out as much about the composers life at the time he wrote the piece as I can, and then what the playing fashions were. Once I have all that information I try and tie it all up together to create a performance.

It may not result in the world’s best performance (I’m still not 100% confident with solo performance) but at least I’ll have something to back up my musical choices and I’ll hopefully become a better all-round musician than just churning out the notes on the page.

If you are ever stuck with a piece and aren’t sure where to go with it, then maybe think about the above questions. You may discover something to take your interpretation to a whole new level!

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