Early Music America Fall 2012 - (Page 64)

INconclusion Using the Art of Gesture in CONDUCTING EARLY MUSIC Once we admit that it shouldn’t be done, we can examine the pros and cons of conducting Baroque orchestras and determine an approach that is in keeping with the aims of period performance despite the historic evidence, performances of Baroque orchestral music with a “modern” conductor have come to be accepted. Historically speaking, the facts are clear: during the 17th and 18th centuries, the role of the orchestral conductor, in the modern sense, had not yet been created. A composer like Handel would conduct from the keyboard, while violinist Corelli would indicate cues and musical By Matthias Maute nuances from his position as concertmaster. J.S. Bach liked to play the viola while keeping the orchestra and choir on track. The orchestral music performed at Terror (Le Brun) the court of Louis XIV was sometimes led by a batteur, who would indicate beats by tapping with a long stick on the floor—but that is a far cry from the technique of modern conductors, who express musical intentions with the movement of their hands, arms, and body. As a flutist and not a violinist or keyboard player, I might well follow the advice of Johann Joachim Quantz, flutist at the court of Frederick the Great, who wrote, “Whether a leader plays this instrument or that may be of no importance.” But often I find myself in front of an orchestra with a stick in my hand, not a flute or a recorder. I must feel there is some advantage in doing this that outweighs any historical inaccuracy. Although the early music movement has made the reconstruction of historical truth a guiding principle, it has always been wise enough to allow for compromises when practical issues got in the way. We often use women’s voices in Terror (Toscanini) Bach cantatas and add venting holes in Baroque trumpets, and our programs often include many centuries and nationalities of repertoire all played by a S OMEWHAT SURPRISINGLY, generalized set-up, even though specific instrumental sonorities might be more stylistically accurate. In the same way, it must be admitted that changes occur when adding the physical presence of a conductor. This is not about judging which way is better. As we have seen countless times over the past couple of decades, the results can be outstanding regardless of the type of leadership involved. Although there is certainly much advance preparation on the part of the conductor that goes into a successful performance, once it begins, his or her role is limited to bringing unity and expression to the ensemble by visually expressing musical aspects like character, timing, dynamics, accents, contrasts, and structure. (Visual cues can be important for the audience as well. In the 19th century, conductors like Carl Maria von Weber faced forward rather than “rudely” turning their back to the audience—or they would compromise, sitting sidewise like Mendelssohn, thereby revealing his profile to both the orchestra and the audience.) What do I find I can add to the performance as a conductor when I don’t have an instrument in my hand? Well, the study of 18th-century performance practice has led to the rediscovery of the importance of rhetoric in musical interpretation, and along with rhetoric, the term “musical gesture” has found its way back into today’s rehearsal vocabulary. By definition, musical gestures are the intrinsic physical expressions that reflect different layers of musical meaning, including dynamic nuance, harmonic meaning, and rhythmic direction. Musical gestures are supposed to clarify different expressions and should permit the Continued on page 62 64 Fall 2012 Early Music America

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Early Music America Fall 2012

Editor’s Note
EMA Competition
Sound Bytes
Musings: Listening Forward
Profile: A Classical Playlist on Your Cable Television
Recording Reviews
Reconstructing Spanish Songs from the Time of Cervantes
Janet See: Traversist on Two Continents
Musical Mosaic Explores “Perspectives of Interspersing Peoples”
Book Reviews
Ad Index
In Conclusion: Conducting Early Music

Early Music America Fall 2012