With our Early Music project on the horizon, Southbank Sinfonia violinist Maria Fiore Mazzarini is your guide to get you started.
Here are her five reasons for giving Baroque a go…
1. MYSTERIOUS JEWELLERY
There has been a lot of research into Early Music, but still we can’t say for sure how the music was performed during that time. We’re still learning so much.
This is why I think Early Music is so fascinating – it involves so much research and thought. What you see on the score is just the beginning of what the piece of music is itself. Sometimes you might look at a score and think it looks incredibly simple, but you have to go so far beyond that into the unknown.
For example, ornamentations or embellishments are for the most part not written in the music but are up to the performer. It is through this creativity that you can transform apparently easy music into a stunning piece of sonic jewellery.
The Baroque period was one of the most extensive styles in the history of Western music. At the time (c.16 – 1700s), each country – Italy, France, Germany, England – had their own stylistic features, but what’s even more interesting is the way these styles mixed with each other. They became contaminated. Much like Europe today, musicians were moving between countries and with them travelled their cultural influences and musical traditions.
Leclair, one of the composers we will be performing in our Early Music project, is a good example: he was born in France but studied in Italy, and combined the technical and virtuosic characteristics of Italian music with French concepts of form and lyricism. These were mashups in their infancy.
Despite what many people assume about Early Music, it has actually been avant-garde throughout its history – encouraging breaks in tradition and the exploration of different techniques in performance.
Baroque repertoire flourished in the 17th century, but then got left in the shadows for over a century as it fell out of fashion. We had to wait until the end of the 19th century for its revival. Scores by Bach and Vivaldi, for instance, were rediscovered and interest blossomed. Performers started to look to recreate authenticity in techniques and styles, but I think it was also a sort of symbolic break from the images and structure that Romantic music was representing. In its own way, it helped reposition the arts for the 20th century.
4. MUSIC = EMOTION
Music today communicates to everyone in their own way, but broadly speaking certain styles make us feel a certain way. Hollywood film scores can convey action, Beethoven mastered joy and despair equally, and patriotism oozes from pieces by Elgar or Tchaikovsky.
Early Music played a crucial role in all of this.
At the end of the 15th century came the ‘Doctrine of Affections’. Its idea was to return music to its ancient, but forgotten, role of expressing emotion and persuading listeners to a specific emotional response. The range of emotions was wide: from anger to excitement, wonder, heroism and contemplation. Composers started breaking traditional compositional rules and found specific harmonies, counterpoint and embellishments that had a huge impact on the listener.
You might be very surprised in some cases… have a listen to Heinrich Biber Battalia in D Major – it’s an emotional rollercoaster!
5. LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
Instruments have evolved a lot over the centuries, so performing on a period instrument gives a specific sound that modern instruments can’t really reproduce. It involves a different technique and different feelings.
For our Early Music project we’ll be playing on gut strings and these have a very particular sound. Nowadays strings are designed to project the sound in big concert halls, whereas gut strings date from an era of performances in churches or small recital halls.
Although they are not as bright and stable in pitch as modern steel core or synthetic strings, they have a very warm and rich sound, with complex overtones. These strings have to be explored to create the sound you want, and the result for performer and audience can be fascinating.
Southbank Sinfonia will be performing a selection of Early and Baroque music in two concerts this March. Why not join us at our free Rush Hour concert at St John’s Waterloo on March 27 (find out more here) or as part of the London Handel Festival on March 28 (find out more here)?
Find out more about Maria Fiore here.