I joined the early music revival movement in the wake of the progress made by the great pioneers of the 60s, and therefore witnessed first-hand the way it developed – not only did it spark a revolution in performance practice, it also inspired in musicians a sense of engagement, both with a repertoire and with music-making in general.
While the resistance we experienced back then towards reviving historical performance practice has now given way to acceptance, the inclusion of a few Handel operas in the programmes of our major festivals and opera houses must not make us complacent – we must be wary of conforming and continue to cultivate a spirit of curiosity about music and the circumstances in which it was originally performed.
We heard the sad news of the death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. I should therefore like to dedicate these few lines and this year’s European Day of Early Music to the memory of that great non-conformist musician, in recognition of the central role he played in the early music revival movement.
He once wrote the following: “Art is more than just entertainment. It used to be a vital element of civilisation: you went into a concert hall and came out again devastated, transformed, your certainties stripped away.” What I most expect from the younger generation of musicians as they approach this repertoire (and all music, for that matter), is that they base their interpretations on a close examination of the cultural and historic context in which any given work was written. To quote Harnoncourt again, “The word ‘WHY’ should always be at the forefront of every artist’s mind.”
(Photo Molina Visuals)
It is very important that we join forces to support the music of earlier ages, as well as the performers and organisations who disseminate it, and that is precisely what the European Network for Early Music has done in coming up with the idea of holding this Day of celebration.
Like one of Dostoyevsky’s characters, who says that “beauty will save the world”, we also believe in art which is useful to society ; art which through beauty, grace, emotion and spirituality has the power to transform us and enhance our sensitivity and solidarity.