CLOSING THE CIRCLE ‘. . . THE LIVING ARE ALWAYS IN THE RIGHT . . .’
But does this insight mean we have to deny those who come later the right to reanimate the works of earlier times with their own souls? No, for it is only if we bestow upon them our own soul that they can continue to live: it is only our blood that constrains them to speak to us. A truly ‘historical’ rendition would be ghostly speech before ghosts. – We honour the great artists of the past less through that unfruitful awe which allows every word, every note to lie where it was put than we do through active endeavours to help them to come repeatedly to life again.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (1879), Vol. II, Part One, no.126 (tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.242)
Nietzsche’s text confronts us with the question of the so-called ‘historically informed’ approach to performance, a definition very fashionable in recent years, but which in my opinion is superficial, and which has generally replaced, in the reinterpretation of music of the past, the more strictly ‘philological’ approach that was the starting point, from the early 1960s, of the rediscovery of period instruments and the performing practices associated with them.
However, it is interesting to note that such ‘historical’ research was also born out of the need to make early music ‘speak’ to modern listeners, when, for example, great musicians of the past such as Toscanini perceived the performing resources available to them as inadequate for the music of Bach. One of the results of this Baroque ‘New Wave’ was a style of playing early music, especially Italian, with sharper contrasts of colour, much greater emphasis on the rhythmic aspect and, in general, with a ‘rhetorical’, discursive and ‘dramatic’ approach to the scores of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Paradoxically, therefore, the hypothetical ‘truly historical’ (or almost . . .) mode stigmatised by Nietzsche produced ‘modern’ results and also demonstrated similarities between Baroque music and artistic expressions of the twentieth century – such as jazz, where, as in early music, improvisation is of fundamental importance – and also helped us to review the concept of ‘classical music’ in relation to other genres.
So it seems to me that this CD ‘What’s next Vivaldi?’ represents a sort of ‘closing of the circle’, but, from the title onwards, also an interrogation and perhaps a stimulus for reflection on how interpretation of early music may evolve in the future after the revolutionary and exciting ‘philological period’ of recent decades.
For me, a particularly interesting feature is the combination of Vivaldi’s music with contemporary pieces. It’s worth noting that it was not uncommon for twentieth-century composers like Bruno Maderna and Edgard Varèse, two champions of ‘modernism’, to advocate returning to period instruments and rediscovering their playing techniques in order to achieve a better understanding of the repertory of the past, including Romantic music.
Several elements are combined in this recording: the encounter between the experience of Il Giardino Armonico, whose recordings of Vivaldi and eighteenth-century Italian music in the 1990s brought a breath of novelty and freshness into the repertory, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a brilliant and imaginative musician, anti-academic (I would say ‘aphilological’) and ‘modern’ in the most avant-garde sense of the term, in an alliance in which one has the feeling that extremes meet. For example, an original cadenza by Vivaldi for his Concerto Il Grosso Mogul seems to reveal many unexpected affinities with Luca Francesconi’s Spiccato il volo, and, in general, one does not perceive a fracture between Vivaldi and the contemporary composers. All the pieces on the CD, despite the diversity of styles and means, express ‘affections’ that are the true guiding thread of music, because they are linked to the very essence of humanity, from the people of former times to ourselves, the ‘living’.
And it is precisely to us, the ‘living’, that a Beethoven, again in Nietzsche’s imagination (and we could replace Beethoven’s name by Vivaldi’s, even if the latter could not have known Schiller . . .), having unexpectedly returned from the grave and listened to ‘modern’ performances, might perhaps have said:
‘Well, yes! That is neither I nor not-I, but some third thing – and if it is also not exactly right, it is nonetheless right in its own way. But you had better take care what you’re doing, since it’s you who have to listen to it – and as our Schiller says, the living are always in the right. So be in the right and let me depart again’ (Human, All Too Human, loc. cit., p.243).
Perhaps a little explanation is required for the brief Lazzo parlante (track 4), which is actually one of our rhythmic studies during a rehearsal of Aureliano Cattaneo’s Estroso, recorded by the sound engineer without our knowledge. ‘Parlante’ (speaking) because uttered by our voices, though not ‘significant’ because the sounds are simply consonants and vowels invented at the time (to me they are vaguely reminiscent me of the ‘bolo’ syllables used in Indian music and at the same time of György Ligeti’s Aventures) – yet, in our opinion, ‘expressive’. Because of its playful and extemporaneous character, we have associated this moment with the ‘lazzo’, the stock comedy routine of the Commedia dell’Arte, so close to the eighteenth-century Venetian world of masks, music, theatre and irony.
‘You know, people on the crew are all coming up with different ideas about what the film is about’, I said. ‘So I want to be sure exactly what you have in mind.’ I told him a few of the theories I’d heard and asked him which one was right, hoping his answer would guide me in writing the score.
But Antonioni said, ‘All of them. I just put the events together, and the viewer can make his own interpretation of what it is.’
Dialogue between Herbie Hancock and Michelangelo Antonioni concerning the film Blow-Up, for which Hancock wrote the soundtrack music (Herbie Hancock, Possibilities, New York: Viking, 2014)