The Early Trio Sonata in France and England: Style and performance issues
The primary aim of my PhD project is to bring the repertoire of the earliest French and English trio sonatas – until recently largely overlooked – into the modern concert hall by taking the initial influence of Italian styles as underlying inspiration towards its interpretation.
In the closing decades of the seventeenth century the introduction of Italian sonata idioms had a significant effect on local cultures of instrumental music in London and Paris. Sonata repertoire from the Ile de France and southern England in the years 1680 to 1705 exhibits many sorts of hybridity between Italian concepts and practices and local stylistic traditions.
My project has three components. Firstly, a group of recordings of representative sonatas from England and France, made as part of a larger research project with Ensemble Diderot. Secondly, a commentary on programming aspects, performance issues and decisions that informed the recordings. Fundamental to the commentary is the examination of how a professional chamber ensemble approaches a repertoire which has not been embedded in the expanded Baroque canon and for which there is at best a patchy and very recent performance tradition. In particular, it looks at how the ensemble has tried to establish its own identity in this repertoire by challenging and re-evaluating interpretative conventions and controversies on ‘technical’ issues such as slurring, ornaments, over-dotting and notes inégales on the one hand, and choice of sound production, instruments and ensemble style on the other.
An Appendix establishes the chronology of Italianate sonatas composed in France during the period, thereby complementing the detailed chronology of the English repertoire that has already been satisfactorily established by other researchers. Finally, it contains new critical editions of key representative pieces.
As I am constantly asking myself questions such as: How was this music performed at the time? What do we know about it? What more can we find out? What are the technical challenges? What instruments were used? and most importantly: How should this music be performed to today’s audience? this project basically is my professional work as a performing baroque violinist, with the only difference that I had to go a few steps further than usually, by documenting my trains of thought, explaining my position, proving my theories.
I am quite critical of the HIPP movement in some points in my thesis – judging some of the established conventions rather harshly. Therefore my work benefited a lot from being in an institution like the Royal Academy of Music, where HIPP is taught on a world-class level and where I could analyse how the different teachers approach it. The vibrant environment of the Academy allowed me to conduct my research by working with other students, discussing with professors, participating in rehearsals and concerts, coaching chamber music, but also the possibility to receive advice in coaching sessions with eminent professors in order to discuss certain theories that came out of my research and to put them into practice.
At the moment, the HIPP movement is in a very strange but at the same time exciting place. Much has been accomplished over the past four decades and on one hand there is the prevailing feeling that “We know how Baroque music has to sound”, but on the other hand there is a “post HIPP” movement emerging that says “Yes, we will never really know, but let’s dig a bit deeper still.” I hope my PhD project can contribute to this further understanding of Baroque music and developing new ways of looking at it and performing it.
Since I started playing and recording professionally, my approach has always been based on research. Working on a PhD forced me to refine my methods and to develop a more thorough way of conducting and documenting my research. This had immediate repercussions also on my other projects.
Header Image Credit: Julien Benhamou