The revival of historical instruments

Lawson, C. (2003) The revival of historical instruments. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Orchestra. Cambridge Companions to Music . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 155-168. ISBN 9780521806589 (hardback) 9780521001328 (paperback) 9781139002066 (e-book)


During the past thirty years or so, historical performance in theory and practice has truly established itself as a vibrant part of the orchestral scene. Period instruments are routinely encountered in the concert hall from San Francisco to Budapest and from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro; indeed, they have become virtually obligatory in substantial areas of the orchestral repertory. There is now a widespread interest in recreating the original sounds and styles of a composer's own time and in acquiring appropriate instruments and technique. Meanwhile, the entire focus of such endeavours has been subject to stimulating discussion and argument. It cannot be denied that artistic life today makes demands which are decidedly unhistorical; for example, the microphone introduces a set of parameters which would have been unthinkable in previous generations. Furthermore, air travel has wrought such changes that we do not have the option to turn back the clock. Nevertheless, examination of a variety of primary sources, complementing tradition and intuition, enables earlier styles of performance to be explored; for, as Roger Norrington has remarked, ‘a relationship with the past needs to be founded on truth as well as sympathy, concern as well as exploitation, information as well as guesswork’.

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