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The Evidence

Stowell, Robin 2012. The Evidence. In: Lawson, Colin and Stowell, Robin eds. The Cambridge History of Musical Performance, The Cambridge History of Music, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 63-104.

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Abstract

This chapter surveys the wide variety of primary source materials which inform performance through history as the surviving evidence for past and present practices. In addition to composers' original autographs, sketches and drafts, sources such as instrumental and theoretical treatises, surviving instruments and their various accessories (e.g. reeds, brass mouthpieces, bows and strings), iconography (whether in the form of sculpture, paintings, engravings, photographs or film) historical archives and recordings are described and evaluated, alongside references in literature, journals, newspapers, concert programmes and sometimes even autobiographies, letters, diaries, catalogues and advertisements. The scope for extension of this already lengthy list of evidence into related art forms such as, for example, dance is also reviewed along with the significance of the relationship between the various source-types and the particular repertory under consideration, its period, its geographical locality and numerous other variables. Discussion then focuses on both the interpretation and the limitations of these sources, which may be of very different origin, content, quality and purpose. Caution must be exercised if false or inaccurate conclusions are to be avoided; for these sources cannot be used safely without thorough and satisfactory assessment of the personality, background, knowledge, status and influence of their authors, the credibility, reliability and consistency their textual content and the musical style and aesthetic they propound, the readership to whom they are addressed, their relationship to other sources, their geographical and temporal limitations, and their relationship to the repertory (and the composers) to which they are applicable. The importance of ‘musical taste’ is emphasized as the final arbiter in the interpretation of historical sources, or in addressing issues unresolved by the body of surviving evidence. Discrimination and judgement must be exercised concerning issues that will best serve the interests of the music, notably the parameters within which the composer was operating, the consequent national or other stylistic boundaries and a wide range of other performance conventions.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Music
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 9780521896115
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 02:59
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/15094

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