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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 24 x 16.5 x 2.5 cm
TITLE Bach Performance Practice, 1945-1975: A Comprehensive Review of Sound Recordings and Literature by Dorottya Fabian.
PUBL. DETAILS Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, October 2003. xiv+314p. Hard back. Price: £52.50
ISBN 0-7546-0549-3
TO ORDER Ashgate Publishing Limited, Gower House, Croft Road, Aldershot, Hants GU11 3HR, UK.
DESCRIPTION A comprehensive review of  recordings of Bach's Passions, Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations made between 1945 and 1975.
WORKS COVERED 78, 106, 232, 243, 244-5, 988, 1046-51, 1061, 1066-9.
READERSHIP Scholars and Performers who are working in the field of Early Music.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION One of the first comprehensive studies on the recorded performance of the post WW2 era.

he way we judge the performances of Bach’s works—convincing or unconvincing—depends very much on what we presently consider them stylish or otherwise. This aesthetic judgement is quite complex: while some may insist that the appreciation of music should be approached purely as natural, instinctive response to sound, the majority of others consider the music and its performance in a wider cultural and historical contexts as well.
The studies of historical documents,  instruments, performance techniques and practice, the changing styles of performance in the past, all contribute to this knowledge. We know that it is impossible to recreate exactly how Bach performed his works; we also know that we cannot listen to the music with the same mindset and expectation that an average audience in the mid 18th-century Leipzig would have had. Yet we performers and musicologists strive to work in search for an approximation of historical truth, for we believe that like any other forms of art, music can still be appreciated with less than perfect understanding of the creators’ original ideas. We must acknowledge that there are still a lot to be uncovered and learned. We learn from history to make progress, which we believe we all must do.

List of Figures and Tables

List of Music Examples




1. The Early Music Movement: Theory and Context
2. The Early Music Movement: A Style-oriented History
3. Resources: Instruments, Voices, Size of Ensembles and the Problem of Balance
4. Interpretation I: Tempo and Dynamics
5. Interpretation II: Ornamentation
6. Interpretation III: Rhythm
7 Interpretation IV: Articulation




CD Track List


objective assessment of discussions -- valuable
This monograph is said to be a reworked version of the author’s PhD dissertation ‘Bach Recordings 1945–1975: St Matthew and St John Passions, Brandenburg Concertos and Goldberg Variations—a study of performance practice in the context of the early music movement’ (The University of New South Wales, 1998).
In her book, Fabian examines how the Early Music Movement took its root, what kinds of aesthetics and ideologies were behind the driving force, and how they interacted. The definition of ‘authenticity’ is revisited, and by so doing she sheds light on how this immaculate concept became spoilt by our endeavour to uncover the truth. A very fascinating reading! Her discussion of the ‘historical-informed performance vs. mainstream performance’ in particular reminded me of my own experience with the HIP in the 70s which, if I recall rightly, sounded very much like the laboratory experiments done by amateur performers. By reading this book, many similar questions that I had for many years are answered, leaving fresh and satisfying impression, even though the reminiscence of ‘dissertation style’ of expression hangs around in the air.

What I felt most valuable is the author’s objective assessment of both the musicologists’ discussions of many aspects of performance of Bach’s works and the recordings made by then considered leading performers of 1945–1975—a very comprehensive collection in itself—which are all very neatly organised and structured in the book. She of course does not limit herself strictly to this 30-year period: although the so-called ‘Bach Bow’ is absent from her discussion, she extends her argument on the other side of the chronological scale by touching on the issue of Bach’s vocal ensemble that was kindled by Rifkin in 1981.

From the perspective of research, this book will be remembered as one of the first comprehensive studies on the recorded performance. By focusing on several major works by Bach in the 30-year period immediately after the World War II, she succeeded in telling us fascinating stories from both performers and scholars of what they considered important, their mistakes and achievements, leaving lots of food for thoughts on what we may achieve in the future.

Published online on 12 April 2004