9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Bach Performances during the Late 20th Century: Practice, Scholarship, and Reception

Dorottya Fabian Somorjay

A thorough review of performance practice research, contemporary reviews and interviews as well as a close study of recordings of the Goldberg Variations and Brandenburg Concertos provide the background to this paper. The analysis of these sound and written documents supports the view that the metric performance of rhythm and an articulation stemming from this are key factors in creating a historically stylish performance, often more crucial than the use of period instruments or the execution/addition of ornaments. The analysis however also points to contradictions between scholarship and practice, and to anomalies in proclaimed and actual achievements. Two of these issues are investigated further: (i) the performance and perception of dotted rhythms, and (ii) the nature and identity of meaning in the perception of baroque music.

The first, being a much emphasised topic of the 1960s-1980s, warrants special consideration because the study of sound recordings and published arguments shows discrepancy regarding the execution, ratio and consequent musical character of dotted patterns. The paper compares musicological theories with digitally measured dotting ratios in various commercial recordings, and reports on experiments designed to test listeners’ perceptions of the “dotted”-ness of musical excerpts using empirically hypothesised ratios and articulations.

The second is an initial step towards addressing an anomaly that seems to underlie the current understanding of baroque performance practice: namely the tacit assumption that the perceptual process is transparent. In this regard the results of another experiment are provided that examines the characteristics of a ‘stylish’ baroque performance as judged by listeners as opposed to theoretical claims.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita