Oxford University project aims to transform 19th-Century Historically Informed Performance

17 May 2016

A project which will shed light on how musicians rehearsed and interacted with each other in the 19th Century has begun at Oxford University.

The research will help today's professional performers and music college students understand more about 19th-century style, and will offer them new approaches to the preparation of music for performance, as well as expanding their expressive possibilities.

Oxford's Faculty of Music has been awarded a large Research Grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to host a major new project, Transforming Nineteenth-Century Historically Informed Performance (HIP).

The £1 million project will run over five years, bringing together leading performers, performer/scholars, and academics in an effort to effect a step-change in approaches to professional period performance of C19th repertoire.

'Historically informed performance’ means seeking to perform music in a style that may have been used when the piece was originally performed. ‘Period performance’ means performing on instruments from the time the piece was composed or modern reproductions of such instruments.

The project's Principal Investigator, Claire Holden, said: 'Contemporary performances of C19th repertoire by specialist ‘period instrument’ ensembles reflect little of what is known about historical style. Many aspects of C19th style are fundamentally at odds with the habits and expectations of modern day performers and audiences, conservatoire training and methods of performance preparation.

'As a result, "period" ensembles are finding it more and more difficult to maintain a distinct identity in a marketplace where they are increasingly in direct competition with 'modern' orchestras – often playing the same repertoire with the same conductors and soloists in a similar style.

'The aim of this project is to engage performers and audiences in a re-invigoration of the ways in which C19th music is performed, by focusing on how this music is prepared for performance. We will use historical knowledge not for prescriptive ends but to open up a wide variety of radical performance and pre-performance practices.'

Transforming C19th HIP will address these questions through scholarly research, empirical investigation, and practical enquiry and experimentation, combining historical performance and performance studies scholarship in a significant long-term research project.

Centred on rigorous academic research, this integrated approach offers the possibility of far greater impact and influence than does a traditional musicological approach alone.

The research team brings together experience and knowledge of C19th performance practice, professional performance, psychology of performance, empirical musicology, performance studies, the study of creativity in performance, and professional HIP artistic direction.

The project has two partner organisations: the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; and the Royal Academy of Music.

Professor Eric Clarke, Oxford University’s Heather Professor of Music and the project’s Co-Investigator, said: 'The project is going to employ a very exciting combination of historical, practical and empirical methods, and will be thoroughly engaged with a world-leading HIP orchestra and its audience, and with the students and staff of a world-leading conservatoire.

'It's a unique research opportunity, and one that we hope will make a substantial contribution to the ways in which this amazing music is approached by performers and audiences alike.'

For more information or to request an interview, please contact Claire Holden on [email protected]