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In Search of A Lost Language: Performing in Early-Recorded Style in Viola and String Quartet Repertoires (October 2019)

Early recordings made between the 1880s and mid-1930s reveal a wide gap between the performance practices of a century ago and those of today. Though many contemporary musicians often claim fidelity to composers’ intentions, they clearly prefer to avoid the risks associated with playing in ways familiar to the very composers to whom they pledge fidelity. Given this state of affairs, I, Emlyn Stam, suggest a re-thinking of the concept of Werktreue, predicated upon the notion that 19th-century performers enacted their fidelity to works and composers by creating altered and highly personalized versions of the detail, structure and time of composers’ works. My own performances aim to enact this performer-centred Werktreue in order circumvent the frequently restrictive nature of modern performance practices while closing the gap between these practices and those heard on early recordings of viola solo, viola/piano and string quartet repertoires. The question my work engages with is: how might viola and string quartet playing in the performer-centered, moment-to-moment and communicative style heard on early recordings be brought about today? In order to achieve this aim, the study of relevant literatures on early-recorded style is combined with historical research and the detailed analysis and ‘all-in’ copying of early recordings.

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