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About Historically Informed Performance & Improvisation

What is Historically Informed Performance?

Historically informed performance includes both using historical equipment, such as original instruments or copies of original instruments, and trying to make historical interpretive decisions, such as improvising ornaments and cadenzas, and using vibrato more selectively.

What are HIP’s origins?

Interest in ancient music goes back to the 19th century, with performances such as Felix Mendelssohn’s famous revival of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, but interest in performing this older music in the style of its own time didn’t take hold until the early 20th century, when pioneers such as Arnold Dolmetsch in England and August Wenzinger in Germany became interested in historical instruments and style.

Why HIP?

Using historical techniques and musical ideas on period instruments allows for a whole new world of expressive possibilities, and a freedom from the written musical page which has become so revered in the intervening centuries.

What is Historical Improvisation?

Historical improvisation is the ability to fill in the natural blanks left by composers, to be able to improvise whole pieces of music in recognizable styles of the past, and everything in between. Improvisation was just one of many required duties of all musicians in the renaissance, baroque, and classical periods, and to a lesser extent in the romantic period, when improvisation began to be discouraged by German piano teachers who valued accuracy in performance more highly than the kind of musical deftness required by improvisation. Nuova Pratica is just one of many ensembles hoping to bring improvisation of all kinds back in vogue, not only because it’s wildly fun, but because we sincerely believe musicians of all sorts can benefit from being freed by the strictures of a page now and again (not that improvisation is unrestricted!).

What is Partimento?

A partimento is a small piece of music written as a bass line with figures (numbers and symbols written over the notes, indicating which harmonies to play), which was used primarily by keyboard students in 17th and 18th century Naples as a means to learn improvisation, counterpoint, and fluency in musical language. The word “partimento” in the 21st century has evolved to signify the entire Neapolitan school and methodology in which partimenti were merely a component, bringing along with it newly rediscovered teaching methods like Solfeggio (not quite the kind we know!), and spawning new ideas like Schemata theory, which is a way of understanding stylized music as a series of interconnected tropes or idioms. Partimento is becoming an increasingly popular object of study, with more and more theorists, musicologists, and instrumentalists engaging with it every year.

Listen to some examples of partimenti by Nuova Pratica members below!