Andrew Parrott. Composers’ Intentions? Lost Traditions of Musical Performance

Andrew Parrott. Composers’ Intentions? Lost Traditions of Musical Performance
The Boydell Press, 2015
Paperback. 421pp, ISBN 9781783270323

Andrew Parrott is one of the leading members of a particularly influential generation of musician/scholars who founded performing groups in the 1970s: in his case, the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players, founded in 1973 . They changed the way that we think about, perform, and listen to, ‘early’ music. Unlike many conductors who cut their teeth in the world of period performance, Andrew Parrott has retained his strong research interests, notably around the music of Bach and Monteverdi. Perhaps best known for his book, The Essential Bach Choir (published in 2000), an expansion of the theories of Joshua Rifkin that Bach’s choirs were essentially performing as one to a part, Parrott remains an essential component of the early music world. Hence the importance of his latest book: Composers’ Intentions? Lost Traditions of Musical Performance.

This important collection of previously published essays, combined with Andrew’s further reflections on aspects of period performance, includes detailed discussions of the principal topics that Parrott has become involved with, including matters of pitch in Monteverdi and the make up of Bach’s choirs. Around 90 pages are devoted to the Monteverdi question and 60 to the Bach choir issue with a further 50 pages on Purcell. Amongst other topics are further musings on Bach, Monteverdi and Purcell, and a major new article on the countertenor voice (‘Falsetto Beliefs: The ‘Countertenor’ Cross-Examined, 76 pages) and the French haute-contre voice. More recent research interests are reflected in the article on Andrew’s reconstruction of Bach’s ‘lost’ Trauer-Music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, related to the CD released in 2011.

Whether used to rehearse the arguments (and Parrott is remarkably willing to give his critics space), or to dip into the complicated and controversial world of period performance scholarship, this eminently approachable and readable book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The index is a good way of getting into the detailed discussions – for example, hidden away in the essay on ‘Falsetto Beliefs’ is an interesting chapter on organ pitch, a mind-boggling subject that, not surprisingly, generate more words in footnotes than in the text itself. There are similar fascinating snippets on keyboard temperament and Purcell ornaments – all essential reading for performing musicians, and a very worthwhile addition to the knowledge base of the listening public.

Further details and chapter headings can be found at here.

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