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EMG presents Musica ad Rhenum and baroque flutist, Jed Wentz

November 16, 2009

Jed Wentz performs with Musica ad Rhenum as the second concert on EMG’s famed International Series on Saturday, November 21 at 8PM at Town Hall.  A pre-concert lecture will be given by Mr. Wentz at 7PM.  Tickets ($38/$35/$20, based on location) are available at www.earlymusicguild.org, or by calling (206)325-7066.  Reserve your ticket now to hear a performance you won’t soon forget!

Click here to hear an interview with Jed Wentz and Marty Ronish!

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Jed Wentz, baroque flutist

Music as Gesture

Scholar-flutist Jed Wentz of Music ad Rhenum writes about how hands-on research helps players bring the music of the past back to vivid life.

In Europe today, higher education for musicians involves scholarship as well as performance. This is due in part to the flowering of “historical performance practice,” which has caused attitudes towards music and musicians to change in many, often surprising, ways. An early-music performer is no longer just an executant; by study and research, by experimenting with one’s artistic vision and by testing one’s hypotheses on the stage, the performer only transforms his or her artistic practice, but brings scholarly research to life for a broad and appreciative audience.

My own studies are concentrated on how stage behavior at  the 18th century Paris Opéra invluenced musical performance. For the lover of early music, this is a rich and varied field, a meadow ablaze with fragrant blossoms: costumes, settings, and gestures; dance, poetry and singing; theories about passion, aesthetics, and politics: The challenge  is to stay focused amid such an abundance of tempting topics.

Here is a small example that has proved unexpectedly fruitful to my research. A set of satirical prints, published in Holland during the 18thcentury, shows a series of dancing dwarfs.  They reflect the cruel humor of the time, but also  social and aesthetical attitudes. One of the figures, for instance, is identified as “Mademoiselle Horibilicribrifaxin”–“Miss Terrible-Scream-Noise-Whore”– a not very subtle way of expressing a preference for Italian-style singing seems to be intended as a comment on the “le cri François’, the famous and controversial style of singing associated with the Parisian  tragédie en musique.

More fundamental is how the 18th century theory of emotion affected stage gesture and musical performance, with the goal of discovering how the movements and gestures prescribed for the proper portrayal of emotion influenced  influence the look and sound of the performance.

For the 18th century, “passions” were not vague abstractions but concrete, physical manifestations in the body, (e)motions in fact: the motion of the animal spirits through the body, the flow of the blood, gall, and phlegm, the involuntary reaction of the muscles to these coursing liquids; the resulting gestures, postures, and facial expressions were not seen as stylized but as direct resources for performers to reach the hearts and even the very guts of their audience.

The succession of emotions has a profound effect on music. Composers made the most of the variation in tempo they caused. An aggressive passion–sudden, hot anger–involved lots of motion; the heart would beat fast, the animal spirits coursed through the body; the gestures and voice of the actor in such a passion would be correspondingly abrupt, hot and uncontrolled, and required music with quick tempi and loud instruments. A moderate emotion like love produced a gentle and smooth flow of spirits in the body, warming it: gentle flowing music best described it, in a moderate tempo and a full warm instrumentation, and gestures, facial expression and voice to match.

So too, sadness or depression were signified by a slow movement in the body; its lethargic physical manifestation corresponded to slow tempi, small intervals and with gestures in proportion.

It is easy to see then, how gesture on stage could change the musical performance, for each passion must have its own tempo and its own proper gestures within that tempo: in the 18th century, to change the affect was to change the tempo. Put in a nutshell, both music and gesture were driven by the same inner imperative, both sprang from the same fecund source: the passions expressed in that “more gorgeous excesse of wordes”, the text itself.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 23, 2009 6:38 PM

    My apologies to those of you who were standing in the rain trying to obtain a parking ticket to park your car for this concert. The machine seems to take at least 3 minutes to generate just one ticket and this is much too slow. We will be working hard over the next months to provide more parking options and try to solve this problem. Any other thoughts on parking in the area?

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