Early Music in a sense is any music that is not new now. Mostly, though, the term refers to music in the western tradition originating in times far earlier than our own—from Gregorian chant, say, up until some time in the early part of the nineteenth century (the point at which “mainstream” classical music takes over), a span of about a thousand years. The repertories, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, have needed to be rediscovered, reinterpreted, and reperformed.
A certain attitude to music-making is integral to Early Music. Some might call it letting the music speak for itself. Performers seek to find the sounds that Queen Elizabeth heard, that Bach preferred, that resounded in the Sistine Chapel. To do so requires the right hardware—period instruments and vocal techniques—and the right software: performance style, improvisatory skills, understanding of traditions and conventions. At its best Early Music is the perpetually-new creation of sound-worlds of beauty and excitement.
Thomas Forrest Kelly