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What is Early Music?

What is Early Music?


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

Short Bibliography

Books about Early Music in General

The Early Music Revival

The Early Music Revival: A History

By Harry Haskell
Thames and Hudson, 1988; Dover, 1996

Inside Early Music

Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers

By Bernard Sherman
Oxford University Press, 1997

The Authenticity Wars

Authenticity and Early Music

Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium

By Nicholas Kenyon
Oxford University Press, 1988

Text & Act

Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance

By Richard Taruskin
Oxford University Press, 1995

Books about Performance Practices

A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music

A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music

By Ross Duffin
Early Music America Performer’s Guides to Early Music; Indiana University Press, 2000

A Performer's Guide Renaissance Music

A Performer’s Guide to Renaissance Music

By Jeffery Kite-Powell
Early Music America Performer’s Guides to Early Music; Schirmer Books, 1994; 2nd edition, Indiana University Press, 2007

Historical Performance Music

The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction

By Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell
Cambridge University Press, 1999 (discusses Baroque and Classical music)

Early Music America

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