Transforming Beethoven performance

May 11, 2010
Transforming Beethoven performance
Claire Holden and her Fellowship mentor Professor Robin Stowell

( -- Transforming modern orchestral performances of works by Beethoven and his contemporaries by re-aligning players with the lost string techniques of the early 19th century is the focus of a major new Fellowship at the University.

The School of Music has been awarded a prestigious Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts to tackle orchestral string playing and increase knowledge and understanding of the performance practices of Beethoven’s time.

To date, scholarly research in the field has shown that so-called ‘period’ performances of 19th-century repertoire often lack historical accuracy and fidelity, and true techniques of the age are widely misrepresented. This Fellowship will directly address those issues by aiming to influence the ways in which players in modern period-instrument orchestras perform the music of Beethoven and his contemporaries.

As a result of the research, for the first time, practice-led resources will be developed that will enable performers to build the skills required to reproduce early 19th-century string style. Patterns of musical style will also be established, offering guidance and conclusions about how modern period string players should approach technical and expressive issues.

The Fellow, Claire Holden, is a leading violinist in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), regarded as one of the most outstanding period-instrument ensembles in the world. She has a wealth of orchestral and chamber music experience and has researched violin playing since she was a student at the Royal College of Music. Claire will be mentored by Professor Robin Stowell, an international authority on historically informed string playing who has published pioneering work on performance practices in Beethoven’s era.

Speaking about the importance of the research, Professor Stowell of the School of Music said: “The Fellowship addresses a long-existing void between the performing and scholarly communities. Period-instrument performance is well established and enjoys an increasingly mainstream profile within the classical music industry, but the claim that it is historically informed often does not hold true. Nineteenth century practices have never been fully explored or realised for a number of reasons, including commercial factors, the lack of available training and difficulties in interpreting and realising scholarly material. Whilst several current recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies are well respected, it would be misguided to accept them as definitive examples of historical performance in this repertoire.”

Professor Stowell continued: “The aim of this Fellowship is to transform historical performance by establishing and communicating the information that string players need to understand and assimilate in order to reproduce the techniques that were natural to the performers of Beethoven’s time.”

The project will document and illustrate the physical ways in which lost techniques of the early 19th century can be recreated. The Fellow will examine relevant editions of Beethoven’s orchestral and chamber compositions and provide detailed case studies on Beethoven symphonies for orchestral players and conductors.

Concerts and workshops with the OAE will be held throughout the five-year project to ensure that knowledge transfer from the Fellowship directly affects public performances. Workshops will also be held at the Royal Academy of Music and other leading conservatoires, and pre-concert talks and public lectures will help to expand and enhance the audiences’ understanding and appreciation of 19th century performance.

“Performers, conductors, ensembles, audiences and academics alike will benefit from this Fellowship,” said Professor Stowell. “As well as leading to more faithful performances of the music of Beethoven and his contemporaries, it will also allow the academic community to gain a greater understanding of the problems facing practitioners and to tailor research accordingly in the future.”

The Arts and Humanities Research Council supports world-class research that furthers our understanding of human culture and creativity. The funded research can lead to improvements in social and intellectual capital, community identity, learning skills, technological evolution and the quality of life of the nation.

Explore further: Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mammoth effort brings out the best in Beethoven

Dec 07, 2007

A professor of music has spent 10 years examining every note of every authentic source of every Beethoven piano sonata to produce what he feels is the truest representation of the composer's work.

A sonata a day keeps the doctor away

Jan 07, 2010

The music they listen to doesn't have any lyrics that tell them to grow, but new research from Tel Aviv University finds that premature babies who are exposed to music by 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gain ...

Recommended for you

Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

31 minutes ago

There's some truth to the effectiveness of folk remedies and old wives' tales when it comes to serious medical issues, according to findings by a team from Detroit Medical Center.

History books spark latest Texas classroom battle

Sep 16, 2014

As Texas mulls new history textbooks for its 5-plus million public school students, some academics are decrying lessons they say exaggerate the influence of Christian values on America's Founding Fathers.

Flatow, 'Science Friday' settle claims over grant

Sep 16, 2014

Federal prosecutors say radio host Ira Flatow and his "Science Friday" show that airs on many National Public Radio stations have settled civil claims that they misused money from a nearly $1 million federal ...

User comments : 0