Period instruments, material objects, and the making of the 20th–century early music revival
Perez, Maia Williams
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When period instruments first appeared, audiences were highly skeptical of their musical value. It was not until the early-1900s—and performers like Arnold Dolmetsch—that they began to become not only accepted, but increasingly mandated for early music performances. However, while criticisms regarding their use persisted into the 1940s, it has never received the type of intense debate other details of performance practice have. Perhaps because of this lack, scholarship has also neglected to consider what ideological roles period instruments have played in historical performance. Why does the role of period instruments matter? Partly because most writing about early music includes assumptions about them and their importance; for instance, mid-20th century performance practice guides implicitly assign them considerable authority over the ever-contested designation of “authenticity.” However, this is not the only role period instruments play. I argue that early advocates for period instruments like Arnold Dolmetsch used them to create a type of “intimacy” crucial to many aspects of performance practice. Created through both the instruments' materially and their timbres, this intimacy closes temporal and spatial historical gaps, allowing performers and their audiences to connect with distant musics in a modern way—and allowing “old” music to develop a living musical value.