I am still fighting with Bruce Haynes’s The End of Early Music. For me, the book turned out to be even more depressing than its pessimistic title suggested. It is truly the end of a lot of things when the art of text editing is being addressed in such a nonchalant manner as here (would you, in a scholarly book, expect a pallet-palate blooper?), and when the author’s promise to present the reader with “merely personal reflections on the present state of the historically informed performance movement” (p. viii) clearly serves as a free ticket for abandoning great thoughts (of which there are quite a few in this book as well) whenever their proper development becomes a little tricky. This is the opposite of a page-turner: one of those books where, right from the first page onward, the reader keeps mumbling “uh huh, this makes sense, but what was the point again?” And I am not even addressing the issues where I disagree with Haynes; these do exist, too.
Specifically, I disagree with the polemic undertone of the book, which disqualifies it as a HIP textbook, which it otherwise might have been. Polemics in Early Music were an often annoying reality of the discussions of the sixties and seventies. The pointed statement of otherness was the fuel that kept HIP performers going, and the gleeful celebration of aesthetic outrage was the main theme of the HIP–mainstream confrontation – both for the performers and the public. But this is history. Even when Taruskin published his collected work on the Early Music phenomenon of the 20th century in his book Text and Act (1995), the polemic component of his style had become outdated. Clear thought – especially analytical, retrospective thought – can, in fact, be presented without the aid of vigorously kicking boots. The historian and the politician ought to be two different persons.
Tvelve years after Taruskin, Haynes can afford to be less belligerent. He writes with a smile and a wink. He loves anecdotes. But the boots are still there, and they come into action whenever you least expect it. He is less organized than Taruskin as well, which is even more problematic. His discussion of the canonization of Early Music, for example, is too hand-hewn to be truly deep, and as such it fails to be helpful for those who play Early Music today – who actually owe their dedication to their profession to experiences such as having heard Haynes in concert when they were teenagers (like I did).
All this makes me sad. I have always had great respect for Haynes as a performer, and I regularly consult his dissertation on pitch standards for my work. I would like to love his book – but I really don’t.
As said, I am still fighting. If I am still fit to write when I’m done reading there is likely more to come.
Tags: performance practice