Early music revival

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See Historically informed performance for a more detailed explanation of this topic.

The general discussion of how to perform music from ancient or earlier times did not become an important subject of interest until the 19th century, when Europeans began looking to ancient culture generally, and musicians began to discover the musical riches from earlier centuries. The idea of performing early music more "authentically", with a sense of incorporating performance practice, was more completely established in the 20th century, creating a modern early music revival that continues today.

Study and performance of ancient music before the 19th century[edit]

In England, Johann Pepusch developed an "Academy of Ancient Music" in the 1720s to study music by Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, William Byrd, Thomas Morley, and other composers at least a century old.[1] In Vienna, Baron Gottfried van Swieten presented house concerts of ancient music in the late 1700s, where Mozart developed his love of music by Bach and Handel.[2]

At the end of the 18th century, Samuel Wesley was promoting the music of Bach.[3]

19th century[edit]

In 1808, Samuel Wesley began performing Bach's organ music in a series of London concerts.[3]

Felix Mendelssohn is often credited as an important figure in reviving music from the past. He conducted a famous performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion on 11 March 1829. The concert is cited as one of the most significant events in the early music revival, although the performance used contemporary instruments and the work was condensed, leaving out a significant amount of Bach's music.[4]

Early 20th century[edit]

In the early 20th century, musical historians in the emerging field of musicology began to look at Medieval and Renaissance music more carefully, preparing performing editions of many works. Aside from choirs at the cathedral churches in England which were reviving these pieces, establishing a new standard and tradition in performing Renaissance choral music, several independent instrumental ensembles also emerged in the 1960s. They included Musica Reservata and David Munrow's Early Music Consort. Research into early music was carried out by members of the Galpin Society and independent scholars such as Mary Remnant and Christopher Hogwood.

Other important milestones in the early music revival included the 1933 founding of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland by Paul Sacher—together with distinguished musicians including the pioneering specialist in early vocal music Max Meili, who contributed to the extensive L'Anthologie Sonore series of early music recordings and recorded Renaissance lute songs for HMV—and the 1937 presentation and recording of some of Monteverdi’s Madrigals by Nadia Boulanger in France. Arnold Dolmetsch is widely considered the key figure in the early music revival in the early 20th century.[5] Dolmetsch's 1915 book The Interpretation of the Music of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries was a milestone in the development of authentic performances of early music.


  1. ^ Haskell 1988, p. 14.
  2. ^ Haskell 1988, p. 15.
  3. ^ a b Haskell 1988, pp. 14–15.
  4. ^ Haskell 1988, Chapter 1.
  5. ^ Haskell 1988, Chapter 2.


  • Haskell, Harry (1988). The Early Music Revival: A History. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-01449-3. Dover reprint. 1996.

Further reading[edit]

  • Haskell, Harry (2001). "Revival". In Root, Deane L. (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Oxford University Press.
  • Hogwood, Christopher (1980). Music at Court. Gollancz. ISBN 978-0-575-02877-7.
  • Remnant, M. "The Use of Frets on Rebecs and Medieval Fiddles" Galpin Society Journal, 21, 1968, p. 146.
  • Remnant, M. and Marks, R. 1980. ‘A medieval “gittern”’, British Museum Yearbook 4, Music and Civilisation, 83–134.
  • Remnant, M. "Musical Instruments of the West". 240 pp. Batsford, London, 1978. Reprinted by Batsford in 1989 ISBN 9780713451696. Digitized by the University of Michigan 17 May 2010.
  • Remnant, Mary (1986). English Bowed Instruments from Anglo-Saxon to Tudor Times. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-1981-6134-9.
  • Remnant, Mary (1989). Musical Instruments: An Illustrated History : from Antiquity to the Present. 54. Amadeus Press. ISBN 978-0-9313-4023-9.

External links[edit]

  • Medieval.org description of early music and the history of performance practice
  • Renaissance Workshop Company the company which has saved many rare and some relatively unknown instruments from extinction.