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

Musicians working before 1800 were already beginning to study ancient music. They did not seek to perform the music according to its original performance practices, which constitutes a primary difference between pre-1800 interest in ancient music and modern interest in early music.[citation needed]

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 'ancient' composers.[1] At the end of the 18th century, Samuel Wesley was promoting the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in 1808 began performing Bach's organ music in a series of London concerts.[2]

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.[3]

19th century

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

Early 20th century

In the early 20th century, musical historians in the emerging field of musicology began to look at Renaissance music more completely and carefully, preparing performing editions of many works. The choirs at the cathedral churches in England were quick to revive these pieces, establishing a new standard and tradition in performing Renaissance choral music. 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), pp. 14-15
  3. Haskell (1988), p. 15
  4. Haskell (1988), Chapter 1
  5. Haskell (1988), Chapter 2


  • Haskell, Harry. "Revival". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)
  • Haskell, Harry (1988). The Early Music Revival: A History. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-01449-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Dover reprint. 1996.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • 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.