Period instrument movement | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Period instrument movement

IntroductionTerms such as 'early music,' 'original instruments,' and 'period performance' have been used somewhat fluidly by the media, the music industry, and musicians.

Period instrument movement

Terms such as 'early music,' 'original instruments,' and 'period performance' have been used somewhat fluidly by the media, the music industry, and musicians. This article surveys the performance, in Canada, of repertoire from ca 1600-1820 (ie, baroque, classical, and early romantic) using instruments (or modern replicas), techniques, and stylistic sensibilities from the appropriate period.

Physical differences between instruments from these periods and their modern counterparts include, for bowed stringed instruments, the use of gut rather than steel strings; shorter fingerboards; the absence of a chin-rest on violins or an endpin on cellos; shorter, convex bows; and lower string tension. The woodwind instruments have few or no keys; brass instruments are valveless. Early pianos have wooden rather than metal frames, small, leather-covered hammers, and a smaller compass (5 octaves in the 1780s; 6 to 6 1/2 in the early 1800s). Period instrument ensembles play at a pitch lower than the modern a´ = 440; 415 is common for baroque repertoire; 427 or 430 for classical music.

With regard to interpretation, period performers favour the rhetorical, speech-like approach described in numerous early treatises, which stands in contrast to the 19th-century emphasis on long melodic lines and homogeneous sound. Selective use of vibrato, as an ornamental rather than a constant feature, also contributes to the distinctive sound of period instruments. Orchestras are generally led by either the concertmaster or the harpsichordist rather than a conductor.

During the late 1970s and the 1980s the period instrument movement became an important component of musical life in Canada, as elsewhere. In Canada, its initial impetus came from the European movements (eg, the Academy of Ancient Music in London, founded in 1973), but the ground had been prepared by the pioneer work of Canadian musicians such as Arnold Walter, who played the recorder and encouraged such performances in Toronto; Rj Staples, who used recorders in school music programs as early as 1938; Mario Duschenes, who began playing and teaching recorders in Montreal in 1948; Celia Bizony, who founded the McGill Schola Cantorum and the group Musica Antica e Nuova in 1949 and 1951 respectively; the harpsichordist Greta Kraus; the cellist and gambist Peggie Sampson; and Rowland Pack, who established the first of his early music groups in 1955 with his wife, Carol, and the recorder player Hugh Orr. The Hart House Viols were heard in Toronto in the 1930s in performances given by the Conservatory String Quartet. Wolfgang Grunsky, who began to teach recorder and viol in Toronto in 1951, was the founder in 1953 of the Hart House Viols, a group which as the Hart House Consort of Viols was led later by Peggie Sampson. Kraus' students have included Valerie Weeks, and Sampson taught the gambist Alison Mackay (of Tafelmusik and the Toronto Consort) and Christel Thielmann (a gambist with Tafelmusik in its early years, and later active the USA). Christine Mather, who co-founded the Manitoba University Consort with Peggie Sampson in 1963, was also instrumental in setting up early music programs at the University of Victoria and Wilfrid Laurier University.


Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal have been the major centres for period instrument performance. The Vancouver Society for Early Music has played a central role, through its winter and summer concert seasons, which feature local and internationally renowned performers; its quarterly publication, Musick (begun in 1979); and its summer programs. The society and the CBC co-sponsored a series of baroque concerts given 1980-9 by the CBC Vancouver Orchestra's string section, for which the players used baroque bows and gut strings. These concerts and broadcasts were initiated while John Eliot Gardiner was director of the orchestra, and continued after his departure, with guest soloists and directors such as Nancy Argenta, Monica Huggett, Ton Koopman, and Stanley Ritchie. In 1989 these concerts were discontinued, with the founding of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, a small period instrument orchestra led by Marc Destrubé, violin, which gave its inaugural performance at the University of British Columbia 21 Apr 1989 (also co-sponsored by the society and the CBC).

Chamber music groups in Vancouver have included Hortulani Musicae (Ray Nurse), the Cecilian Ensemble (David Skulski), and Musick Masters (members in 1989: flutist Geneviève Blanchard, Calgary; cellist Martin Bonham, Victoria; and harpsichordist Doreen Oke, Vancouver). Other important performers include the recorder player Peter Hannan and the harpsichordist Martha Brickman (former winner of the Bruges competition).

In Winnipeg, the MusikBarock Ensemble, founded 1989 and directed by harpsichordist Eric Lussier, uses a mixture of period and modern instruments, with the intention of becoming a fully original instrument ensemble. Lussier and harpsichordist Janet Scott also founded the Manitoba Harpsichord Association in the mid-1980s.

In Toronto Tafelmusik, founded in 1978 by Kenneth Solway (recorder, oboe) and Susan Graves (bassoon), has attracted resident and guest performers. Baroque Music Beside the Grange, founded in 1984 by Alison Melville (recorder, flute) and Colin Savage (recorder, classical clarinet) presents an annual chamber music series (three concerts in 1984, twelve in 1990). Other ensembles based in Toronto include Musick Fyne, founded in 1984 as Musiconsort (Melville and Savage, with Terry McKenna, lute and theorbo, Valerie Weeks, harpsichord, Mary-Enid Haines, soprano, and earlier, Jennifer Huggett, gamba); Les Coucous Bénévoles (Colin Tilney, harpsichord, Elissa Poole, flute, Nan Mackie, gamba, David Greenberg, violin); and the Classical Trio (Jean Lamon, violin, Christina Mahler, cello, Boyd McDonald, fortepiano). Other active performers in Toronto include Stephen Marvin, violin, Elizabeth Keenan, harpsichord, and Susan Prior, recorder and flute. Jaak Liivoja-Lorius (b Tallinn, Estonia 20 Jan 1941) is a baroque violinist and violist; in he 1980 opened a violin dealership, Liivoja-Lorius Strings, in Toronto. He was co-editor of The Strad 1982-5, and has written on the violin and its history for several publications, including some 160 articles for The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments.

Toronto singers specializing in baroque style and technique include the mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell, the tenors David Arnot and David Fallis, and the countertenors Stratton Bull and Theodore Gentry. In the choral scene, the Toronto Chamber Society, founded in 1969 and, beginning in 1984, directed by David Fallis, and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, founded in 1981, specialize in 18th-century repertoire and technique.

Elsewhere in Ontario, Ruth and Ronald Moir, formerly of Winnipeg and Toronto, and in 1991 living in Owen Sound, and Boyd McDonald of Kitchener-Waterloo, perform and lecture on 18th- and early 19th-century fortepianos. In London, Ont, Parnassus, a chamber orchestra, is directed by David Lenzon

Montreal period instrument groups include the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, founded in 1974, and Ensemble Arion and the Ensemble Les Nations de Montréal, both founded in 1981. Performers include the keyboardists Hendrik Bouman (a former member of Musica Antiqua Köln), Kenneth Gilbert, John Grew, Bernard and Mireille Lagacé, Réjean Poirier, and Geneviève Soly (who has run the concert series Les Idées Heureuses); the wind players Marie-Franz Richard (oboe), Brune Haynes (oboe), and Claire Guimond (flute); the string players, Mary Cyr (gamba), Chantal Rémillard (violin), Jean-François Rivest (violin; based in Montreal and Chicoutimi), Marcel St-Cyr (gamba, cello), and Nicole Trottier (violin); and the singers Allan Fast, Daniel Forget, and Valerie Kinslow. The Ensemble Nouvelle-France was founded in Quebec City in 1977.

Canadians who have established international careers in the period instrument movement include the sopranos Nancy Argenta and Suzie LeBlanc (both based in London in 1991) and the mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin.

Dance And Opera

In Canada instrumentalists and singers have studied baroque dance with Elaine Biagi-Turner in Toronto and Ottawa, and with Catherine Lee in Vancouver, in order to understand the gestures of baroque music, which is largely rooted in dance. Biagi-Turner, who arrived in Toronto from the USA in 1977, is founder (1981) and artistic director of the performing company Danse Baroque, and teaches baroque dance and gesture privatetly and at York University, Wilfrid Laurier University's summer workshop, and several colleges in the USA.

Opera Atelier, founded in Toronto in 1985 by Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg, presents historically informed performances of opera, ballet, and theatre from the 17th and 18th centuries. Danse Baroque, Opera Atelier, and Lee's Dance historia in Vancouver all use period instrument orchestras or ensembles in their productions.


Education in period instrument performance in Canada has lagged far behind popular acceptance of the movement. In 1990, very few institutions had significant year-round programs, with the result that virtually all of Canada's leading practitioners had received their specialized training abroad, especially in the Netherlands.

McGill University in 1990 had a noteworthy program in period performance; faculty members include performer-musicologist Mary Cyr (viola da gamba) and harpsichord/organist John Grew. Graduates of the program include Alan Fast (voice), Hank Knox (harpsichord), and Clair Guimond (flute). Laval University has had a succession of distinguished harpsichord teachers, including Kenneth Gilbert, Scott Ross, and Hendrick Bouman

Summer workshops, usually two weeks long, are an important and often colourful thread in the period instrument/early music tapestry. Two notable ones have been the Vancouver Early Music Program and Wilfrid Laurier University's Baroque and Classical Workshop. The former is the more extensive, involving renaissance and medieval courses as well as baroque; Wilfrid Laurier University's course can be taken for university credit, and includes an annual concerto/aria competition. Both workshops attract students from the USA and across Canada, and provide networking opportunities for professionals and amateurs. They also enable modern musicians to explore baroque instruments and interpretation for a short but intensive time, and often are the starting point for further studies and eventual specialization.

The Vancouver Early Music Program, which grew out of an amateur-level summer course at the University of Victoria started by Christine Mather in 1976, generally imports its faculty from Europe (eg, Sarah Cunningham, Monica Huggett, Ton Koopman), while Wilfrid Laurier draws on Canada's leading players (Colin Tilney, violinist Jean Lamon, cellist Christina Mahler).

CAMMAC has offered courses in early music performance in both Ontario and Quebec.

Reception And Influence

In Canada as elsewhere the period instrument movement has stirred up considerable controversy. This was most evident in the early years, when performers were frequently finding their way in relatively uncharted waters, while critics often entered the concert hall resistant to, or mystified by, the sound and style of period performance. But as the movement gained popularity and prestige, its influence grew correspondingly. In 1981 Arthur Kaptainis, reviewing a performance by US baroque violinist Dana Maiben, praised her 'craftsmanship and verve' but felt that 'her avoidance of vibrato rendered her sound... a bit stark' (Toronto Globe and Mail, 12 Jan 1981). But by 1988 Robert Everett-Green, writing in the same paper, faulted a modern instrument ensemble for its romantic approach to Purcell: 'The full-bodied string tone and generous vibrato were out of place, as much so as thick beef gravy with grilled trout. There was once a place in concert halls for this kind of cuisine, but no longer' (26 Nov 1988).

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