philosophy

Living as we do in an age of limitless archiving and heady traditions, the question arises: why continue to produce new interpretations of the same material? If we invest too much of our time on ground plowed countless times over, does that not make us poor cultivators? Given my role as a performer and my interest in the history of performance practice, it would be a lost opportunity not to make answering this question a keystone of my work. As my researches mainly concern themselves with music from the eighteenth century and earlier, I have sought to adopt a style that brings a certain freshness to the table while respecting the traditions of the time and demonstrating their exuberance.

The first time I played a piece by Jean-Philippe Rameau, I was unimpressed. How could a self-respecting composer write something so sparse and uninteresting? More out of boredom than anything else, I began to fill in the melodic gaps and elaborate the left hand. Only upon revisiting Rameau during my undergraduate years did I realize that this "method" actually held a measure of validity. So began my obsession with the Baroque improvisatory tradition.

From Rameau, it was a natural progression to François Couperin's fanciful miniatures, and I soon felt the urge to approach J.S. Bach in the stilus phantasticus. Prior to the Common Practice Period, the parallel that rhetorical arts shared with music went without saying. Directly or indirectly, most pieces from this era serve to propose and defend an argument. In March of 2014, I had the opportunity to record the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, a cornerstone of the repertoire that I consider the epitome of the rhetorical link with Baroque music. Not only does it describe a breathtaking range of the human experience, it also proved a point: namely, that one could succeed in playing in any key simply by using a specific temperament (a modified Werckmeister III, to be exact).

For the purposes of demonstrating the rhetorical aim of the work, I have found improvisatory ornaments and cadenzas to be effective. We live in an epoch in which the "ideal" performer becomes a conduit from the composer to the instrument, directly and without input. Yet this Mendelssohnian notion of a "transparent performer" would be absurd as applied to Baroque repertoire: a performance was to be a partnership between composer and interpreter with the shared aim of convincing an audience. Interpreters with modern sensibilities should recall that this music, not having been written intentionally for posterity, left much to the taste of the performer.

I am often asked why I do not perform regularly on an organ or harpsichord. At the risk of defending a "creative anachronism", I would argue that these traditions exist independently of their means of transmission. Too often, discussions on interpretive issues remain cloistered within the historical performance community; my greatest goal as a "modern" interpreter is to bring these topics firmly into the mainstream.

Yours, very sincerely,

Erin Hales