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1959 – 1968: A Revolution
…A longer period of time may need to pass before we can reliably judge the extent to which positions in historically informed performance practice developed as an offshoot of the social willingness to start anew in the fifties and sixties. This is especially true since researching very old music manuscripts does not, at first, seem to have anything in common with student debates on revolution and the Vietnam War. And yet, there is a spark of resistance in this decade of his life. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who held a permanent orchestra position with which he was able to feed a growing family, is an obsessed collector of period instruments, a tireless researcher and experimenter with the vision of once more giving voice to the buried knowledge of eras long past. Harnoncourt achieved his vision with Concentus Musicus Wien, which in the meantime had begun to perform regularly. The underground world beneath the regular life of orchestra musicians, the commune of unconventionality as it were, was now governed by professional working conditions. The tentative beginnings had given way to knowledge. The assumptions of how a particular instrument not heard for centuries should be played became certainties through experience. And working with original sources for so long brought about the realisation that Baroque music speaks to its audience, that it communicates in codes that follow rules and that it is understandable if you know these rules and take them seriously. This communication was put to the test in concerts, first in series performed at Palais Schwarzenberg, then at the Konzerthaus in Vienna, followed by initial tours and recordings. Broadcasts and records are essential in spreading new musical philosophies, and the voice of the underground was heard. For this reason, we should reflect on whether Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s idea of “music as sound speech” is rooted only in Baroque rhetoric, or whether it may also be rooted in the discourse theory of the 1960s. After all, both believe in the word, and that cannot be a coincidence …
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