About Period Instruments

A note on period instruments and historically informed performance practice

Several decades ago, a movement began in classical music to perform music on the instruments that were used during the composer’s lifetime. This marriage of scholarship and style became known as “historically informed performance practice.” But it encompasses more than the proper choice of instruments for the performance of music from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical eras. Fine points of expression, articulation, and even the way instruments are tuned are important considerations in our performances.

For most of us, it is the use of these beautiful and, in most cases, truly antique and priceless instruments that brings the most unique quality to these performances. Rather than cataloguing all the well-founded and essential reasons to use period instruments for this music, it is even more compelling to consider why the use of modern instruments would cheat us of the experience composers like Bach or Handel meant to give us.

In the Baroque period, musical phrases were made up of strong and weak notes, falling on strong and weak beats within a bar. When a string player would move the bow in a downward stroke across a string, the sound was stronger than when the bow would be moved in an upward direction. Eventually the lengths of musical phrases grew, and more notes were meant to be played in a connected way, leading much further down the musical line to a phrase’s focal point. Accordingly, the bows for stringed instruments were then made to create the same amount of sound whether the bow was moving up or down.

Also, concert halls grew in size, so instruments were made to play louder. In the 20th century, some composers began to require sounds that acoustic instruments simply can not produce and now electronic instruments are being developed and used.

We believe that music has its most profound affect when performed on instruments and using techniques from the period in which the music was composed. This is why Ars Antigua has dedicated itself to the use of period instruments and historically informed performance practice.

For more information, call 312.415.2391
Ars Antigua is an affiliate of Early Music America and member of Early Music Chicago.