The Complete Baroque Musician
Authorís note: the following interview with Andrew Manze (Part 1) originally appeared in Ultimate Audio magazine. Because UA ceased publication before the and Part 2 discography appeared, we are presenting the interview again, as it offers informative and entertaining comments from this most articulate artist and is, I believe, an excellent introduction to the Manze recorded canon. - W.D.
Devotees of period-instrument performance are blessed with gifted performers -- John Eliot Gardiner, Rene Jacobs, Nicholas McGegan, Jordi Savall, to name just a few . But no period-performance star shines more brightly these days than Andrew Manze's. This tireless artist has recorded more than 20 CDs for Harmonia Mundi since 1995, somehow sandwiching the sessions between teaching, broadcasting, and a heavy international performing schedule as violinist and conductor. His concerts and CDs are resurrecting previously unknown baroque composers, and his creative imagination and spirited virtuosity breathe vibrant life into their music. His work is no less impressive with the staples of the baroque -- Bach, Handel, Vivaldi -- and he has great command of late-Eighteenth- and Twentieth century repertoire.
In the notes for his Portrait CD Manze offers his formula for baroque performance: "First, equip yourself with all the tackle of historical awareness: a suitable instrument (importance: 5%), appropriate stylistic techniques (10%), background reading (5%). Then plunge into a dusty archive to find the Urtext, the composer's original notation, uncorrupted by later editorial excrescences (10%). Then use your imagination (70%)."
Manze doesn't just talk the talk. I saw him in action four days before this interview, leading the San Francisco Bay Area's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in an all-Mozart concert. It was some of the most compelling Mozart I've heard in three decades of concert going. Seldom have I seen any musician so enjoy his work -- his animated body language and wide grin were infectious. And, as you'll see from the following conversation, Mr. Manze is also an engaging advocate for his chosen specialty.
I read that your first serious encounter with baroque music was c at Cambridge, when friends handed you a baroque violin and pointed to a poster advertising a concert the next week. Sounds like a sink-or-swim experience.
It was a way -- Iíd never played any of the pieces before, but luckily my more experienced colleagues helped me get through.
Did this event point you irrevocably toward baroque? Or did it take longer to change your course to concentrate on early music?
It was more of a gradual evolution. I suppose the real epiphany was when I began looking at the Biber sonatas, and realized I had no idea who Biber was. Here was a whole new composer I had never heard of, whose music looked fascinating. I was struck by how much the composer had left for the performer to decide about how to play the music. That was just the opposite of what I had been doing up until then: meeting as many composers as possible and playing their music to them, hoping they could tell me something I hadn't been able to work out for myself. Very often they couldn't. And here was Biber, who not only wasn't around to help, but had left such great gaps in the music for the performer to fill in: what expression to use, actually what notes to play sometimes, what tempo, what dynamics... so much is not given. I realized that Biber was saying, look, I'm only the composer -- you are the performer who must bring this music to life. And that challenge not only drew me towards his music, but taught me some important lessons to apply to contemporary music as well.
I think there is a tendency with contemporary music to feel that the score is chiseled in granite, and the performer's mission is just to reproduce it faithfully.
Yes, and that's not at all true. Last year, The Academy of Ancient Music was rehearsing a new work by John Tavener, who was present. We would play exactly what was in the score, and he'd say, "Oh, that's horrible! Why are you doing it like that?" And we'd say, "Look -- it says fortissimo with accents." Then he'd say "no no -- play it softly instead." He was changing his score in reaction to what he heard. I'm not saying you should be that drastic with every composer, but you should use your ears, trust them as much as the printed page. The page is a map of the music -- it's not the performance!
What advice would you give the listener -- especially a less experienced listener whose experience with baroque may be limited to Bach and Vivaldi -- in approaching more obscure composers such as Pandolfi, Rebel or Biber?
Most important is simply to listen with an open mind, without worrying about whether or not what you are familiar with in Bach or Handel is there. Bach has great structure; you can feel that you have heard music structured like architecture -- it has a logical shape that holds up. Now, earlier composers in particular were far less interested in the overall structure; they focused more on development from one moment to the next. As you listen to those composers, compare what happens from one moment to the next with what you expect to happen. Often some of the most wonderful things are surprises -- sudden radical changes in tempo or emotional atmosphere -- that are frequently illogical. I find those illogical occurrences exciting, even liberating. Pandolfi, for instance, seems deliberately to bend logic -- It's perhaps like the difference between the traditional math we learn at school and non-Euclidian mathematics, in which parallel lines can meet. It's music that rewrites the rules as it goes -- perhaps one step removed from improvisation. Try listening to it that way, perhaps as you might listen to jazz.
How do you go about discovering these obscure or unknown composers?
I personally haven't discovered very much. Musicologists have long been digging these people out and realizing they are important, but it has taken quite a time for us performers to begin catching up to the scholars. For instance, I first heard Pandolfi in a recital by another violinist. I thought it was extraordinary and I became very keen to explore his music.
What does baroque music have to offer to a world which shows increasingly less interest in and value for its cultural past?
I say it can give whatever you want from it. Baroque music certainly repays close attention -- immersing yourself in every detail and gesture, feeling the effect on your emotions. But it's also fine to listen at a distance -- to sit back and let the music wash over you.
Just tune into the harmony of the spheres?
Exactly. I don't mind if in a concert a listener uses the music to trigger his own meditation. Baroque is a very cleansing music -- it uses dissonance carefully. Contemporary music often uses dissonance deliberately to disturb, whereas in baroque music dissonance is always countered by consonance, so that they are in balance at the end. Pythagoras posited the notion that the human spirit always seeks inner harmony. Baroque music never leaves you in discord -- it's always resolved by the end. That's the first rule of baroque composition. I think that accounts for the cleansing effect of baroque music, whether you listen with concentration or with "just one ear."
In America, the audience for classical music seems to be aging. Do you find that true in Europe?
I don't think it's all gloom and doom. But I have no difficulty accepting that our primary audience may be an older one. There is so much entertainment on offer for younger people that we can't expect classical music -- and baroque in particular -- to attract a large portion of that group. But as they mature, perhaps the novelty of pop music will wear off and they may look for something with more staying power.
You perform unaccompanied, play chamber music with your friend Richard Egarr, and conduct The Academy of Ancient Music and other orchestras. Do you find any of these roles more challenging or satisfying than the others?
I don't really see them as separate roles, but as different manifestations of being a baroque violinist. Now, I'm not comparing myself to Bach, but just think. One day he might be playing the organ, the next day playing a violin concerto in a coffeehouse, and the third day directing an orchestra and chorus in a cantata, with chamber music along the way -- as well as teaching and composing all the time. It's a little unusual today, but I think a musician who is serious about the baroque should acquire that versatility. It's all part of the process.
Your conception of the process comprises the verbal as well as the musical -- you also write the notes for all of your recordings.
I have to do the work anyway to prepare the music. I can't say its true for every musician, but for me, in order to record a piece, I must be able to write the notes.
How many baroque violins do you play, and what is their provenance?
I most often play the one by Gagliano, an 18th-century Italian master. It's the most robust-sounding of my three violins. Baroque and classical music on period instruments is regularly performed in concert halls that are oversized for them, so I tend to use this violin in those bigger halls. My other two violins are from the workshop of Amati, one made around 1660 and the other about 1700. They sound more delicate, and I use them for recordings and playing unaccompanied and chamber music in smaller venues where projection is not an issue. The earlier one is physically very small -- you might say it looks like a child's violin -- but it sounds wonderful. I used it on the Pandolfi CD.
How do you decide on music to perform that falls outside the baroque repertoire?
Because I often play baroque or classical repertoire with modern-instrument orchestras, I try to program complementary works, especially 20th-century music written after baroque and classical models. Next year I'm doing Tippet's Fantasia on Themes of Corelli, some Respighi based on Vivaldi, and Stravinsky's Pulcinella, which is based on Pergolesi. I sometimes find myself coming full circle and doing contemporary repertoire, which is great because I now approach new music with a different attitude than before. I now think, OK, the composer has done his best, but he expects the performer to inject his own ideas. I think only the most restrictive composer doesn't want to hear the performer's ideas.
That observation brings our conversation full circle as well. Thank you for a most interesting discussion. I look forward to hearing you again, both live and on CD.
You're most welcome -- I enjoyed it too.
Harmonia Mundi USA