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Faculty of Music


‘Do it how you like, but make it beautiful’: a pluralist and performer-centric approach to historically informed Brahms

Dr Emily Worthington (clarinettist / musicologist)

Monday 9 November 2015, 5.15 to 6.45 pm
Room 261, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

The history of musical performance, of styles and performing practices, is a tale of plurality, yet this is not well represented in most historical performance research. Research methodologies, specialist instrument pedagogy and professional practice have tended to privilege sources that fulfil at least one of two criteria: proximity to the composer, and the ‘great performer’ status of their originator. These criteria are inherently problematic, though they have obvious benefits in terms of narrowing the field of information and providing the semblance of external validation. Crucially, they can also lead to valuable evidence being overlooked or discounted, particularly if that evidence challenges prevailing musical tastes. In this presentation I will focus on the recordings of a number of German clarinetists active between 1900 and 1940 who, though respected in their day, have no strong links with great composers and little posthumous reputation. Though undoubtedly accomplished, their playing as documented by the recordings also features elements that are challenging both to the modern practitioner and to listeners. Choosing to disregard these ‘problems’, I have used evidence drawn from the recordings in combination with composer-proximate and more ‘dubious’ written sources as a stimulus for technical and creative experimentation with Brahms’s clarinet music on historical instruments. The initial results of this ongoing project include unexpected insights into the relationship between instrumental technique and performing style, and they hint at the possible benefits of a more pluralist and less hierarchical approach to historical evidence in practice-based performance research.

Emily Worthington specializes in playing period clarinets from the 18th to the early-20th century. She has played with orchestras across the UK and Europe, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, The Gabrieli Players, Spira Mirabilis, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie and Le Concert Spirituel. As part of a busy chamber music schedule, Emily co-directs Boxwood and Brass, a harmonie-ensemble specializing in the wind music of the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Previously a Junior Fellow in the Royal College of Music Centre for Performance History, Emily completed a PhD at the University of York in 2013 entitled ‘The Modernisation of Wind Playing in London Orchestras, 1909–1939’, funded by a Collaborative Doctoral Award from the AHRC and Music Preserved. She was subsequently awarded an Edison Visiting Research Fellow at the British Library to continue her research into early wind chamber music recordings. Emily teaches at Morley College and in December 2015 will be taking up a part-time lecturing position at the University of Huddersfield.

Monday, 9 November, 2015 - 17:15 to 18:45
Event location: 
5.15pm, Senate House, University of London