European and American Reviews of
Inside Early Music:

Conversations with Performers
by
Bernard D. Sherman
(Oxford University Press, 1997)

 


England
Poland
Spain

United States
Cyberspace


ENGLAND:

Excellent . . . . The teeming practical detail of this book is a great achievement in itself, but equally significant is its documentation of the major conceptual issues behind the historical-performance movement. . . . a contribution to contemporary debates.” Anthony Pryer, The Times Literary Supplement, January 16, 1998

"Sherman's contributions are among the most interesting and thoughtful in the book. He asks consistently good questions (sometimes, as in his final question to Leonhardt, quite brilliant), and provides some really excellent commentary of his own....[Contains] some excellent material, much of it provided by Sherman, and a number of fascinating discussions with important performers. ... All early musical life (c. 1994) is here, and that is what makes it a fascinating (if often an infuriating) read." -Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Early Music, May 1999

"The best of his subjects give a sense of a journey in progress: just when we might have thought we were running out of things to discover, we find that we have hardly started. . . . The proceedings open with a fluent essay stirring up controversies with a light touch. To my mind, this is the best thing on early music performance since Taruskin's now infamous article (to which Sherman refers at some length). . . Few questors after techniques and refinements will learn nothing from [Julianne Baird's interview,] this readable, yet often technically detailed exposé. . . . In this vibrant book the best thing is that the barriers are down." -Richard Langham Smith, The Musical Times, Summer 1998

"An essential read... Sherman's text is full of insights."
- Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell, The Historical Performance of Music (Cambridge University Press, 1999)

“Interviews with the famous names of the early-music world are common enough but are rarely conducted at the intellectual level shown here. . . . Sherman interviewed 23 leading performers . . . who show a wide range of attitudes ranging from lack of interest in the recreation of early performance practice to belief in its fundamental importance. It is a task he approaches with enormous intelligence; his questions lead somewhere and produce insight into what the musicians are trying to do, both philosophically and practically. He links, compares and contrasts (without making a meal of it), and points towards further reading and listening. Sometimes he goes further, as in his fascinating Postscript on Medieval Music, Plainchant, and 'Otherness'(pp. 88-95). . . .”
Clifford Bartlett, Early Music Review, October 1997.

POLAND:

"An extraordinary and passionate book [sensacyjna i pasjonujaca]... A masterpiece... Revelatory [Rewelacja]."
-
Cezary Zych, Canor v. 21, 1998

SPAIN:

“A thoroughly stimulating and thought-provoking book that will be required reading. . . . [Sherman] has done his background research meticulously, prompting his subjects with intelligent and sometimes probing questions. . . . Inside Early Music is a significant book for anyone who cares about the subject.”
Brian Robins, Goldberg, Fall, 1997

UNITED STATES :

“For a reader steeped in the early-music revival, this is a book of unparalleled interest. It bristles with sharply defined positions and passionate arguments, all of them expressed with clarity and augmented by the author’s insightful and well-informed reflections. The time period and repertory covered stretches from early Medieval chant to the works of Brahms. . . . Sherman has avoided the temptation to present only one side of contentious issues--and there are many--or to attempt to reconcile divergent views. He addresses these fascinating topics through interviews with some of the best-known performers in the field, having chosen those with interesting things to say and stimulated them with thought-provoking questions. For most music collections.”
Timothy J. McGee, Library Journal, May 1997

"...Sherman is an excellent writer and a modest, intuitive interviewer. He couches each interview in a kind of cultural portrait of the person, including a brief bio, a summary of his or her importance in the field, and a short character sketch, all done kindly and respectfully, without fawning. I particularly like his introduction, a succinct and appealing exploration of the basic question as he sees it, "Why do they play like that?" .... Don't worry if your favorite musician is left out - whom he interviews is less important than how he interviews. A truly delightful book." - Tina Chancey, Early Music America, Spring, 2005

Exceedingly inviting and not just for Baroque record geeks. Sherman interviews early music pioneers like Dutch master keyboardist/conductor Gustav Leonhardt as well as such new-generation performers as Italian keyboardist/conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini, gaining a wide spectrum of outlooks and outputs in the process. . . .These are eloquent artists with a lot to say. . . and Sherman guides the conversation with a sure hand.... With grace and depth, Inside Early Music provides that which is all too rare: serious edu-tainment.”
Bradley Bambarger, Billboard, June 14, 1997

"Sherman earns the respect of his subjects by asking well-informed questions, and they respond engagingly. The critical discographies and "suggestions for further reading" that follow each chapter are particularly valuable. . . . .The current relevance of classical music is often questioned, but what about really old music? ...[Christopher Page] argues for the value of 'an alert and compassionate approach to the arts of other civilizations, including the arts of one's own civilization in the past.' Shermans's postscript to this chapter brings an even broader perspective . . Devotion to music of the past may not be so irrelevant after all.
"According to the introduction, the crux of this book is, 'How can you use historical information to enliven modern performance?' Everyone who plays 'historical music' engages this question, at least implicitly. The 'Early Musicians' in this book have all grappled with it head-on. Kudos to Sherman for wrapping their insights into an enjoyable read."

David Breitman,
Piano and Keyboard, March/April, 1998

Thought-provoking and immensely stimulating . . . . It is intended as no disparagement to the performers interviewed to claim that the greatest strength of the book is Sherman himself, for in general he brings to his questioning and ancillary comments a formidable weight of learning and perception; it should be clear that these are not interviews of the 'what are you going to record next?' kind, but in-depth examinations of a wide range of issues that concern performance practice. . . . Sherman's choice of interviewees proves to be judicious. .. .the results frequently make for truly compelling reading.”
Brian Robins, Fanfare, July/August, 1997

"Inside Early Music is an outstanding achievement. Bernard Sherman has managed to give a broad overview of current trends in historical performance while at the same time focusing on enough of the interesting details and current hot topics to give the book an unexpected depth. He achieves this through his thoughtful selection of interviewees, each discussing his or her own area of specialization, and also through his probing questions.
"Sherman’s ability to stand back and put the whole of the current early music scene into perspective is
admirable. Historical performance has become a remarkably diverse field over the last twenty years, in terms of the diversity of approach and the chronological span of music being tackled. Most performers and audience members are specialists, vaguely aware of the movement as a whole, but primarily focused on specific repertoires or periods. Inside Early Music gives a balanced view of the whole scene and manages to show why it still has a cohesiveness, despite the immense diversity within the early music movement. A common thread running through the interviews is the performers’ commitment to what they are doing and a shared interest in using historical information to hear the music in a new light...a willingness to experiment. As it has become increasingly difficult to keep abreast of all the developments across the spectrum of the earlymusic scene, this overview will be appreciated by both performers and listeners.
"Sherman did a fabulous job of conducting the interviews, capturing the personality of each performer. In each interview he focuses on hot issues pertinent to that performer’s area, showing himself to be extremely well versed in the recent research relating to wildly different areas of performance. He seems just as comfortable discussing chant with Marcel Pérès as he is discussing the harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt or talking about Berlioz with John Eliot Gardiner. He does not shy away from controversy. For example, the main topic of a group of interviews with Alan Curtis, Rinaldo Alessandrini, and Anthony Rooley is whether or not Italians are inherently and unassailably better at singing Monteverdi than anyone else.
"The arrangement of the interviews
allows for some interesting comparisons. Footnotes at appropriate points provide cross references to views of other performers. Regarding vibrato, for example, William Christie and Julianne Baird take a vocal stance where vibrato is seen as a natural part of the tone. Baird explicitly states that she prefers vibrato on consonances with a nonvibrato sound reserved more for dissonances. On the instrumental side you have Anner Bylsma who says, 'A consonance is uninteresting...you never read in the paper about father putting on his slippers and lighting a cigar, except when the house, being full of petrol fumes, blows up. A good time for vibrato.'
" Inside Early Music is
likely to broaden the reader’s interests. As a performer generally engaged with music from the seventeenth century onward, I was impressed by Sherman’s ability to pique my interest in chant and other aspects of medieval music. At the same time, when he was talking with performers involved with the later music which is my own primary focus, I found him asking some of the very questions I myself would have asked. It is likely that readers will be drawn to hear recordings by some of the performers whose work may have been previously less familiar to them. Fortunately Sherman provides valuable introductions to each performer and annotated discographies which include quotes from reviews of the CDs mentioned. Additionally he has compiled good, basic reference lists for further reading at the end of each chapter. The discographies and reading lists not only offer tips for the many readers who will want to pursue certain material in further detail, they help amplify Sherman’s own perspective.
"The book’s only real shortcoming is one of which the author is very much aware: the missing voices of many performers who have made important individual contributions to the early music scene. This includes, but is not limited to, artists such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Reinhard Goebel, Emma Kirkby, and the Kuijkens. As Sherman states at the beginning of his preface: 'Many readers will wonder why I chose these specific artists to interview–and, more to the point, why I didn’t choose others.' The omissions are largely a matter of space and geography. The overall length of the book was limited by the cost of producing it. Sherman, based in California while writing the book, had better access to performers residing in the United States. Since the cost of travelling to Europe to conduct interviews was prohibitively expensive, he could only interview European-based artists while they were on tour or by telephone. . .
"
I recommend this book highly to performers and early music enthusiasts. The interviews are engaging and informative, while the discographies and reading lists make it a useful reference book."
John Moran, Continuo (www.continuo.com), February 1998

And finally, CYBERSPACE:

"This is an issue that recurs throughout early music: how far should (and can) we go toward the past, as opposed to trying to bring it toward us?" In practical terms, how far should we go in attempting to re-create the specific conditions (instruments, vocal techniques, scoring, pitch, etc.) of the time, as opposed to using the most up-to-date media available or making compromises between the two extremes? This fundamental question--with the many different ways in which musicians answer it and the controversies that result--is what makes "Historically Informed Performance" (HIP) the most interesting (in the sense, perhaps, of that ancient Chinese curse?) and dynamic field in classical music today. Bernard D. Sherman's "conversations with performers" illuminate these topics in a way that most scholars can't, and most music magazines don't have space for. Sherman is a superb interviewer: well informed, thoughtful, respectful without being sycophantic. In his written introductions to each interview, he is frank about where he stands on contentious issues but lets the performers speak for themselves: for example, Barbara Thornton of Sequentia and Christopher Page of Gothic Voices on singing the text "expressively" in medieval music (they're closer together than one might expect), or Alan Curtis, Rinaldo Alessandrini, and Anthony Rooley on whether one must be Italian to sing Monteverdi properly (they're not). Even Sherman's chapter titles are enticing--and they give a good idea of the treats his book has to offer: "You Can't Sing A Footnote: Susan Hellauer [of Anonymous 4] on Performing Medieval Music"; "Triple Counterpoint: Jeffrey Thomas, Philippe Herreweghe and John Butt on Singing Bach"; "Speaking Mozart's Lingo: Robert Levin on Mozart and Improvisation." We read Marcel Pérès explaining why he has used Greek, Corsican, and Middle Eastern singers in his revivals of chant repertories; Julianne Baird on Baroque singing techniques; Roger Norrington on taking Beethoven "off the pedestal"; and John Eliot Gardiner on period-instrument Berlioz and Brahms. These thoughtful, articulate musicians--and Sherman's considerable skills as journalist, critic, and guide to the reader--make this book a delight for early-music neophytes and mavens alike. It should even hold some interest for those who dislike everything "HIP" stands for. "
Matthew Westphal, amazon.com (www.amazon.com)

"If the early music phenomenon still leaves you puzzled--or indifferent--Bernard Sherman's Inside Early Music is a must-read, bringing important personalities and debates to life in a series of vivid interviews."
amazon.com (www.amazon.com)

The following review appeared on the Early Music List (Earlym-l), an international discussion group:

“....this 400 page volume may well be one of the most valuable books on the early music movement to date. . . . [Sherman's] knowledge of early music is evident in the questions he poses, and his grasp of classical music generally serves well to put his findings into context. His hand, as guide, is informed and transparent at the same time. He knows enough to go for the trenchant issues, and to be silent and present to the answers received.
Inside Early Music is the best history of the early music movement of the last thirty years that we have seen. It is told through the views, the experiences, and the musical wisdom of some of our greatest interpreters. . . Mr Sherman has done a remarkable job of eliciting pearls from greats who habitually speak to us only through their music. Long after this book loses its currency, it will be an invaluable resource for those researching the early music movement of the late twentieth century.
“Because of the episodic nature of the interview format, this is a wonderful book for the coffee table or bedstand. Pick it up, open to any page, and enjoy. It is filled with revelations.”
–Joseph Spencer

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