Christopher Hogwood: ‘Early music ended in 1984’

Christopher Hogwood: ‘Early music ended in 1984’


norman lebrecht

October 31, 2014

In the new issue of Standpoint, I offer some reflections on the conflicted legacy of Christopher Hogwood, who died last month.

conduct unbecoming


Hogwood was the first to create a mass market for period instrument recordings, and the first to shout out when he thought the early music movement had done all it could and needed to be wound up. I write:

His honesty went largely unheeded. Early music had become big business. Universities had chairs in it, monthlies and quarterlies were published, cities held festivals and competitions, ensembles once formed had still to be fed. Hogwood went to Boston to convert the venerable Handel and Haydn Society to period instruments. Though he stepped down from the Academy in 2005, he continued to support it financially while suggesting it served no further purpose.

 In every revolution, there comes a moment the morning after victory when the leaders say, “What do we do now?”  Christopher Hogwood will be remembered as a revolutionary who asked that question and never found an answer. 


Your thoughts?


  • Dennis Marks says:

    Interesting and thought-provoking. One of the first programmes I commissioned at BBCTV in the 80s was called “The Real Thing” and dissected the “authentic” movement as it was at that time. I’ve always thought that revolutions in content often accompany revolutions in media. Hogwood coincided (as did Bruggen, Harnoncourt et al) with two big changes – the re-cording of all the early rep (and discovery of much new stuff) first in decent stereo and then for digital CD. Once that had been achieved, the early music movement became part of the mainstream. Which is all to the good – and Hogwood will be very much missed in both aspects.

  • Doug says:

    Excellent summation of the “revolution” Norman and I wholeheartedly concur. I left “early music” as a performer around 2005 because it became boring. It was existing in a vacuum devoid of any musicality, precisely because it was cut off from a musical tradition having been fabricated (as Hogwood admits) by a small set of individuals. My question is, other than recordings, what kind of legacy will people like Hogwood, Gardiner, et al. leave behind?

  • John Willan says:

    How about David Munrow? Chris used to play for him in the Early Music Consort – a bit before the AAM. I made the recordings at Abbey Road.

  • Dorian Komanoff Bandy says:

    The legacy that Chris Hogwood left us goes far beyond his recordings, and is so monumental and over-arching that it’s easy to take it for granted. Anybody who now looks up a composer’s dates before starting to play one of his works, or who believes in the importance of “context”, has been affected by Hogwood. Just think about how modern orchestras play Mozart now, and you’ll see Hogwood’s influence. The unraveling of Early Music wasn’t caused by the performers (in Hogwood’s case, no matter what he claimed in 1984, he continued to grow as a musician over the years), but by the theorists who declared the Death of Authenticity. The entire HIP industry has suffered as a result: people seem to conflate “we can’t be sure of what they did in 1780” with “we should stop trying to find out”. As investigations stopped, new discoveries stopped, and Early Music began to atrophy. No wonder things became routine and boring. What we could really use now is a little more of the Hogwood sensibility: there must be more to learn, and we should keep using every scrap of evidence to invent a new sound for Early Music. It would be a modern invention, sure, but the sound of 2014, rather than that of the ’70s and ’80s (which many of my generation seem content merely to imitate…).
    But I don’t think this has anything to do with Hogwood. His primary revolution may have been over, but less than a year ago he was still trying to challenge our musical assumptions — we’ve simply heard less about this, since it involves Geminiani, Corelli, and CPE Bach, rather than JS Bach, Handel, Mozart or Beethoven.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Not in Italy, at least. The “revolution” started there in the 90s.

  • The Spectator says:

    Interesting. So much is in the eye of the beholder. Most of the recordings and productions for which I would hope to be remembered took place after 1984.

    • New Yorker says:


      There have been several “waves” of the HIP movement and many of the best recordings are just ten years old.

  • New Yorker says:

    I disagree that the movement is over, but all the cleverest and most useful observations on this subject were already offered by Taruskin in his “Text and Act” and assorted other articles over the last twenty years.

    The problem is not that music should be played with a “fundamentalist” attention to the style of the period. It’s that it should at least be played thoughtfully and without the encrusted assumptions that performers inherited from the Romantic era and the Russian violin school which dominated the musical paradigm, to the detriment of pre-romantic music.

    In other words, some want to call Early Music a set of mannerism and affectations, but every way of playing contains some. Better to approach the music as it is. And knowledge helps us to do that.

  • Ruth E. says:

    As a student of HIP in the early 2000s, and of organ and harpsichord nonetheless, I was and still am delighted at the new ideas for sound and thinking about music it has brought, a la the previous comments by Denis and Dorian. I think often of Larry Dreyfus’ comment on interpretation as intuitive, thoughtful performance, which in my mind can’t be fully developed without careful study of audience, space and resources (past and present), musical architecture, etc., etc., etc. But overall, the world of clean, excellently thoughtful and still increasingly diverse, performances and recordings of music from 1750 and before brings me intellectually and emotionally ‘home’ faster than any other given genre. And that it’s reaching the mainstream is even better. Long may our curiosity and openness to new sound continue, even if dedicated ensembles need to move on or expand.

  • SVM says:

    I think the best aphorism I have heard about where the early-music movement is going/should be going was from Margaret Faultless, who talks of “Historically Intelligent Performance”, the point being that one should not use historical evidence as a substitute for deliberation of one’s own.

  • Frank says:

    William Christie was celebrated a few days ago for an entire day on France Musique. With his group, Les Arts Florissants he has inspired a rich early music movement which is still florishing all around France. One of the many who came after him is Emmanuelle Haim who tonight is conducting the webcast of Handel’s “La resurrezione” with the Berlin Philharmonic.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Bill Christie has spawned an entire generation of ‘specialists’, all with thier own groups, of which Emmanuelle Haïm is just one. There’s also Christophe Rousset, Marc Minkowski, Hugo Reyne et Hervé Niquet. Most, however, just agree to disagree.

      The problem with HIP is that just about anyone can set themselves up à la Dulcamara and claim to have the hotline to the Almighty. Thus the movement continues…

  • Tony Prost says:

    I say these guys are lucky anyone is playing their music at all. When it was first composed, it was likely never played more than a dozen times at all, probably one off, and then on to the next concerto grosso. How many times do you imagine Haydn actually performed his 67th Symphony (to pick a number)?

  • julian says:

    Really interesting to read this. I grew up in an atmosphere where the scholarly approach ruled, and wasn’t especially fussed, except when the earth moved in really special recordings or concerts. But now I run a regional choir and we hire period players because we have found their blend and lightness of touch is perfect for balance with a chamber choir and because – after all – Handel and Bach do need the ‘lift’ and style in the choir which they can learn from the instrumentalists.
    The best players now, as everyone knows, are ‘crossover’ and tend to emphasise that they are expected to be stylish and engaging whether they’re with a modern orchestra or a period orchestra.
    I came back to love the period world through the warmth of approach of a Rene Jacobs for example; why not do the chorales with the fermata like an old German choir would expect to do – it somehow helps the music breathe for the audience. Why not let the alto in ‘Schlafe’ (Xmas Oratorio Cantata 2) expand rhapsodically, etc.
    The key question now which could really help all of us, period or not is not so much ‘what historical information can we get about how this was played’ but ‘what historical information can we get about how this was heard/ enjoyed’. That is far more nebulous and wide ranging a question and involves us using our emotions and imaginations as performers.
    I find (for example) a Harnoncourt insight on speeds (did Handel ever use anything faster than ‘Allegro’) a real invitation to think about what Allegro felt like circa 1750 in London – maybe, to the listener, the point was for it to feel ‘whizzy and exciting’. So if you don’t achieve that for the modern audience then you’re missing something. And it helps to distinguish it (in Messiah for example) from ‘tempo ordinario’ and other markings – i.e. it’s not about ratcheting everything up to super-fast, just the Allegros – and that brings excitement periodically, at just the right moments.
    Another way the period approach helps – if taken in this way – is when we coach singers on da capo arias. We know a da capo intensifies the experience. but you don’t have to do that with ornaments necessarily! Twice (once listening, once conducting) I’ve been part of a ‘He was despised’ that didn’t ornament the da capo at all – it just focused the intensity of the sound more, brought the attention of the audience in, was sung quieter but more passionately… all this seemed to me a very historic approach but also a very ‘authentic’ response to how we feel and experience this music, in 1750 or in 2014.
    Notably, when I read and engage with JEG, I feel all the questions are about ‘how do we play this- how do we as musicians get excited by this music’. I am inspired as a musician… BUT…. I want us to ask ‘how does our audience get excited by this’ and I think that the best of the period movement should have a lot to offer on that question too.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    To me “Ended in 1984” sounds like a catchy phrase that is thought provoking at best. “Went mainstream” would be closer to reality.

  • Robert Searle says:

    To quote “……Hogwood was the first to create a mass market for period instrument recordings…” This is incorrect. It was David Munrow. Hogwood was one of the founder members of the Early Music Consort of London. The Consort itself was initially the idea had by Munrow himself. Certainly, Hogwood did play an important role in spreading Early Music. He did ofcourse see its limitations, but there are groups which try to experiment with it….or indeed, write new music in the style of earlier times in history. So, Early Music is undergoing transformations of one sort, or another. So, it is not as limited as we might like to think.

    Incidently, my music site gives some idea of the sheer variety, and “originality” used in Early Music. It is the largest audio-visual collection of its kind on the internet.

  • Tim Bailey says:

    This is specious nonsense, at best IMO.

    HIP is alive and well, and still making ground and recordings. We even have a ‘new’ group here called the Australian Haydn Ensemble and they are very, very good.

    I met Christopher Hogwood on a memorable day here in Canberra in 1988. He was here to conduct the ACAM. they were on tour!

    It was the day I resigned from the Australian Civil Service to become a consultant. We were members of the Australian National Gallery, and I had taken my wife Patricia to lunch to mark the day at the Members dining room.

    Christopher was lunching with, IIRC, someone from Lewellyn Hall, the venue.

    I was somewhat excited, but P who is quite ‘Pommy’ about such occasions, didn’t want me to say hi or anything. But, being the contrary non-slauting type I am I went over to them and said.

    You’re Christopher Hogwood, aren’t you?!” he assented, and then I said “Thank you for your music!” and went and sat down, Patrcia was pissed …

    Until we were told by a waiter that we had been invited to join them for lunch, and it was their shout!

    I told him about my first introduction to HIP ideas as a performer. In the early 1960s when the Cathedral I sang in as a leader under RSCM at about age 12, had been lent a ‘large chamber organ’ a tracker action, and ‘suddenly’* Newcastle NSWales, had a Baroque Society! Our big organ was being rebuilt.

    * Thank you Spike Milligan!

    This taught me once and for all that how an instrument makes notes matters a great deal to how it makes music.

    Timbre and expression lie not in ‘the continuous tone’ but in attacks and decays. This is true in logic because lots of instruments, eg pianos, don’t do continues tone.

    So the case for the very different mechanisms of historic instruments is undeniable.

    BBBrains still it seems!

    I’d become a Leader at a