The study of performance practice once concentrated upon Classical and pre-Classical music. Yet the burgeoning research being performed in music of the Romantic era has demonstrated that this is an area no doubt equally ripe for survey. The Romantic composers, it may be observed, are close enough to our own time that palpable traditions (both for good and for ill) exist regarding the performance of some composers' music; and indeed the experience of the Romantic composers and their non-musical contemporaries in facing a world of great technological, social and political change is not so far removed from our present-day experiences. Thus it may be inferred that the study of Romantic performance practice, as it relates to the modern day, is a field which could shed light on the philosophical underpinnings of man and his development.

Holoman has observed that the work of the French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) has already been the subject of a great deal of critical and musicological inquiry.1 Yet his survey of the research indicates much that has not yet been exhaustively or even adequately undertaken. He refers at length to the early documentation of Berlioz works through the sound-recording medium, but neglects to touch on any but the most tenuous historical aspects of these; in a sense, he indicates that they may be considered documents, but does not concern himself too greatly with the concept of precisely what it is that they document.

The study of sound recordings, in the form of commercially-made and non-commercially-made recordings, can be of paramount interest to the musicologist who is aware of their virtues and drawbacks as tools. The virtues are obvious: a palpable "tradition," or direction from a composer or "authorized" interpreter, may be enshrined for all time for further study by scholars and less scholarly music lovers. The drawbacks are equally self-evident: mechanical imperfections, as well as interpretative vaguenesses, miscalculations, and the ever-present "outside circumstances" which may affect the aesthetic content of such recordings, may serve to lessen the accuracy or even importance of archival sound recordings as documents. For study of such documents to be of the greatest use, they must be studied by the scholar with a thorough background in the historical, technical, and aesthetic aspects of the recording medium and those who have used it. Only in the hands of such a scholar may such voices "speak" true.

It is further suggested that the study of sound documents represents a most viable and intriguing aspect of the rigorous study of musical matters; after all, music is a "horizontal" art which relies for its true existence on recreative effort, and a sound recording is a way of encapsulating such recreations for future edification and study. The commercial nature of the sound recordings has influenced to a great extent the repertoire that has been recorded; but then, economic and other considerations have certainly affected to an equal extent the repertoire that is publicly performed, or even created in the first place for human consumption. The history of sound recording is, in its own incomplete way, a parallel to the history of what is performed and the manner in which it has been performed; and the history of what is performed is in a more direct way the history of the musical experience itself.

The intent of the present thesis is to select a single major composition of the Romantic era, to examine its background as a composition and as a performed work, and finally to examine the performance practices and traditions which have accrued to it. A major supplement to the latter study is an examination of twenty extant and available documentations of performances, documentations which may be deemed reasonably representative of the work's actual performance practice for reasons more fully given in the Introduction.

In addition, the nature of the recording medium, and some aspects of its history as they directly relate to the subject of Berlioz, his music, and most particularly his Grande Messe des morts, will be examined in combination with the musicological study of that composer and that work. To this end a rather hologrammatic approach has been taken, drawing from many directions of inquiry. Of particular concern is the matter of durational timings of the individual movements from among the preserved performances, with an eye to using these as a basis for tempo comparisons. In addition some stylistic features of the work under study will be examined, as well as some specific performance options. Along with all of these questions, an historical perspective will be maintained as it relates to Hector Berlioz, his Grande Messe des morts, and the performance history of that work, so as to throw light on the nature of musical performance.

Copyright © 1983, 1995 by Matthew B. Tepper

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