During the long years of the evolution of keyboard instruments and performance styles, keyboard players strove to popularise and adapt the performance of classical music within the context of their time.

Whether by luck or misfortune, since music was first composed and fixed by notation, performers have been faced by problems of interpretation.  As we know very well from the record of historical evidence, in bygone times composers very often played their music in ways that are quite different from the way the majority of 21st century keyboard players perform. To take the matter even further, the same musical marks have sometimes had different meaning in different decades of past centuries. This complex situation was caused by a number of factors including notation, performance style, and the evolution of both instruments and music.

Historical sources agree that composers usually performed their music as improvisation, which was very hard to fix by notation, and not literally as it was published: the most common wish of the composer expressed on manuscripts intended for performance by other musicians was ‘just play it musically’.

But what is meant by ‘musically’? The meaning of this word is hardly comprehensible without knowing about the period instruments for which the music was composed, and the subtleties of meaning of the musical notation used during the composer’s time.

As both experience and scientific study have proved, performers can never repeat precisely the same sound twice. The length and strength of each note and the emotional expression of the performer inevitably differ from performance to performance, and only sound recording or a computer program will allow reproduction of the same sound and quality every time.

Recognising that this is so, I would like to open for question the performance traditions which have been passed to us through the generations since the music was composed.

Unfortunately, the great piano schools of the Russian, German and French traditions passed away together with their great teachers; and if we compare the evidence offered by recordings of the same music played by teachers and their pupils, we can see how hugely different was the performance of those masters and students.

I would also like to challenge the often-expressed view that the evolution of instruments and performance interpretation always makes music better.  We do not know what kind of music a composer may have composed for modern instruments. Would this music be the same or different? How different might the composer’s performance style have been?

We should consider the possibility that even if a historical composer was alive today, he may prefer an ancient instrument for performance. As we know from different sources, composers often complained that the instruments of their day were becoming inferior to those of their youth.

As we enter the 21st century, when classical music has been established as a business and popularised enough to be recognised throughout the world, we are uniquely fortunate in having access to almost unlimited sources of information that will help us to rediscover the original interpretational languages of the time when this music was composed.

Because musicians cannot, and never could, repeat the creative process in precisely the same way, even if we could travel back in time we could still not transmit from the past the same feelings those musicians had, even if we were to wear the same clothes, eat same food, use the same manuscripts and perform on ancient instruments.

However, through all of this accumulated knowledge and insight we are given a wonderful opportunity to beget a new musical creation, one which is linked directly with the composer but not with the performance tradition - a tradition which has changed so much since the original music was composed.

I create a new musical product for modern audiences, performing classical music with an insight and understanding that comes from working in a rich variety of sources.

By studying facsimile manuscripts, I seek to unpack, reveal and understand the meaning of their music notation. I visit collections of ancient instruments and the places they were made, which may be relevant to both musical composition and composer. Through written sources of musical scholarship both historical and modern, I extend and deepen my learning about the composer’s character, the context of his life, and his composition.

My intense study of each composer’s performance style involves many analytical practices: through listening to his recordings, if available; detailed analysis of all performance aspects, by spotting in the composer’s recordings logical sequences that are related to performance style; listening to recordings of the composer’s contemporaries, relatives or students, to understand if the composer used to belong to any school of performance; and by reading works written by the composer or by his contemporaries, which could describe what the composer was expecting from the performance of his music.

Through my performance on the stage I share with the public the artistic understanding and personal vision I have obtained through these experiences, aiming to convey what I believe to be the composer’s inmost feelings and thoughts, and to deliver this spirit to the appreciative listener.

A musical philosophy

​©2021 by  Ivan Hovorun  all rights reserved.​