Historically Informed Performance
Our focus is historically informed performance, meaning that we present historical music in a manner appropriate to the time and place in which it was composed. Our performances feature historical instruments played to the stylistic standards of earlier eras.
Such music is a delight to hear. Historically informed performance is also a delight to see. A core aspect of our mission is the staging of live performances.
As our name implies, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is committed to the music of the baroque era in Europe (defined as the period covering 1600 to 1750). Our programming, however, covers a broader timeframe. We explore the baroque era (particularly its second half), the full classical period (defined as the period covering 1750 to 1820), and the early years of the romantic period (usually described as starting about 1820).
Baroque music serves as the foundation for all that is commonly referred to as “classical” music. The musicians of the baroque period expanded the variety and complexity of music. Many musical terms and concepts used today were established at that time. Orchestral instruments developed forms and functions that we still recognize. Important musical genres, such as opera, took root. Major baroque composers – such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Georg Frideric Handel – remain widely known.
The baroque era found delight in rich detail. Its music emphasized polyphony, which means that multiple independent melodic voices are being simultaneously expressed. The result is a multi-layered or multi-textured composition, often enhanced with elaborate musical ornamentation. The complex beauty of baroque music remains very appealing today.
The baroque era evolved into the classical period of music, spanning roughly from the middle 18th through the early 19th centuries. The classical period valued order and clarity in the arts. In music, the emphasis turned away from polyphony and toward a more dominant single melodic voice. Composers sought to create and express formal structures within their music. Part of the pleasure for the listener comes from hearing and identifying the structural elements within a composition. Beloved classical composers include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn.
Early Romantic Period
The classical period evolved into the romantic period, starting in the early 19th century. The romantic era placed strong emphasis on individual expression. Composers sought to convey emotional power and intensity – and to put a highly personal stamp on their music.
Many people view Ludwig van Beethoven as a model “romantic,” because of his passionate, readily identifiable music. In reality, the composer’s lifetime straddles the classical and romantic periods – and scholars continue to debate how best to position his career within musical history. Music evolved rapidly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Beethoven is among a number of composers active at this time whose work reflects this transition.
A composer who falls more solidly within the early Romantic period is Felix Mendelssohn – who, interestingly, was an advocate for the music of the baroque era! Mendelssohn did much to revive interest in J. S. Bach and Handel, for example – and even today, Mendelssohn remains an inspiration for those who cherish historically informed performance.
Toward the Modern Era
As the 19th century progressed, orchestral performance steadily moved toward its modern form. Styles and techniques evolved. Orchestras and their concert halls became larger. Instruments were standardized in their construction and materials – and thus in the sounds they produced. Completely new instruments appeared. Some older instruments all but disappeared from the concert stage.
Baroque, classical, and early romantic compositions remained in the repertoire – but they were performed by the full-scale, modern orchestra. Audience expectations changed accordingly.
The modern orchestra is a wonderful creation. It provides exciting opportunities to hear the music of many eras. But by its very nature, it adapts – or “modernizes” – music composed for earlier instruments, techniques, and settings. Essentially, a newer idea of sound is applied to older compositions.
The Music of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Historically informed performance arose during the 20th century to provide an important alternative – one that presents the often mellower (and sometimes idiosyncratic) sounds that historical audiences would have known and enjoyed. It is a “new” musical practice that revives and preserves aspects of the past.
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has earned renown as one of the world’s finest ensembles for historically informed music. To learn more about our music, read about some of the composers we perform, and also about some of our historical instruments.