RacReciR (ricercar07) wrote,

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relativity of time in baroque music

I've had recently the opportunity to exchange mails with a reputed (u.s.) musicologist about measuring time. Wanted to share

Q: Hope not to bother you but I have a question about measuring time and would really appreciate your educated opinion (rather than the ex cathedra answers of my teacher : "it's like that").
When Bach composed his works, there was no instrument to measure time (metronome, home clocks, etc.) so I guess that the interpretation of his works couldn't be as precise as they are now canonically taught.
He couldn'd possibly grant the same importance to time as we do nowadays, playing with a metronome.
How come playing baroque (and music in general) has drifted in ways that following the metronome down to its last tick is -nearly- the most important feature ??
I find it rather funny in times where Einstein has demonstrated the relativity of that too.

A: Your observations regarding modern time versus the ephochal nature of time in Bach's day are apropos.  But, had you considered that Bach's conception of time might have been more precise than ours--geared not to the fungible second, but Affect. 
In Syntagma
Musicum Michael Praetorius posits that the same piece, performed in the morning, would have a different tactus than in the evening.  Tempo obviously would vary with acoustic conditions as well.  So I would agree with you that assignation of strict metronomic values in Bach's music would be confining, if not historically incorrect.

(x-posted in musicmajors , pianists )
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