The historically informed performance (HIP) movement, which initially confined itself to music of the 17th and 18th centuries, has gradually moved forward in time to embrace music of the romantics and even some early modern scores. Historically informed Mahler, Ravel, Stravinsky? Gershwin?! Yes, and much of it is pretty convincing.
Rarely, however, have the HIPsters tried to scale that summit of romanticism, the mature stage works of Richard Wagner.
Now Concerto Köln, the German period-instruments ensemble, and conductor Kent Nagano have embarked on a project to perform Wagner’s “Ring” cycle of four music-dramas on the instruments and in the style of the late 19th century, Norman Lebrecht reports on his Slipped Disc blog:
Alexander Scherf, artistic director of Concerto Köln, says the musicians will discard accumulated wisdom on Wagner performance and approach the “Ring” cycle afresh, as if it were “an unknown manuscript from the 18th century.”
The project, while sure to provoke outrage and/or derision in some Wagnerian quarters, has considerable musicological underpinning, with the participation of the Institute of Early Music at the Cologne Academy of Music, the Research Institute for Music Theatre at the University of Bayreuth and the Institute for Speech Science at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in what has been dubbed “Wagner-Reading,” extensive research into the composer’s guidance on the performance of his works and his exploration of instruments capable of producing the sounds he desired.
That exploration led to the creation of the Wagner tuba, whose range falls between those of French horns and trombones, an instrument still commonly used in Wagner productions. Other innovations, such as using larger, louder “Ritter” (“knight”) violas and the alto oboe in place of the English horn, have not endured, Michael Stallknecht notes in an article for Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper:
Concerto Köln and Nagano plan to give a semi-staged performance of “Das Rheingold,” the first work in the cycle, in 2021 at the Cologne Philharmonie.