What is HEP?: Historically Educated Performance as dialogue

Having followed debates about "HIP" and "non-HIP" performances for some time, I would like to propose what may be the new concept of HEP, or "Historically Educated Performance" as a respectful and open dialogue with the composer in which new technical means may be used to serve and creatively to explore historical ideals of felicity and beauty.

As is well known, HIP stands for "Historically Informed Performance," and at first glance an "Informed" (HIP) and an "Educated" (HEP) approach would seem synonymous. However, in actual usage and understanding, HIP often implies an effort to approach as closely as possible the technical means as well as stylistic details which might have distinguished an actual performance in or around the era of composition. Most notably, although not necessarily most importantly, this suggests the use of period instruments (if available) or historically modelled reconstructions.

While the term HIP indeed very accurately suggests the importance of an informed approach, based on a study of the music itself and the theoretical sources and other documentary evidence of a given era, it additionally implies that this information will be used specifically to seek what I might term an "Historically Approximated Performance" or HAP - a performance approximating as closely as possible the musically relevant technologies and techniques of the composer's era.

With HEP, as with HIP, study of the music and of contemporary theory and related documentation is vital, but with a difference: This "educated" approach may lead to a performance seeking to realize period stylistic and aesthetic values using some modern technical means - for example, a synthesizer featuring historical tunings and more or less period-inspired timbres and registrations.

Taking a HEP approach, we must acknowledge that the term "educated" has an association with the phrase "educated guess," and that much creative performance practice indeed involves such guessing - or, to it put another way, what Todd McComb has termed "taking a view." One cannot avoid it, whether in performance or in analysis, but the inevitable guessing process can indeed be a high occasion for education and imagination alike.

If HEP involves education, and often educated guessing, from another perspective it involves an open dialogue with the composer, a dialogue at once reverent and playful. While HIP advocates often take the view that performers should ideally seek the rendition the composer would have favored at the time with the musical resources then available, HEP seeks an artful counterpoint between traditional styles and new technical means.

Before exploring a few cases and specifics, I would like to emphasize that while HIP and HEP may be distinct viewpoints, they need not be antagonistic ones, and that HEP is vitally and necessarily indebted to HIP. Only through the experience of performances using period instruments or close reconstructions can one have a tangible basis for "educated" approximations or variations on an instrument such as an electronic synthesizer.

Might HIP, at times, at least potentially be similarly indebted to HEP? For example, suppose synthesizer-based HEP performances of the experimental music of Nicola Vicentino (1511-1576) using synthesizer tunings with 24 or more notes per octave become familiar and popular. This development might lend impetus to the project of historically reconstructing Vicentino's 36-note-per-octave archicembalo or "superharpsichord" using 16th-century technology.

Also, while ensembles such as Mala Punica are already using "microintervals" in the performance of 14th-century music, experiments on synthesizer with extended Pythagorean or other possible intonational models for pieces of this era (e.g. inspired by the theories of Marchettus of Padua, 1318) might lead to new techniques for vocalists or players of flexible-pitch instruments in HIP renditions.

Far from detracting from the unique value of a HIP approach in its commonly understood sense, HEP may accentuate this value by serving as a kind of variation on the theme of HIP, or a kind of parody in the positive sense of a "parody Mass" at once honoring its musical model and revealing new possibilities present in that model.

1. A simple example: Falsobordone with a diminished fourth

One intense experience of HEP - although I did not yet know the term - came to me when I was playing through a Spanish Psalm setting in falsobordone (a four-voice note-against-note style of declamation with some cadential elaborations) from the era of around 1600.

In the final cadence, I encountered the truly striking interval of a diminished fourth between two upper voices - hardly an esoteric secret of this music, since conventional modern textbooks as well as 16th-century sources mention the use of this interval or the augmented fifth in counterpoint - followed by a momentary diminished fifth, obliquely resolving to the final of E Phrygian.

For this piece, I often favor a registration on a synthesizer with two 12-note manuals placing the lower manual in something of an "organ-like" timbre, and the upper manual in a "regal-like" or "crumhorn-like" texture. Here I must confess my taste for a "mixed consort" kind of sound differentiating the parts, however HIP or un-HIP it may now be considered.

Above all, however, it was the intonation which captured my attention: in 1/4-comma meantone, to which the manuals were tuned (sharing a usual Eb-G# range of accidentals), a diminished fourth at 32:25 (around 427 cents, or 427/1200 octave) is a radically different kind of interval than a regular pure major third at 5:4 (about 386 cents). The difference is about 41 cents, or roughly 1/5-tone, an interval which Vicentino makes the most of by using as a direct melodic step - but also a vital distinction in this more "mainstream" music.

Please let me hasten to add that I would not consider this kind of performance more "authentic" than one on an historical organ in meantone. However, one advantage of certain synthesizers or digital organs is precisely that one can use a range of built-in or customized tuning systems, and shift from one to another easily and quickly.

This last point raises an important aspect of the "authenticity" issue for performers of early music, HIP or HEP. The need, say, to shift between Pythagorean intonation for Gothic music and meantone temperament for Renaissance/Manneristic music may highlight a facet often distinguishing even the most dedicated interpreter of these eras today from likely period practice: the routine performance of polyphonic music from different eras calling for quite distinct intonational systems.

This diversity of styles and tuning systems implies choice, and that choice should ideally be "informed" or "educated," calling for more awareness and sensitivity rather than less regarding the models and preferences of each period.

2. An educated guess: Marchettus and the division of the tone

While a synthesizer can be used simply to replicate usual historical tunings such as various shades of Renaissance meantone, such an instrument can also be used to explore a range of possibilities which may be suggested by Gothic, Renaissance, and Manneristic composers and theorists in their writings.

One dramatic and intriguing example is Marchettus of Padua, who in his Lucidarium of 1318 describes and advocates a division of the whole-tone into "five parts." Here Marchettus, as a composer and musician, is dealing not with issues of keyboard tuning but with matters of intonation for singers.

Specifically, he advocates the use of a cadential "diesis" equal to only "one of the five parts of a tone" in progressions where an unstable major third expands to a fifth, or a major sixth to an octave. Here I use a sharp sign (#) to show his use of a similar sign specifically for these special inflections, with C4 as middle C:

G#3  A4     C#4  D4
E3   D3     E3   D3

M3 - 5      M6 - 8

This raises a knotty question: In performing progressions of this kind on keyboard when they arise in compositions by Marchettus or some of his Italian colleagues from the earlier portion of the trecento, just how large should we make these directed major thirds or sixths?

One HIP answer, also applicable to synthesizers in a HEP rendition, would be about like this: "Regardless of what Marchettus may have been advocating for vocalists, organs or other keyboards were very likely tuned in Pythagorean intonation, so that is the logical choice."

Certainly I find Pythagorean a safe, pleasing, and effective choice for this music, both for usual cadential progressions like the above and for the variants Marchettus describes with direct chromaticism, for example:

G3  G#3  A3        C4   C#4  D4
C3  E3   D3        F3   E3   D3

5   M3   5         5    M6   8

In Pythagorean, the contrast between compact and efficient diatonic semitones or limmas (e.g. G#3-A3, C#4-D4) and large chromatic semitones (e.g. G3-G#3, C4-C#4) nicely fits the distinctive qualities of these progressions, evidently innovative in practice and theory.

However, a HEP approach might go further, and seek some "educated" equivalent on a modern synthesizer keyboard of the desire which Marchettus appears to express that this contrast between semitones be further accentuated by vocal performers. This implies cadential major thirds and sixths somewhat wider than Pythagorean - yet "more closely approaching" the stable consonances of the fifth and octave which they seek by expansive contrary motion - and extra-narrow cadential semitones or dieses (G#3-A3, C#4-D4).

Such an adventure might well begin with a bit of musicianly humility: Marchettus is indeed discussing vocal intonation, and one of the special "perfections" of the voice (shared by other flexible-pitch instruments) is the ability to make slight intonational adjustments in order, for example, to maintain the pure 3:2 fifths, 4:3 fourths, and 9:8 whole-tones which Marchettus defines in keeping with the Pythagorean tradition. Approximating his possible intentions on a fixed-pitch instrument such as a conventional synthesizer - even one with 24 notes per octave, say - may inevitably involve compromises not required of vocalists.

For HEP-sters attracted to the idea that musicians may in practice be drawn to the simplest or most "consonant" interval ratios fitting a given musical purpose, one solution might be a 24-note variation on Pythagorean tuning with two 12-note manuals at the distance of what is called a "septimal comma" (64:63, about 27 cents, or something like 1/8-tone).

Each keyboard would provide a standard, HIP-like, 12-note Pythagorean tuning, with Eb-G# nicely fitting most 14th-century music. However, by playing the lower note of a cadential major third or sixth on the lower manual, and the upper note on the upper manual, we could tune these special intervals at pure ratios of 9:7 (about 435 cents) and 12:7 (about 933 cents). The effect is one of intervals at once more closely approaching their stable goals than the usual Pythagorean ratios of 81:64 and 27:16 (about 408 cents and 906 cents), and having an engaging "streamlined" quality.

There is, however, a yet more radical solution which may also be the most likely reading of Marchettus: a division of the whole-tone into five equal dieses, with a cadential semitone equal to only one of those five parts (about 41 cents).

In a discussion of consonance/dissonance and cadences, Marchettus notes that his cadential major sixth is equally distant from the 3:2 fifth (about 702 cents) or the 2:1 octave (1200 cents), differing from either by "six dieses." While he is dealing with the flexible and inherently variable intonation of human voices, this model seems very nicely to fit a keyboard rendition based on 29-tone equal temperament, or 29-tET, with the octave divided into 29 equal parts, and each whole-tone into five parts.

In practice, this system for Gothic or related applications can be aptly realized on a synthesizer with two manuals placed in Eb-G# tunings a diesis (1/5-tone or 1/29 octave) apart. While a full circulating tuning would require 29 notes, circulation is not a concern for any Gothic music of which I know - or for many styles of newly composed or improvised "neo-Gothic" music also.

In this system, the accentuated cadential major sixth of Marchettus has a size of 23/29 octave - "six dieses" or 6/29 octave from either the near-pure fifth (17/29 octave) or the octave (29/29 octave). We arrive at a superefficient "closest approach" progression like the following, with an asterisk (*) here showing a note on the upper manual, raised by a diesis, numbers in parentheses showing vertical intervals, and signed numbers showing ascending (+) or descending (-) melodic motions:

  In dieses (1/5-tones)                 In cents

    C#*4 -- +1 -- D4              C#*4 --  +41 -- D4 
    (23)         (29)            (952)          (1200)
    E3   -- -5 -- D3              E3   -- -207 -- D3

    M6            8               M6              8

This keyboard model and rendition admirably fit the statement of Marchettus that the upper voice ascends by a single diesis, while the lower voice descends by a whole-tone of five dieses. In order to achieve a regular keyboard temperament, the 9:8 tone of Pythagorean tuning must be slightly widened from around 204 to 207 cents, but otherwise 14th-century theory and 21st-century practice seem neatly to mesh.

Now we confront the radical consequences of this historically-based interpretation: a cadential interval of 23/29 octave or 952 cents is dramatically different from a usual "major sixth," by 14th-century Pythagorean standards or most others since associated with historical styles of Western European composition.

Rather this interval is about midway between a usual major sixth and minor seventh - whether Pythagorean (respectively 906 and 996 cents), or Renaissance meantone (890 and 1007 cents in 1/4-comma), or in the various shadings of an 18th-century well-temperament, or in the standard 20th-century keyboard tuning of 12-tone equal temperament (900 and 1000 cents).

Sometimes the most obvious and close reading of an historical source can also be the most innovatively radical, in HIP or HEP. One way or another, by calculated daring or simple default, we must take a view, and the purpose of HEP is not to dictate the result but to expand the range of educated possibilities.

3. Through multiple lenses: HEP and dialogue with performers

One source of ambiguity and creativity for HIP or HEP is the range of historical performance practices prevailing at a given time, or over relatively brief eras of time. For example, an "authentic" performance of Landini's music in at least some localities in 1370 might favor or lean toward a different variety of Pythagorean tuning than such a performance in 1410, with certain thirds, sixths, and cadential semitones having different sizes.

Either HIP or HEP interpreters might use this possible distinction which Mark Lindley has reasonably inferred from various theoretical sources (e.g. Prosdocimus of Beldemandis writing in 1413 on the fine points of intonation and the monochord) as an opportunity to offer two or more possible readings.

Similarly, Robert Toft has presented theoretical and practical evidence that the same piece might have been performed around 1550 with a more liberal use of "closest approach" inflections in most parts of Western Europe than in certain German traditions, and again multiple readings are a possible and attractive solution, mirroring what actually happens in different intabulations of Josquin's music, for example.

If we wish to follow a "traditional" relationship of respect between composer and performer, then historical precedent at the least gives us a diverse set of models to choose from, some to be approached with due caution.

For example, in presenting examples of his own experimental music in the "enharmonic genus" featuring direct steps by a diesis of 1/5-tone (curiously recalling the 14th-century system of Marchettus, although in a very different musical and intonational setting based on meantone temperament rather than Pythagorean tuning), Vicentino advises that conventional compositions can also be "improved" by adding chromatic semitones or diesis inflections.

However the composers of such pieces might have reacted to this proposal - and we can reasonably conclude that at least Zarlino (based on his remarks about the "chromaticists") and Vincenzo Galilei (based on his conclusion that the enharmonic genus is unnatural for singing and disproportioned to the ear) would not have been pleased - Vicentino at least provides us with evidence that then, as now, the dialogue between composer and performer could sometimes take surprising turns.

Moving from such problematics to the question of performing Vicentino's own enharmonic music (of which only a few precious examples including one complete motet Musica prisca caput have come down to us), we may find that HEP has the advantage of making this music immediately accessible, paving the way for "technologically correct" HIP renditions also.

Using HEP technologies, we can design a serviceable emulation of Vicentino's archicembalo or arciorgano (a positive organ evidently likewise equipped with 36 notes per octave, or 38 in his ideal model) simply by placing two 12-note MIDI keyboards or the like in 1/4-comma meantone a diesis apart. While Vicentino's complete instrument has a full 31-note circulating division of the octave, plus a few extra keys likely providing pure fifths and minor thirds with the most common diatonic notes, an appropriate 24-note gamut suffices for any given piece or excerpt in his very small known enharmonic repertory.

While quite different from any technology known to the 16th century, of course, this synthesizer solution does fulfill the maxim that "Implementation is the most sincere form of flattery." From experience, I can say that the diesis shifts of Vicentino must be heard in order to be appreciated, and likewise such new intervals as the third which he describes as resembling the minor third but not minor, and resembling the major third but not major, with a ratio of approximately "5-1/2:4-1/2" or 11:9. It is an intermediate third a diesis or 1/5-tone larger than minor and smaller than major, in 20th-century parlance a "neutral" third, which Vicentino finds rather consonant.

Such a HEP approach may serve at least three purposes: To make the experience of playing and hearing Vicentino's music and tuning system much more accessible to historically-inclined keyboardists; to interest audiences in this music; and to create impetus for the building of reproductions of the archicembalo and arciorgano using HIP or period technologies.

An "inauthentic" but not irrelevant advantage of the HEP approach is that it alleviates the problem of tuning and retuning an instrument with 24 or more notes per octave, and also makes it easy to shift from an enharmonic temperament to a conventional arrangement serving as a usual two-manual instrument, for example with different registrations for the manuals in the same 12-note meantone tuning.

At this point, the devoted HIP-ster might face a dilemma: Is it truly "authentic" to go a step further by designing 16th-century keyboards of a kind which might have developed if Vicentino's innovations had become more popular. For example, how about an enlarged version of the arciorgano, based on period technology, with multiple or contrasting registrations?

4. HEP and new music

While some HIP approaches may draw a kind of line between "historical" music and new compositions or improvisations, a HEP approach might be conducive to a sense of extended community: "Sure, there are differences between what I write or extemporize in 2001 and what was written or played in 1201 or 1551, but then again, there were lots of differences between 1201 and 1551 also."

If one uses new technologies to model the intonational systems of Marchettus of Padua and Nicola Vicentino, why use the resulting gamuts only to interpret historical compositions; why not also write new compositions based on historical styles but unavoidably as well as deliberately including some new elements?

With due caution, I would stress that in a HEP approach interpretation and composition or free improvisation remain somewhat distinct: Over the past three years or so, I have found that the ideas of Marchettus can inspire a plethora of "neo-Gothic" tuning systems, sonorities, and interval progressions which are evidently quite outside known Gothic practice and theory. Using these neo-Gothic elements is what I would term a further development of Gothic theory and practice, rather than its "interpretation" - although the interpretive process can play a central role in the formulation of new musical possibilities and systems.

To conclude, I would consider much of the "HIP vs. un-HIP" debate to be an unfortunate war between potential and even natural allies: The scholarly imperative to ask "What are the likeliest historical possibilities, and why?"; and the creative imperative to ask: "What are the likely or not-so-likely possibilities using any technical means at hand or potentially at hand that seem to fit - and why not?"

A HEP outlook seeks a middle ground - or rather a ground recognizing both positions as vantage points from which to seek a richer dialogue with the composer and the community of interpreters.

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Margo Schulter