Greg Dikmans

October 30, 2021

What is Historically Enlightened Performance?

Dear Friends and Music Lovers,

Historically Enlightened Performance (HEP) is a term I recently coined to describe what I’ve been working towards for the last 40 years or so. The lockdowns have given me a lot of time for reflection. 😀

When I started out as a performer I played Early Music: music from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. In the early 1980s I was in an ensemble (of two) called the Early Music Duo. We did many concerts and tours for Musica Viva around Australia and even in South East Asia.

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I was a proud member of what was called the Early Music Revival.

After returning from postgraduate studies in Europe, I started teaching in universities and conservatoriums. I taught what became known as Historical Performance (aka Performance Practice or Performance Practice Studies).

Historical performance takes seriously the huge amount of historical information available to us. It acknowledges that there is no unique historical truth that is valid for all times, places, styles, genres and composers. This is why the term ‘authentic’ performance did not stand the test of time. It was really just a marketing term.

I have always thought of my approach as artistic research intended to lead to practical outcomes: that is, performances.

At some point another essentially marketing term gained traction and is still used widely today: HIP (Historically Informed Performance). Some prefer Historically Inspired Performance.

HIP is cool. HIP is fashionable.

I now prefer the term Historically Enlightened Performance (HEP).

Not only is HEP an older version of the word HIP—in the 1930s a hep-cat was a stylish or fashionable person, especially in the sphere of jazz or popular music—but it better encapsulates what we should be trying to achieve.

The classic How to Read a Book (1940, rev. ed. 1972) by Adler and Van Doren makes the important distinction between being informed and being enlightened:

To be informed is to know simply that something is the case.

To be enlightened is to know, in addition, what it is all about: why it is the case, what its connections are with other facts, in what respects it is the same, in what respects it is different, and so forth. …

Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.

— Adler and Van Doren

To be enlightened is to have a deep understanding. Understanding leads to insight and comfort with the data.

Quantz talks about this in the Preface to his Versuch  (1752). He says that he has endeavoured to purify his taste ‘through long experience and reflection.’ He expands on this in the Introduction:

For everything in music that is done without reflection and deliberation, and simply, as it were, as a pastime, is without profit. Industry founded upon ardent love and insatiable enthusiasm for music must be united with constant and diligent inquiry, and mature reflection and examination.

 —  Johann Joachim Quantz

He is describing the search for explanations and understanding, for enlightenment. This is education (discovery) and not just training.

Curiosity is key and you need to do the work.

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If you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions, you can contact me directly at dikmans@hey.com

Best wishes,

Greg Dikmans (Elysium Ensemble)

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Email: dikmans@hey.com

Blog: https://world.hey.com/dikmans

Elysium Ensemble website: http://elysiumensemble.com