Masumi Nagasawa: Inspiring liberty in music

When Sébastien Erard (1752-1831) introduced the double-action harp in 1810, musicians were extremely enthusiastic about the new instrument and never reconsidered the qualities of the earlier single-action pedal harp. This created a lasting image of the single-action pedal harp as being “imperfect'” and devalued its musical repertoire from Classical to Romanticism. Over time the single-action harp lost its position as a favored instrument.

The aim of my research is to fill a gap in the current knowledge and understanding of repertoire and practice for the single-action pedal harp during the period 1760 to1830. The repertoire includes compositions from the period of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Louis Spohr. I believe that this research will be of considerable benefit not only to players of the historical harp but also to modern musicians wishing to give performances of the repertoire from this period.

Through my research, I aim to compare modern and historical practices and determine the differences in the musical results that they produce. This will entail a critical analysis of new editions, which are regularly used in our present teaching and performing. The result of the research will be an in-depth understanding of the notation used in early sources and treatises. This, in turn, will lead us to reconsider our approach to stylistic performance. Furthermore, the results will provide direct guidance for present day musical and performance practice. The research promises to confirm the value and indispensability of scholarly research into the hidden meanings that underlie the notations and their implications for performances.

Reading from the early-music sources and reconsideration of the style of our performances should not restrict our execution of the music but inspire our imagination to make music. It also allows us to perform the compositions in a way that meets the expectations of the composers. This inspirational path seeks to accomplish a fine style, which can be achieved by conscientious listening, by cultivating a good ear and by expanding one’s flexibility in enhancing music.

My intention is therefore is to validate the contention that “historically informed performance” does not imply “restriction”, but on the contrary leads to a “liberation” of the music.

By style or delivery is signified the manner in which the singer or player performs what has been invented and written down by the composer. This, if confined to a faithful rendering of the same, as expressed by notes, signs and technical terms, is called a correct style: but if the performer, by additions of his own, be capable of intellectually animating the work, so that the hearer may be led to understand and participate in the intentions of the composer, it is termed a fine style, in which correctness, feeling and elegance, are equally united.

Louis Spohr, On delivery or style of performance from his Violin Schule (ca.1832) translated from the original by John Bishop (ca.1850).

Masumi Nagasawa; harpist and musician / researcher is currently a PhD student at Leeds University