I started my music studies when, thanks to my master, the recovery of ancient musical practice reached my city. At the same time my master started building an important collection of ancient pianos from the second half of the eighteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth century and his execution of all Mozart’s piano sonatas on original instruments was for me an authentic revelation. This represented a new approach to a more analytical almost revolutionary interpretative attitude.
The total respect for the musical score, in particular the awareness of the historical evolution of the musical signs, along with the careful study of the ancient treaties opened up new unexplored territories. Finally the peculiar sound and the delicate mechanics of vintage instruments caused sensation, even though there were several critical positions from the traditionalists.
I was very young and my musical knowledge was at the beginning, but the philological movement represented also for me the symbol of novelty against a tradition completely out of date and unable of renewal. In those years some people claimed (but with arrogance) that tradition was nothing more than deformation: this statement was probably an attempt to solve an ancient problem of Western culture which isn’t able to relate serenely to its past.
According to this new school, the retrieval of the original editions (urtext) would finally restore the true will of the composer purified from the arbitrary additions by editors who, belonging to different aesthetics, could not grasp the greatness and the depth of the works they published. It seemed like a discovery of a lost treasure, buried by the dust deposited over the decades; the work of art would finally be reborn and shine.
This was the brilliant premise, but over the years something else happened, the musical environment slowly changed towards marketing and, as my studies progressed and researches deepened, the task to give an authentic interpretation became more and more complicated, ambiguous and the results took unpredictable directions.
This raised a series of questions that were not easy to answer. Without going into technical details, some statements in vogue and some purism among the philologists were fiercely denied or proved false. Then the supposed correct interpretation of some musical signs (metronomes, dynamics, phrasing etc.) gave rise to doubts, ambiguities and perplexities. Was also this new school subjected to the ephemeral empire of fashion and marketing instead of being the advocate of the truth? How was it conceivable that there were new critical editions of the same score so different from each other? After careful analysis these seemed even more arbitrary than those belonging to the past so criticized.
How is the quality of the sound of vintage instruments affected during their restoration, such as adjusting harmonic table or changing the hammers? Have the villas or castles kept the same acoustics of two or three hundred years ago? Even moving a furniture can sometimes change considerably the overall effect. We have to keep in mind that what we perceive during a performance is not exactly the pure sound of the instruments, but the sound mixed with the reflections in the hall. There is always an unpredictable subtle difference between the sound imagined and created by the interpreters with the one which actually reaches the public. This leads to the necessity to clearly separate the philological executive practice from the reality of playing exclusively on ancient instruments, whose sound’s quality is practically lost in some modern concert halls.