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The Early Music Revival
Before the 19th century
Musicians working before 1800 were already beginning to study ancient music.
In England, Johann Pepusch developed an "Academy of Ancient Music" in the 1720s
to study music by Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, William Byrd, Thomas
Morley, and other 'ancient' composers. At the end of the 18th century, Samuel
Wesley was promoting the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in 1808 began
performing Bach's organ music in a series of London concerts. In Vienna, Baron
Gottfried van Swieten presented house concerts of ancient music in the late
1700s, where Mozart developed his love of music by Bach and Handel.
After several decades during which Baroque music was not regularly performed,
Felix Mendelssohn conducted in 1829 a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion,
and that concert is cited as one of the most significant events in the Early
Music Revival, even though he used contemporary instruments and the work was
presented in a greatly condensed version, leaving out a significant amount of
Bach's music. European musicians began to discover the musical treasures from
earlier centuries in the middle of the 19th century.
Early 20th century
The idea of performing early music more "authentically", with a sense of
incorporating performance practice, goes back to the work in London of Arnold
Dolmetsch in late 19th-century, who began making copies of viols, lutes,
harpsichords, and other old instruments, and studying Baroque-era treatises for
information on how music was performed in earlier times. Arnold Dolmetsch is
widely considered the key figure in the early music revival in the early 20th
It was not until after World War II, however, that the modern “Early Music
Revival ” really began to take off. The focus was not simply on repertoire, but
on the ways in which the music is conceived, the process by which it is learned,
and the manners in which it is performed. The purpose was to replace those
numerous unreliable editions which left out, added and altered according to the
personal taste of the 'editor' or to the contemporary mode. Ancient instruments
were revived in order to avoid substitutions of inappropriate instruments.
In the early 20th century, musical historians in the emerging field of
musicology began to look at Renaissance music more completely and carefully,
preparing performing editions of many works. The choirs at the cathedral
churches in England were quick to revive these pieces, establishing a new
standard and tradition in performing Renaissance choral music.
Other important milestones in the early music revival included the 1933
founding of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland by Paul Sacher—together
with distinguished musicians including the pioneering specialist in early vocal
music Max Meili, who contributed to the extensive L'Anthologie Sonore series of
early music recordings and recorded Renaissance lute songs for HMV—and the 1937
presentation and recording of some of Monteverdi’s Madrigals by Nadia Boulanger
Late 20th century
By the 1950s the Early Music Revival was fully underway, and was a fully
established phenomenon by the end of the 1970s. It was centred primarily in
London and Basel (at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis) although there was much
activity in other European and American cities, especially New York and Boston.
It is important to remember that the early music revival movement in the early
twentieth century was, at its inception, largely a grassroots amateur activity;
that happenstance was at once the source of its greatest strengths and its
greatest weaknesses as well. As much as any other force in the period, the
protagonists of the early music revival were opponents of cultural values that,
in the late 1950s, seemed virtually unquestionable. Even as recently as in 1975,
many of the people involved in early music, whether they were players,
instrument makers, or dealers, were essentially hobbyists, earning their
principal incomes in other, sometimes totally unrelated fields of endeavour.
Most interest was centred on the medieval and renaissance periods, and to a
certain extent, the first part of the baroque period. However, it could be
misleading to think of this revival simply in chronological terms, because early
music performers soon extended their interests to later periods. The focus was
not simply on repertoire, but on the ways in which the music is conceived, the
process by which it is learned, and the manners in which it is performed.
At this time established pioneers of early music such as the English
counter-tenor Alfred Deller were joined by a new wave of specialist groups such
as Musica Reservata and the Early Music Consort. The music they played, and the
way it was performed, appeared new in comparison to the sounds that most people
were used to from classical music.
But the revival could not have been complete without the specialized and
professionalized reconstruction of instruments of the Medieval, Renaissance and
Baroque periods. People like Otto Steinkopf started the meticulous reproduction
of wookwinds: crumhorns, cornamuses, rauschpfeifes, shawms, cornetto,
renaissance and baroque transverse flutes, oboes, and early types of clarinets
and oboes. Other manufacturers and resellers like the Renaissance Workshop
Company (formerly J.
Woods and Sons Ltd.) played an important role in the development of the
Early Music in the 20th and 21st centuries.
As Renaissance bands and Baroque orchestras multiplied, advertising the use
of 'original instruments' (though they probably were reproductions), historical
instruments acquired an importance of the same level of the performers and the
Much of the novelty and exhilaration of the past decades has inevitably worn
off as early music takes its place within the newly redefined mainstream. But
all the signs point to the conclusion that the revival is moving from strength
to strength. Its vitality and influence have never been greater.
There continues in the 21st century to be a great flourishing of ensembles,
training programs, concert series, festivals, organizations and recordings
devoted to promote the study and performance of ancient and early music. For an
increasing number of professional performers, it is an artistic pursuit of the
highest order, requiring years of practice, discipline, and self-sacrifice. For
instrument builders, it is a craft requiring a great deal of research and
development, hours of patient labour, and a high degree of skill development. A
number of importers and dealers in early instruments have flourished. Early
music world has also become a good business.
The protagonists of the Early Music Revival
There are many people that have contributed to the revival of the early
In this page we have
alphabetically listed the leading figures in the revival of interest in Early
Music, as performers, instrument makers, scholars, publishers or promoters.
The revival of Early Musical Instruments
The last decades of the XIXth century saw the formation of many important
instrument collections by men like Victor-Charles Mahillon, Alessandro Kraus,
Daniel Scheurleer, Paul de Wit, Auguste Tolbecque, Morris Steinert, Thomas
Taphouse, Carl Engel and A. J. Hipkins. From time to time, old instruments were
taken out of their cases and played in public concerts. On the whole, early
instruments were still viewed as antiquarians' playthings, but the fact that
they were being revived attests to the growing market for such commodities.
The early instrument industry in Germany blossomed after the First Word War
with dozens of small and medium-sized workshops scattered around the country.