(SOUNDBITE OF BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKSTONES' "BLU-BOP")
AARON CAIN: Welcome to Profiles from WFIU. I'm Aaron Cain. On Profiles we talk to notable artists scholars and public figures to get to know the stories behind their work. Our guest today is Barthold Kuijken.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEMANN’S “QUADRI NO. 12: SIXIEME QUATUOR: III. VITE”)
He's among the most prominent performers of early music on authentic or original instruments partly because he was among those who first became re-interested in doing such things in Europe back in the 1960s and '70s. In fact, early music was kind of a family affair for Barthold. He was born into a musical family near Brussels and he has, among his siblings, two older brothers - cellist and viol player, Wieland, and violinist Sigiswald, with whom Barthold performed from an early age. He studied music at the Bruges Conservatory the Brussels Royal Conservatory of Music and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague. During his studies, Barthold Kuijken became interested in the recorder and the baroque flute. He learned to play them from his instructors, but also to a large extent from himself. He did lots of research on the construction of original instruments and pored over treatises and other sources from the 17th and 18th centuries. After his student years, he began regularly appearing in concert engagements around the world with his two brothers and with other musicians. Barthold Kuijken has become a sought-after teacher and conductor. And he also serves as artistic director of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. Recently, he joined me for a conversation in the WFIU studios.
Barthold Kuijken, thank you so much for joining me today on Profiles.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Thanks for inviting me.
AARON CAIN: Now, you are a flute player but that doesn't exactly explain the whole story. So, first, for people who might not be familiar, let's start off with the instrument itself, if we could. What is the difference between the flute that you play most often and what most people think of as a flute?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well, what people think of as a flute is usually a metal thing with lots of keywork on it, looks brilliant and sounds brilliant. It sounds very homogenous, strong. It's a very good instrument. It was developed in the mid-19th century and the flutes before that mid-19th century were usually made of wood and not metal, or occasionally for very expensive clients in ivory. And instead of having all that keywork on them, there is either none or just one little key. So, from the outside for some people, it looks a little bit like a recorder, except that you don't have that fipple that the recorder has. So, you have a mouth hole more or less like the modern flute ones but smaller. And then just six holes for your fingers and one key for your little right finger. And that's it. And all the rest you have to, like I used to say, make or fake it. My first contact with a flute is as a boy of 6 getting as a birthday or Christmas present a little recorder with a book that explains how to play it. So that was my first idea of flute, and I learned reading notes and playing the recorder at the same time - that felt totally natural because two of my older brothers were playing music all the time. The one on the violin, the other on the cello in those days, or the piano. So, I heard music whenever I came home from school. And picking up that recorder felt like bicycling – just, you just do it. And at some point, when I was 8 or so, the idea came that I could go to music school in our town, Bruges, in Belgium, and learn the recorder. And to our astonishment, they told us that recorder is no instrument, it's a toy. And that it was not taught at conservatory. I mean, it was called conservatory as if it were very high-ranked thing. It was a very good music school. So, I had to choose something else. And I had already seen and heard that metal flute we were talking about because I had attended some symphonic concerts. And the sound was familiar to my ears. And I thought, “this will be a good idea.” So, I switched from one to the other and started playing the modern flute - the metal flute - and still continue to do so. Basically, I had the full training of that until, at some point, I became interested in earlier things. I started reading books about performing music of the 18th century. I started noticing that the tradition I was being trained in and what I read in those books written in 18th century didn't really coincide. They were not the same thing. So those differences kind of caught my interest. That must not have been easy for my teachers I think because I kept asking questions. And that has been a kind of leitmotif for my life. I think I like questions way more than the answers. So, I asked questions and they were a bit annoyed with them because sometimes they had no idea. I had been told at some point by one of my teachers, “You don't need to think. I think for you,” - which was not entirely what I thought a teacher should say. And it didn't stop me thinking anyway. So, at some point when I was 18 or so, I was already in professional conservatory. I had the good luck of finding a splendid 18th-century flute, an old one made in Brussels around middle of 18th century, and still one of the best flutes I know. This is just something – well, how good luck can turn your way that as a boy of 18, first year at conservatory - freshman - you find that and you manage to buy it and discover it all alone because there was nobody around who could teach me, which was a very good thing, because you have to discover everything yourself. You have to make all mistakes yourself. It can take a couple of years before you realize that something you were doing really didn't work. But, by then, you know it doesn't work. And it's not like a teacher telling you, “oh, don't start this. That won't ever work. Do it another way.” You have all the, let's say, the evidence to your side. You have found out physically, I would say, that a certain technique or a certain idea doesn't work. So, I am very glad that this kind of autodidactic passage was there for me. It took more time but it's very pleasurable. And afterwards I must say, as a teacher myself, I consider it my main job to prepare students to become autodidactic if that's a way of defining teaching.
AARON CAIN: You teach people to teach themselves.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah.
AARON CAIN: I'd like to talk about that more, certainly, but before we do, I want to back up a little bit and talk about that transition from the modern flute to the baroque flute or the transverse flute - the traverso - it goes by many names. First of all, repertoire from the 18th century was when you were in conservatory, if I'm not mistaken, being performed on the modern flute to some extent.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: It was being performed on a modern flute or not at all.
AARON CAIN: ...Or not at all.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: I mean anything before Mozart was considered primitive. Bach - Johann Sebastian Bach was considered more etude than music.
AARON CAIN: They were exercises, not...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah, the sounds of Bach didn't exist basically in active music. And Johann Sebastian Bach was something you would study along with your etudes but not with concert pieces. And in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, there was a whole current in Europe and the U.S. becoming aware that this was a strange way of looking at music or music history because, at the same time, this older repertoire - everything before Mozart more or less - and the more modern repertoire from Stravinsky onwards with some exceptions - Shostakovich and Prokofiev were OK. Benjamin Britten was OK. And that was about as modern as people would go. But no Alban Berg, no Schoenberg, no Webern. That was considered not music. So, conservatory - maybe the name was telltale?
AARON CAIN: (Laughter).
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: It was conservative in some way and everything that was left and right from mainstream was not practiced was not done was not put on the platform. And mainly in the '60s and '70s, we saw a whole generation of musicians that started to look left and right from mainstream often doing both sides simultaneously. We did - my brothers and me and many of our friends - because we just said, “well, this can't be right. It can't be right to only study the established canon of great music - classical music - but here are these other things.” So, we were discovering lots of music that hadn't been played for a long time or had not yet been played because it was just composed or refused by the classical canon again. I was very lucky that I was studying in Brussels. From where I lived in Bruges, that's 100 kilometers. Don't tell me how many miles it is. One hour driving or one hour by train - we do have trains. And the Brussels Conservatory has one of the richest libraries in Europe for some reason. And I would spend hours and days in that library looking for music that hadn't been taken out for many, many, many years and discovering all kinds of pieces that people wouldn't ever play. But that started to make sense when I brought them into contact with the historical treatises about performance practice about a way of playing music - that I was reading treatises being written in the 1700s. So suddenly I was there with, let's say, historical manuals about how to play the flute, for instance, written in 1750, a flute of that same date and music of that same date. And of course, when those three points of the triangle started meeting, you have a kind of territory in which you feel, “a-ha, this makes sense.” You can go for one corner to the other and still you are inside the triangle. So that was a wonderful feeling and a kind of discovery going into pretty well-unchartered land.
AARON CAIN: Not to challenge your own title as an autodidact, but in a way, you were sort of more of a trio-didact. It was your own conclusions. It was the instrument itself teaching you things when you actually had a historical instrument and it was the treatises...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yes.
AARON CAIN: ...Combining.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yes, that's true. And of course, then the experience with some colleagues and my older brothers I was very happy that I ended up playing a wind instrument whereas my older brothers are string players. So that gave me a bit more territory of my own. I'm a bit younger than they are and as each time five to seven years between the three of us - one plays a cello and gamba, second plays a violin. I was a flute player. That gave us all three kind of independence from each other. We played together very, very much, discussed endless during rehearsals or whatever. But I think that difference in age just made for it that we had also our own history and that was very healthy.
AARON CAIN: You had just the right amount of distance.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah. I did not feel influenced in the sense of conducted by what they had been doing. But I noticed very often that, to some extent, we were parallel and, to some extent, absolutely not. And that's fine.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEMANN’S “QUADRI NO. 12: SIXIEME QUATUOR: IV. GRACIUSEMENT”)
AARON CAIN: You're listening to Profiles from WFIU. Our guest is Barthold Kuijken and that's him in the background there playing Baroque flute along with his brothers - Sigiswald on violin and Wieland playing viola da gamba and the late harpsichordist, Gustav Leonhardt.
You have six brothers - as you've put it before, “three musicians and three normal.” Is it true that the other three non-musician brothers are also, to a degree self-taught, in sculpture, biology and chemistry?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: While the sculptorist, he went to art school and then he developed as every artist does his own language somehow. And then afterwards was teaching in art academy. We have a chemist who went to university in chemistry and then studied chemistry because people told him that in mathematics what he had wanted to do there was no job in those days. But then, finally, after a couple of years working in chemistry, he was just moving into mathematics more and more. And the rest of his career stayed very much in that level doing all kinds of things he hadn't dreamt of doing before. So, he was happy with that. And then my other brother, the biologist, he was one of the first in Belgium to have a real attention for the environment. And he became director of the National Institute for Environment Protection which he very much created all of his active life and is still doing it. That's his main occupation - looking at nature and trying to understand it and to keep some of that for future generations. I think the desire to experience things for ourselves was very much part of our upbringing in the family. There was a sense of independence because we respect teachers, yes, or institutions, yes, but don't exaggerate in that. Don't become a slave of a teacher or of a university. Don't become a follower. And there was no mentioning of become a leader. No ambition in that sense. But do what you feel is necessary and right. And, if you want to make a choice, well, make a choice and don't complain afterwards.
AARON CAIN: Don't complain about the consequences.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: No. I mean, if I chose not to have a seat in the symphony orchestra but to stay an independent musician and doing chamber music, and that kind of stuff that was my choice. And I knew that, let's say, certainly in the beginning, economically, it was not the wisest choice, but it was a choice I had to take from the inside, let's say. And I'm very happy I did. And I think the same was true for all six of us that, somehow, the idea was when you have a conviction, just go for that. Don't follow blindly but, well, make up your mind and do things. And don't go for the outside result - for the fame or whatever - but just go for what you want to do. And you will see what results it brings or does not bring.
AARON CAIN: Was there anything that you did carry forward that you did feel that you learned and incorporate into your professional life from your instructors in a conservatory environment?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: There was one thing I learned very strongly from a modern flute teacher in the Brussels Conservatory was a kind of self-discipline. He would become unfriendly to nasty when you played just one or two errors too much. He said, “well, those notes are not printed, are they? When there is an F and I hear you play a G, come on,” - in a very dry and scaring way somehow so you didn't want to do that twice in the lesson. So that has been something very useful - the kind of self-discipline. If you do a job, do it well. And that's it. And basically, everybody knows for himself or herself very well what is a good job what's a kind of lousy job. I think the idea was do a good job.
AARON CAIN: I get the impression this is something that you also try to pass along to your own students.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: I certainly try to do that, yes. And I try to do that myself...
AARON CAIN: ...Leading by example.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: ...Just by doing it, because you don't want to be different. When you have an idea about a piece of music, let's say you have an inner image of how you want it to sound. Well, I am not all too happy when my actual playing doesn't get close enough to that. And that's it. And it's the same with conducting, basically. When you conduct an orchestral piece, you have an inner image of how you need that piece to sound. It's not, “I would love this. I would love this.” But there's a kind of inner need – well, that's it. And that's where you want to get.
AARON CAIN: I understand that while you were at Ghent you also studied art history for two years.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah.
AARON CAIN: How has knowledge of art influenced how you've performed music?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: There are two things, probably. One was at the end of high school I felt that I could become a musician. So, I was 18. I could go to the Brussels Conservatory and just follow the kind of natural feeling path. At the same time, I found this maybe too easy. And I have always been attracted to a wider image. So, I didn't want to end up being what I would say only a musician. And I realized very well that music is part of the culture. It's not something isolated - that music is part of the other arts, of that landscape of arts and culture and language and everything. So, I hoped that studying art history, not musicology, but general art history would broaden my view of where in the landscape of a certain time was music's place and what kind of place it was. To some extent, that worked. To some extent, it did not, because art history was much more history than art, but OK. I mean, I learnt a lot. I learned also how I did not want to look at certain subjects, which is just as important. So, the moment I should have started to write a master's dissertation, I stopped it. I thought, “well this is enough now. I have learned a lot - also a little bit about research or about the fact that one can do research.” Because in our part of Europe, conservatories were not about research, they were about playing singing - the actual performing aspect and not the academic aspect of it. So, I noticed that there was another side and that, to some extent, that could be useful in my work and that it became very clear for me I am not an academic. I'm a musician. But you can be an informed musician. What's against it?
AARON CAIN: You'd mentioned before that while you were at the conservatory the two things that were out of bounds, roughly speaking: the very early stuff and the most recent stuff...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yes.
AARON CAIN: ...You know, the things that were written within the last 20 years or, you know, in the “prehistoric era” before...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah (laughter).
AARON CAIN: ...Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah.
AARON CAIN: Something one seems to find a lot is that there's more than a little overlap between musicians who specialize in the earliest music and musicians who specialize in the most recent music. Why do you think that is?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: I think it's just the same inner force, somehow. You want some kind of independence. You have walked that central path of the classical canon for a long while during your studies and you actually see that there is left and right of that path - there are a lot of things. And you kind of notice that nobody's paying lots of attention to it. So, I say, “wow, why shouldn't I do that?” And then the way of doing so to the left or to the right, let's say into the modern, into the old world, was not so different. You had to be inventive. You had to be able to forget about a number of things that you have learned - traditions. This is how one plays a violin. This is how one plays a cello. This is how one plays the flute or whatever and that certainly other things were being asked. This is a melody. Yes, but what kind of melodies? It hasn't always been sung like that or played like that. So, you start basically with lots of open questions. And I think the more adventurous of the young musicians look left and right of mainstream. So, did we also - had lots of pleasure playing lots of new stuff until the moment I got less and less fascinated by it. Maybe it was a window in time where in composition it was more about de-structuring the classical components of music - the classical structure of music. And I often felt why we have this heap of bricks here and I was longing for people who would build something with it. And there were not too many. And this is probably the moment I got a bit tired of it. And it happened to be also the moment I got more and more work on the early side so that kind of the balance went to that side could have gone the other way. But I'm not unhappy about the idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTECLAIR’S “DEUXIEME CONCERT IN C MINOR: I. PRELUDE – LENTEMENT”)
AARON CAIN: Barthold Kuijken, baroque flute and recorder player teacher and conductor. You're listening to Profiles from WFIU.
You've mentioned that when you were studying art history for a while, and then you got just to the point when you should have been writing your dissertation, and you say, “OK, that's enough of this.” But sometime later in 2007, you did receive a doctorate in arts from the Free University of Brussels. The focus was on music rather than art history of course, at this time, but the title of the dissertation was “The Notation Is Not the Music.” And it was your reflection on more than 40 years in intensive practice of early music as a performer, as a researcher. And this became a book that was published not long ago. In that book, you cover a lot about the historically-informed performance. I don't know if you want to call it the “movement” of it, the practice of it, and how you approach it. But you also do what the title implies, and you talk about the notation of music itself. And one thing that you wrote is that, fundamentally, notation directs itself toward the wrong physical sense - toward the eye instead of the ear. And that notated music is like a “painted meal.”
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: You stay hungry.
AARON CAIN: You stay hungry. (Laughter) Yeah. Now I don't know if you want to start in the present day and work backward or start backward with earlier types of musical notation. It's a bit ambitious, I know, but could you tell us some of the story of what notation does and does not do?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah. Maybe I should start with the PhD I did in Brussels. It was a very weird situation. The arts education - higher arts education at that moment in Belgium was under the threat that it would stop at the bachelor's degree. It would not even have a Master's. Now, at the Brussels Conservatory where I was teaching, they were very much concerned about it; that it will mean that the amount of years people could study will be reduced and, of course, that the people who would get their diploma will be paid as bachelors and not as masters. So, nobody really liked that idea very much. And one of the answers to that, besides protesting in front of the ministry on the street, was ask somebody to do a PhD because they thought if there is a PhD, you cannot say there cannot be a master.
AARON CAIN: (Laughter) You have to have something in between.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah. And then they asked me, “can you do this? And can you do this in reasonably fast time because this is urgent?” And I thought I would be within the staff of conservatory, somebody who could do that. So, I was in a very comfortable situation that I had no ambition to do a PhD dissertation, and they needed one, not me. It was also fortunate situation that due to all kinds of intra-European legislation, it had become possible just then that one does a PhD - what's known here in the country as a doctorate in musical arts - but PhD in music not about music, which was strongly rejected from the academic side because they say you are object and subject at the same time. This is not scientific. This is not allowed. So, we said, “yes, indeed we are object and subject and that's the whole thing of it.” So, there was a very strong battle at that moment. But we had the legal side to us somehow - that legislation just made it not only possible, but almost compulsory that this kind of PhD became possible. So OK. And I was the first guinea pig in Belgium to do that, which meant there was no model. I had to create a model. And one of the things we were fighting for was what we called “artistic research.” Now of course the academics looked at us - artistic research. What's that?
AARON CAIN: It sounds like a contradiction almost at least to a scientist maybe.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: For scientists it was a total contradiction. So, we had to kind of define the thing, artistic research. And at some point, I came up with the definition - a very short definition, both artistic research is not a four-letter word. It's a three-letter word art because that's what an artist does all his life. He has an artistic question, like a scientist might have a scientific question, at the basis of his research. He has an itinerary, a path where he is researching “how can I handle that initial question?” And at some point, he comes up with an answer, which is usually a piece of art. Like for any scientific dissertation, there is an initial theme and initial question. They have their itinerary through all kinds of ways how can they research that question. And they came up with maybe an essay dissertation hypothesis, whatever. So, we felt we have just the same strategy. We have a question. We have an itinerary. And we have the answer. And the answer is our concerts, our recording just as much as any book or whatever. So, we were arguing that any concert or any CD is worth just as much as any published book - that a concert of a city is a publication. And that's worth as much as a publication and a one journal. That was a very bitter and long battle against academia.
AARON CAIN: I bet.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: But we got it through. So in the end I told them that in fact I considered all my artistic work - all the CDs I have made, articles I had written, editions I had made, they were all directed towards art and not towards science. So, I considered all of that to be my answer to the initial question about notation. And I'll come back to notation later. So, I said, “in fact, all of that is my dissertation, my thesis. I refuse to call it dissertation. I even refused to call it a thesis like we usually do in Flemish. I called it an essay because there is a French word (speaking French) you try. And I found that a very good answer. So, I said, “this is my essay.” But it was legally required that there would be some kind of written documentation to it. The good thing was that there was no proportion between the artistic pillar of the work and the written pillar of the work. That was not defined. It could be as much basically as you wanted. So then, I thought, “I will write the book about notation and that could be the kind of accompanying guide explaining more or less how I came to the result of those CDs and editions and articles.” So that was how that whole book was born. Now, the idea that notation is not the music - if you say that to any musician he says, “of course.” If you say that to somebody who is not a musician or not an artist, they will say, “but what else?”
AARON CAIN: Oh, how could that be?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: How could that be? I recently saw something very nice to whom we have been recording recently here in the United States in a music university. The door leading to the stage had a very nice paper on it. Remember to bow. Now me. as a non-English speaker, and working with string players at that moment, I say, “well, it could be just as well remember to bow.”
AARON CAIN: (Laughter).
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: And how can one know if one doesn't know? Both make sense. And this is about notation.
AARON CAIN: Right. There are two ways to interpret that. Both pretty valid.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: ...Totally valid, and which one is right is a circumstance that will tell you which one is on now. And I have been seeing that more and more in reading music. Of course, it would be a complete miracle if the way of reading music over 2,000 years in Western culture, let's say, would not have changed. I mean, everything around us keeps changing at rather a violent pace. And the way of reading music would have been the same? Come on. That's…that’s more than I can believe. But the whole thing is if we see notation as a kind of code, then you have to learn how to decode for a certain period and country. And not suppose that the way they will decode notation, let's say, in Berlin 1750 was the same as Vienna 1800 – and there’s just about fifty years difference. So then study comes in. And you have to study all the scores themselves and the whole literature around it - the treatises of those days who tell you that what you write is of course what a composer writes. But that's not really what he expects to hear in detail. There is so much that's not written. If today you read a Shakespeare play, we do not have the dialect. We don't have the speed. We don't have the melody of the voice. So often, when I hear it, I would say I don't hear any rhythm. And I can't believe it was like that in Shakespeare's day. But already, there, I use the word “believe.” If you would want to be more specific, I should study that point and have my reasons for it. So, this is the parallel then between language and music, let's say, that comes into play. So, a very large amount of time for me during my whole music life has been to read things and try to imagine try to learn in how far that as a kind of basic material was transformed into actual sound. Think of jazz musicians. They have a kind of notation in front of them but that's not what they play.
AARON CAIN: Yeah. They see eighth notes but they don't play them like straight 8th notes. And they just understand that they're swung.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: And if you ask them, “why don't you play equal eight notes?” They would even say, “but I do play even eight notes.”
AARON CAIN: (Laughter).
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Just listen - ba bada bada bada bada. They're just perfectly equal. That's one answer I got from an Irish folk fiddler whom I asked why he was playing everything kind of unequal. He said, “no I am not playing unequal. I'm just playing the way it is.” So, we had to learn a lot about that. But we are lucky that there is also much information. And you need some courage to apply that in practice. One of the things where I have studied a lot about it was the French repertoire of mid-17th century, second half 17th century Jean-Baptiste Lully who was a kind of revolution in France - worked for King Louis the XIV. The music he was creating conquered all of Europe in no time. Every prince or king or whatever in Europe needed to have such an orchestra and that kind of music.
AARON CAIN: And this is a guy who came from Italy...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: He came from Italy...
AARON CAIN: ...And he accomplished that...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: ...But he became more French than the French.
AARON CAIN: Yeah. He accomplished that in fewer than 15 or so years, I think.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah. So, he had an idea and he did it. But when I looked at the printed music, he produced, I mean it's - I think his music was printed in his own time. I could not possibly understand anymore how that music if you just take it at face value could make people so enthusiastic. So, I decided that I would look into that more seriously because I didn't like that music anymore. I couldn't hear it. I couldn't stand it anymore. And then you start to study out of, I wouldn't say, frustration is a big word but question again. And I had been lucky to find enough references and comparisons out of Lully's own time about how to do things. But, then you'll see that like for jazz music some things are hidden down and many are not. And I guess that also in other parts of culture the written document was often less strong than the oral transmission by mouth by ear. So that if Lully would have played or sung a part to any player, they would have to remember, oh that's how it goes. But they wouldn't write it down. Why would you?
AARON CAIN: Do you think that part of that is because of the societal pressure? Because another aspect of this is, you know, Lully wasn't just successful because he was a brilliant musician, he was successful at a time when artistic taste when musical culture was an edict from a monarch. You know, there was simply the music that everyone had to like and had to know. And so, taste (speaking French) you just knowing the - having the good taste to know these things, there's a lot of pressure to have that kind of taste.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yes. And we shouldn't think that (speaking French) the good taste was the same in Rome as in Paris.
AARON CAIN: Well, they said it differently, for one thing.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah. And already the language is different and the traditions are different. So, you have to learn lots of specific things and that's all we're discovering and then seeing how far does the influence of a great composer or great manipulator maybe like Lully how far does it stretch? What is Lully's influence on Bach on Telemann on Handel? How long does that style of playing persist in orchestras? When did it change? How did it change?
AARON CAIN: Why?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Why did it change? So that is a whole field of experimentation and of study where you just have to rely on the things that we still have. One could do it about Haydn just as much when you look at this printed music and then some manuscript parts that were used in one of the orchestras. Then you suddenly see – oh, wow. This is how it was printed. And this is obviously how it was played. And there is a kind of difference between them. One of the elements I would want to speak about in that context is mainly - well it's mainly 20th century and even more after the Second War - all great composers have had the complete works edition - scientific standards very good. And people tend to think that's that what we must hear. And that's a big, big, big mistake. It's - that is what we must read with the whole context and all the comments and all the variants in other sources. It is a combination of all we know about it. And the edition itself - the musical text tries to come up with something like the composer might have written it. But there the duty of certain editions stops. But musicians now take that as the end point of their study - it should sound like that - instead of taking it as the starting point. This is where we start but not where we end. And that's quite a bit of work.
AARON CAIN: One of the laboratories in which you've been doing this work lately has been in Indianapolis as the artistic director of Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. And this music - the music of 18th century France of Lully for example - is featured in some recent recordings The Lully Effect and before that The Versailles Revolution. How did you first become involved with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well, one of their founders was a former student of mine, Barbara Kallaur. And she had studied with me in Holland in The Hague then returned to the United States and for four years I didn't hear anything of her. I met her occasionally when we had a tour through the states and she would show up after the concert – “Hi, how are you?” And at some point, I get this letter, or maybe fax in those days - I think a letter from her. “Look, we have this orchestra in Indianapolis. And would you want to lead a project with us?” So why not? And that was beginning of the 2000s, I think - 2001 or so. And since then, about every year, once, sometimes twice, I've been coming here and doing different kinds of program of 18th century music between Lully and Mozart, let's say. We have been recording. We just actually finished a fourth recording and it's a great pleasure to work with these people. They have become a nice family. They have become good friends. They're incredibly openminded to try out things. I have worked with a lot of orchestras. We have the feeling this is how we play. Or when you ask something, this is not how we used to play Bach. And then forget it, yeah. With them at the IBO - the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra - it's very different. They said, “wow. What is it that you wish? Is it - is this? Shall we do like that?” They want to learn. They want to experience. So, I'm incredibly happy to have been able for so long now to work with them and indeed produce recordings of Lully and other Frenchmen - Rameau and Marais. And then also the consequences of that Lully style in Germany with Muffat who actually writes the most detailed description of how the Lully orchestra functioned. He was a German who played for a number of years in Lully's orchestra. So, he knew it from inside and writes a very important book where he just explains how things need to be done in his own music; he was a composer as well and in Lully's music. And then you see some weird things when you study that source. He speaks about the way to bow - not to bow.
AARON CAIN: (Laughter).
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: ...To bow. And I noticed that very few orchestras were doing that. I said, “why not?” I mean you get such specific information just handed down.
AARON CAIN: ...For once.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: ...For once.
AARON CAIN: Yeah.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Let's do it. And then he speaks about 25 different ornaments one has to apply to this music. And he says they are necessary. He says those 25 are only the most necessary ones.
AARON CAIN: There's even more, huh?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah. But when I listen to recordings of his music, I just heard an occasional trill and that was it. So, I thought, “well something is wrong about it.” I looked at the printed sources of his music and indeed they do have only that occasional trill. So, all the best musicians must know where to do it just like in jazz music or, like, in folk music. You know that's the appropriate spot to do this or that ornament. And if not the composer or the leader of the band will yell at you and call you whatever name (laughter) and to do something else. So that was an important start for me to have a first experiment with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra to notate for once on their score exactly what Muffat would have been wishing to do. And I still remember the faces when we had the first run through of that with the orchestra - kind of this is impossible. We can't do this. They said we can't play that. I said, “well, maybe not at first sight but let's do it nevertheless.” And we came up with a first recording that I called “The Lully Effect” because it was Lully and Telemann, who was very much under Lully's influence in Germany and Rameau who was kind of next generation or one later in France than Lully, just to see what it spread out from him. And then the second one we did, “The Versailles Revolution,” which was more about Lully himself and Muffat and Marin Marais who was another famous composer. In between we did a recording of flute concertos because I am still a flutist.
AARON CAIN: (Laughter).
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: And then the finished recording now of the whole Telemann program where we could see how in his compositions to some extent the older habits performance practice of Lully's time was still present and how in other compositions they don't make sense anymore. So, it's just feeling until where is it going and at what point does it evaporate? That's a very nice project.
(SOUNDBITE OF LULLY’S “OVERTURE IN E MINOR, TWV 55:e3: III. MENUET TRIO”)
AARON CAIN: You're listening to Profiles from WFIU. I'm Aaron Cain. I'm speaking with Barthold Kuijken artistic director of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra whom you're listening to right now, playing a little Telemann from their recording, “The Lully Effect.”
I realize this is a pretty big question, but partly through your work with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, and of course the other projects you're involved in around the world, really, how has the performance of early music changed since you first became involved with it and studying it and performing it?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well, in the beginning, we were seen like hippies. This was also the late '60s, '70s. We were those guys who would walk on stage not in tails - that was already a very big mistake.
AARON CAIN: You were the weirdos.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: We were the weirdos. And we played all those funny instruments. And among many musicians in those days, the moment you played a Baroque violin, let's say, it means you can't play the real violin properly. When you choose to play recorder, it's because you can't play flute. I must say it was a bit unhappy that from both ends let's call it the modern or the traditional anti-early music. And there was a kind of opposition to each other which was not wise from either side. And I'm very happy that over the years that kind of deep, deep, deep valley there was between those two camps almost has been filled in. And when I now give masterclasses, here the modern flutist would come and would be interested about playing and understanding about earlier music. And there would not anymore be that assumption that an early instrument means you can't play the modern one. And from the early music players there is not anymore that kind of pretension, somehow feeling of superiority that they are in some way better than the modern ones because they know - which was pretentious. So, I am happy that from both sides there is much more contact and a positive contact. So that's the good side. The less good side is that maybe there is more willingness to compromise. That I would say one day you play Verdi and the next day you play Monteverdi. One day you play Bach. The next you play Offenbach. Conductors don't always know a lot. Musicians – well, they have to earn their living. So, they are not in a position to say yes, but hey, watch out. You are doing something weird here. So, there is something a bit watering down maybe also because there is now so much information easily available through all of Internet that people don't even start to get the information. When you have five books, you can, read you will read them. If there are 50,000 you don't even start. It was also different that when we began all of this in the '60s, '70s early music was almost not taught at professional level whereas now every university has a harpsichord teacher early singing coach or whatever Baroque violin. So people can go now to a teacher and assume that a teacher knows what he does and that he is right whereas it's a wrong attitude when you study - not that you have to think that your teacher is wrong but at least question him. Ask questions. Is this what you mean? Why are you doing this? Is it what the early texts say? I thought I read this. I mean, I have felt in my long years of teaching that there had not been much opposition. So, people are swallowing too easily what you said. And that's dangerous. So, I try to make them think for themselves. But let's say that's the negative aspect of early music being taught at professional level.
AARON CAIN: Has that been consistent for your whole career, that lack of questioning, or has that changed at all?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well, it changes in so far that, in the beginning, fewer sources being available, people would have read the few that were available and that later they rely more and more on the conductor telling them what to do on a teacher telling them what to do on fashion - there are a million recordings of early music ensembles. And you can just imitate one that's successful or whose leader has a very great aura around him. And say, “well, if this guy does it, it must be right.” So that, for me, that could be again more kind of revolution of checking whether what has been done and what has been present on recording for a long moment should be questioned again. If we read those old texts and we assess things it might open up minds again.
AARON CAIN: At this point, I want to inject something that a writer for a performance practice review said about your book “The Notation Is Not the Music,” which you were speaking about earlier. They said, “in a climate where marketing and convenient practicalities have increasingly tended to overwhelm historical evidence, Kuijken's book is timely and worthwhile.” Is that how you see it - that over the past few years have other factors been creeping in and influencing what should be the historically influenced performance of music?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well I think I've summed it up quite neatly in this phrase you just read from my book, yes. I mean it has become convenient. And I don't like convenience as the attitude for an artist. It doesn't make you better. So, I love being questioned. And if nobody else questions me, I will question myself.
AARON CAIN: So, let's talk about the Bolero effect.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: (Laughter).
AARON CAIN: This is something else that you brought up in your book. I was wondering if you could describe that phenomenon for us.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well, if we speak about way earlier music, let's say, from late-middle ages, to maybe early 1600s, we notice that many pieces are very short. They last one minute, two minutes, three minutes. On a CD, that makes a bad effect because before, you'll fill 60 minutes of a CD, you have 20 of such pieces. And who wants that? It's like a whole meal with only little appetizers. So, what people do is take one of these and kind of artificially extend it by, for instance, starting by the bass only or the rhythm only. And then they will repeat it adding one voice and repeat it again, adding a second and then repeat it again, adding a third, etc. And probably, at the end, fade out the same way. And that's what I call “Bolero effect,” because it's exactly what Ravel does in his famous bolero. And it makes for an easy thing because people, they can live with it. And they hear something that is longer. Instead of three minutes, suddenly it's a twelve-minute piece. And people say, “oh, well, that's a great piece.” And they forget that, on a piece of paper, it is just basically a very short thing which was never intended to be lengthened that way. There is also absolutely no historical evidence that this was a way of performing such a piece. But it has taken shape in those last 25 years or so. And people now believe without thinking that this is how it should be done, because so many successful people have done it or because so many people have done it successfully. And this is one of the things where I feel that we should just watch out and not walk in that kind of traps.
AARON CAIN: So rather famously, you are part of a family of musicians - a clan, by this point. There are daughters and sons. You and your brothers you probably could make a pretty darn good Baroque orchestra if you...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: No. You can't.
AARON CAIN: Not quite? What are you missing? You've got violinists. You've got...
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: We have a very good pianist who actually studied here in Bloomington for a while. He stayed one year with Professor Pressler on the piano, and there's a viola player, one who plays violin and piano. There's a singer. And that's about it.
AARON CAIN: So, for you, what's the difference between performing with your brothers or other family members versus performing with other musicians?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: The difference when you perform with your brothers is you know them so well in the positive and negative sense. Of course, like everybody would know, oh there he is again. Or with your eyes closed you can have blind confidence. So, it's both sides because we all each have our character in life and in playing. But also, you know each other so you can just do it. And you know that the other is there. One thing I remember being told by audiences that when we start, when we did just the three of us playing together, we didn't look at each other before we started. It was just “boom.” There was no need for looking. We just knew that the other two were ready. We had seen many ensembles - you'll see people looking at each other. Are you ready? Are you ready? Let's go maybe? That kind of things. So, there is an absolutely distinct advantage that you have, somehow, a common past. But I must say, I've had that with other colleagues who were not my brothers. So is not exclusive to brothers it's just to being on the same wavelength somehow. And there are people with whom you will never get it.
AARON CAIN: (Laughter) No matter how hard you try - how long you work with them.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Yeah, no matter how good they are so it's about wavelength more than anything else, I guess.
AARON CAIN: Barthold Kuijken, even though you have recently retired as teacher of baroque flute at the Royal Conservatories of Brussels and The Hague, you are far from done with the study and performance of early music. And, I daresay, it is not done with you.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: I hope so.
AARON CAIN: But you did once say at the conclusion of another interview that nobody in interviews ever asks if you are happy. So, as you look back on a prodigious career, I feel it's my duty to ask: how are you feeling? Are you happy?
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: Well, thank you for asking. I am extremely happy. I feel I have been spoiled by life by history. I seem to have walked into the scene at the right moment at the right place. And I have had so many chances of doing things of meeting people of playing concerts. So, I can only be grateful to life for this. And thank you for asking that question.
AARON CAIN: And Berthold Kuijken, thank you so much for joining me today on Profiles.
BARTHOLD KUIJKEN: With a pleasure, thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEMANN’S “QUADRI NO. 6: DEUXIEME SUITE: IV. COURANTE”)
AARON CAIN: Barthold Kuijken - Baroque flute and recorder player conductor and artistic director of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. I'm Aaron Cain. Thanks for listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKSTONES' "BLU-BOP")
MARK CHILLA: Copies of this and other programs can be obtained by calling 812-855-1357. Information about Profiles including archives of past shows can be found at our website wfiu.org. Profiles is a production of WFIU and comes from the studios of Indiana University. The producer is Aaron Cain. The studio engineer and radio audio director is Michael Paskash. The executive producer is John Bailey. Please join us next week for another edition of Profiles.