Dr Paul Jessen

Early Performance Practice

Early Performance Practice is a vexed question these days. Many people have explored the issue with almost fundamentalist religious fervour for most of this century, yet many performers would prefer to ignore the whole business and play from their feelings and teachers' mores.

For me, the most important question has been to discover the technique, instruments, and spirit of how music was performed in different times. For this reason I studied "early fingering" with David Kinsela in Sydney, Australia, and with Professor Harald Vogel in the Norddeutsche Orgelakademie in Ostfriesland, Germany. For this reason I also pursued studies with Professor John Grew at McGill University, Montréal, Québec, and Professor Réjean Poirier at Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec. My doctoral research was on organ technique as discussed in Jacob Adlung's Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (Erfurt: 1758). As with all learning, my early opinions were eventually well modified, however the process of discovery was an important one. One cannot avoid studying and practicing early fingering if one wishes to understand it. Merely reading the old treatises does not give the effect of using the early techniques, so one cannot apply what one imagines the effect is to modern fingering. I have found the effect to be very subtle indeed and mostly only suitable on a historically informed tracker action organs.

Fingering, however, must not be studied in isolation. One must also read articles on articulation to have an idea of how the fingering may have been applied. It is also useful to know that southern European organs had lighter actions than the northern instruments.

The end product of all this study is to learn which choices are appropriate to the music in hand!

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Last updated November 3, 2006