Performing the Score

"This DVD is truly inspiring—a completely lucid and authoritative look at the connections between the great composers and the instruments that they worked with. Best of all, it opens the imagination by showing the many possibilities contained in great music. In short, I am a fan!" Emanuel Ax, pianist

"This video clearly demonstrates that a historically informed understanding of notation and instruments can deepen our engagement with the music we play and cherish. The collaborative performance examples are beautiful and compelling." Joseph Lin, first violin, Julliard String Quartet

"Malcolm Bilson and Elizabeth Field have produced a DVD that is of much interest both to musicians and to general music lovers everywhere. Their informal, twinkly presentation makes this an enjoyable way to learn a lot of fascinating facts about the history of performing music." Steven Isserlis, cellist

"This DVD is highly inspiring and thought-provoking for pianists and any musician who strives to understand and communicate music with complete intellectual and emotional commitment. Bilson and Field's personal stories of discovering the 'old' ways of playing show why knowledge of historical instruments is fundamentally important. Field argues convincingly for the awareness of original performance practices, Romantic, Classical and Baroque alike. Her fluency on Baroque and modern violins shows that mastering both is not only possible, but hugely beneficial. Bilson makes a strong case for the use of appropriate fortepianos for classical and Romantic repertoire, stressing the acoustic shortcomings of Steinway-type pianos. He indicates a new era in piano performance in which a concert hall would not only own a Steinway, but also copies of Mozart and Chopin's fortepianos. Indeed, the music gains new expressivity and grace when Bilson plays the fortepiano.

In the open rehearsal section of the DVD Bilson and Field show how a thinking musician should apply historical knowledge. Their subsequent performance is thoroughly exciting and in no way contrived (as historical performance is often expected to be). A brilliant selection of recordings included in this DVD proves that fortepianos can indeed sound very beautiful and individual and reveal original qualities of the music unnoticed in modern piano practice. The sound of Chopin's favourite fortepiano Pleyel is breathtakingly beautiful, as if it shines from within. The Beethoven is unexpectedly electrifying on the Salvatore LaGrassa fortepiano and on McNulty's copy of Walter. Sharp attack at the start of the sound and the variety of tone between registers allow greater clarity and sharp contrasts. The characters implied by the composer come out clearly and vividly. Bilson's Schubert Sonata speaks with charm and simplicity and flows with ease with a rich pallet of colours and dynamic contrasts easily afforded by the Hafner fortepiano. It is striking that there is a great gap between the loudest and quietest dynamics in the tone of the sound itself. Perhaps unexpectedly for some, the instrument responds very sensitively to the intentions of the performer with a huge array of colours. The rich and resonant sound of the British Clementi fortepiano in the recording of the Clementi Sonata contrasts greatly to the clarity and delicacy of the Viennese fortepianos previously heard. Cortot's recording of Schumann closes this section to demonstrate that even in the early 20th century there was diversity of sound in the piano world.

The 'old' fortepianos are not just museum objects. These are capable of spellbinding and thrilling the audience if their performer is as dedicated and skillful as the composers themselves were. The discussion with Sir Nicholas Kenyon and Kristian Bezuidenhout reveals growing appetites for historical performance on the world stage as well as recordings. This should encourage pianists, accompanists and chamber musicians to consider a challenging and exciting career as a fortepianist. The interviews with some of such young musicians about their experiences of fortepiano demonstrates the advantages of such a choice. One message becomes very clear - modern pianists and chamber musicians should not ignore the history of their instruments and performance practice. This DVD has it all to make young musicians hungry to know more." Elena Vorotko, pianist, The Royal Academy of Music, London

Six years ago Malcolm Bilson released Knowing the Score (included here), an absorbing investigation into how Urtext editions can be more accurately interpreted to produce performances that are not merely more 'authentic' but also more expressively potent and passionate.

Now he has returned to the fray with Performing the Score, with the assistance of violinist Elizabeth Field. This time they talk and perform direct to camera, opening with an introduction that puts the whole Urtext issue into context, demonstrating how modern preconceptions of how music should be played were shaped in various ways that had little to do with a composer's original intentions. Bilson then goes on to talk specifically about early pianos and their essential differences when compared with the modern Steinway (including the problems with cross-stringing), which he illustrates tellingly at one point with some Mozart he recorded live on a Steinway when he was a student back in 1965.

Field then takes over, demonstrating with good humor how she first came to discover the revelation of using a baroque violin (playing the Sibelius Concerto!) and the profound differences between an authentic set-up and its modern counterpart.

Particularly fascinating are the discussion-demonstrations regarding performance issues surrounding Mozart's K378 Violin Sonata and the opening movement of Schumann's A minor Violin Sonata. Further enlightenment is gained from Nicholas Kenyon and Kristian Bezuidenhout, who put period instrument practice in its contemporary context. All in all, this is a feast for the mind, ear and eye that deserves the widest circulation. Julian Haylock, International Piano, No. 11 Jan/Feb 2012

Violinist Elizabeth Field joins pianist and scholar Malcolm Bilson on Performing the Score (Cornell University), the follow-up to Bilson's popular DVD Knowing the Score, to discuss ways in which modern players can come to truly understand and perform the notations of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and others, especially on works for more than a single instrument.

Bilson and Field, a Baroque specialist and adjunct professor at George Washington University, offer a straightforward, no-nonsense delivery while explaining how modern instruments have colored the interpretation of these great works, especially of Baroque pieces, which often are given faster, more lyrical readings than intended by the composer.

This is a thought-provoking video master class, well informed by the tenets of the historically informed performance movement, that can reap vast rewards for those willing to challenge preconceived notions of expression. Greg Cahill,, July 2012

This entire DVD is a testament to the vast impact [Bilson]'s had on countless musicians, concert goers, instrument builders, restorers, and thinkers on music throughout the world. His tireless dedication to this music and these instruments brought him in touch with scores of people, and one cannot imagine the field of early music without his work as a performer, teacher, scholar, and yes, even a provocateur at times.

Performing the Score is a worthy sequel to Knowing the Score, and it will certainly provide all viewers, whether in the "modern" field or the early music field, with much-needed food for thought. Sylvia Berry, Early Music America, Winter 2012