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18th-19th c. Performance Practice: primary sources

A guide oriented toward but not exclusively for the use of Dr. Francesca Brittan's MUHI 342/442 course

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Methods and treatises on the technique and style of performance are one of our chief sources of information for historically informed performance. This is an extensive literature, and only the most important treatises tend to be reprinted and translated. Yet, an odd comment in a less-well-known work can open an intellectual door. Information in this guide should help you find the material you’ll need for success in Dr. Brittan’s course.

The New Grove Dictionary (print or online) provides lists of major methods, which are found in the bibliographies in articles on instruments. Many of these methods are in use to the present day, and you’ve probably studied from them. Here a word of caution is necessary. Many of these methods (especially wind methods) have been revised by famous performers and teachers to reflect instrument improvements or newer styles.  If you can use the original edition, either alone or in comparison with modern ones, that would be best.  If you must use a translation (as most of us must), try to find one either contemporaneous with the original, or by a modern historical-instruments performer who has had practical experience in employing the concepts. Also, be open to learning from methods from related instruments. For example, flutists may benefit from looking at methods for the csakan (a recorder-like end-blown flute), and vice-versa.

Physical copies

To browse our holdings, or those of other libraries, you’ll need to use subject searches in the catalog. 
Your main headings will be:

[instrument] Instruction and study
[instrument] Methods

Unfortunately, these headings do not divide by time period, except for “Early works to 1800”. To limit by year of publication brings up the publication dates of the copies owned by the library, not the original publications. Thus, a search for “Piano - Instruction and study” brings up 174 items, but a sort by publication years 1790-1850 only brings up one item, an American treatise from 1819, on a microfilm at KSL.  So you’ll need to skim over the records, or experiment with keywords.

catalog search for piano instruction and study


search results sorted by publication years 1790 through 1850

search result for piano instruction and study by publication year 1790 through 1850


You will also want to try:

[instrument] History
[instrument] music [xxth] century Interpretation
[instrument] music Interpretation

Some of these will point you more toward secondary sources. However, those sources will point you toward primary sources, which can be searched for using by author-title search.

You may want to repeat this search in the OhioLink catalog, as many works have been collected by Oberlin and Ohio State, among others. Try WorldCat as well.

Virtual copies

Online copies of treatises and methods can be found in IMSLP, HathiTrust, and Google Books. Each resource is described below.

The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) is good for methods as well as scores.
To locate methods in IMSLP:

Use “[Instrument] methods” in the Google search window.

IMSLP navigation menu

On the initial page, look for the pull-down menu at the top. Go to “Scores”, pull down to “Instrumentation/genre”, click “Work types”, then find “Methods” and use the category walker. This is not as intuitive as the Google search window, but if you use IMSLP at all, you should become fluent with it.

IMSLP genres

IMSLP work types


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