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sm24-3_EN_p38-39_Hank Knox_sm23-5_BI_pXX 18-10-29 20:16 Page 38

BAROQUE SPECIAL

HANK KNOX
THE PARADOX OF BAROQUE MUSIC about 24 small ensembles (coordinated by
by CAROL XIONG Betsy MacMillan and Tracy Smith Bessette and
coached by a community of Montreal Early
Music luminaries). In addition, he is music di-
rector of the McGill Baroque Orchestra and of
one fully staged Baroque opera per year.
“The Baroque opera productions started out
as a student initiative,” Knox explains. “The
first year, we did a Handel pastiche. Once the
opera department saw how much interest that
generated, we’ve been collaborating with them
ever since. In fact, McGill is the only school in
North America and one of the few in the world
that mounts a staged production of an early
opera every season.”
This season, the opera of choice is a Cana-
dian first, Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione
di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, premiering in
March. Audiences can look forward to some
unusual instruments. “There’s a call for a
lirone, which is a cello on steroids,” Knox ex-
plains excitedly. “It’s a large bowed instru-
ment with 12 strings one plays ‘normally’ and
two drone strings. You play big chords on it.”
It makes sense to play on period instru-
ments such as the lirone, as it does not have
any contemporary descendants. But why in-
sist on playing period instruments that do
have modern counterparts?
According to Knox, the first reason is be-
cause of the difference in sound. “I’ve been in
love with the sound of the harpsichord for over
40 years now. The sound of the Baroque vio-
lin, the Baroque flute with its soft wooden
core… fits the writing and the balance of the
accompanying instruments.”
Then there’s the difference of touch, “A
harpsichord’s touch, for instance, is very, very
different from that of a piano. When you have
a different touch, you immediately respond
with a different tactile and musical approach.”
Moreover, there are differences in tuning,
pitch, and temperament: Not only are these
important in terms of truthfully reflecting
what the composers would have actually
heard, they also directly affect the listener’s
experience. “When you get to the end of a
piece that is tuned in mean-tone tempera-
ment, it’s over,” Knox says, closing his eyes
briefly as though savouring the peacefulness
of such a resolution. His eyes shoot back open
as he grabs the air like a conductor: “It does-
n’t have that jangling of equal temperaments!”
PHOTO : PIERRE CHARBONNEAU

EARLY MUSIC AS NEW MUSIC


Knox feels strongly that music written hun-

O
ne might assume a leading expert on of it, he had thumbtacked organically through dreds of years ago still matters in the 21st cen-
Early Music to be esoteric. Hank Knox the years on wherever there was still space. tury. “If you look at the texts, it’s the same
shatters this assumption. Knox has been director of the Early Music texts that we write now, usually about love and
An entire side of Knox’s McGill Uni- Program at McGill’s Schulich School of Music the complications or agonies that go with it.
versity office is plastered with what he for more than 20 years. He is godfather of the “They may have been a little formal when
calls his “wall of shame,” posters of produc- school’s Cappella Antica (which is now directed they expressed these emotions a few hundred
tions of students and himself, that by the looks by Grammy-award winning soprano Suzie Le- years ago, but I don’t think there is any differ-
Blanc) as well as a very active collection of ence between our emotional lives and theirs.”

38 NOVEMBER 2018
sm24-3_EN_p38-39_Hank Knox_sm23-5_BI_pXX 18-10-29 20:16 Page 39

BAROQUE SPECIAL

Second, the spirit of Baroque music in par- learn how to realize figured-bass,” he says. “It’s SUMMER PROGRAMS
ticular is ceaselessly renewed because so much not rocket science. You just need to practice.”
of it is improvised. In this respect, Baroque He continues: “We make it a little compli-
music (c.1600 — 1750) is much more akin to cated for ourselves because we start later than
TAFELMUSIK BAROQUE SUMMER
contemporary jazz than Classical music people did in the 17th or 18th century. Back INSTITUTE
(c.1775 — 1825). “Classical music has… ossi- then, little kids were taught from a very early A world-renowned training program for ad-
fied itself,” Knox laments. “We compare age how to do the Rule of the Octave [harmo- vanced students, pre-professional, and pro-
freeze-dried performances to one another. But nization of the bassline] and so on. When fessional musicians in instrumental and
if your only criterion is ‘how does this per- you’re trying to do this as a young adult, it’s vocal baroque performance practice.
formance fit into that template that you’ve already a bit late, not because you can’t do it,
heard over the last 20 years,’ I don’t think that but because you are aware of what you’re WHERE: Faculty of Music,
it’s very interesting in the long run. doing. You get self-conscious, and that University of Toronto
“On the other hand, people who are willing stymies your progress.” WHEN: June 2-15, 2019
to take a chance and add their own ornaments
in Bach, or improvise their own Allemande in AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY Find out more: www.tafelmusik.org/artist-
between a Prelude and Courante when play- Knox’s own musical beginnings came totally training/tafelmusik-baroque-summer-institute
ing something by a French composer, that is by accident. “I started off life as a pianist when
much more interesting.” I was very, very young, but Mozart just never
Taking chances is what the composers did it for me,” he recalls. “I understand that
themselves expected from performers. “Man- there are other people who like that, but I am
UNIVERSITY
uscripts were generally compiled so that the more interested in the stuff that’s off the PROGRAMS
writer could play it themselves or so that a beaten path.
small group of students who had access to the “I didn’t really want to go to university right BAROQUE ORCHESTRA
writer could learn music. It was an aide mem- after high school. I was studying organ as a MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
oire, not nearly the whole thing. high school student and my teacher’s church A collaboration between UBC, Pacific
“In fact, if you look at the original manu- had just installed a big organ by Hellmuth Baroque Orchestra, and Early Music Van-
script in the writer’s hand, you will see all Wolff [one of Montreal’s most acclaimed couver. Open to students of UBC only.
kinds of slashes and scribbles. The problem organ-builders]. Wolff was just getting started
comes when our modern editions take those back then and needed an apprentice.” WHERE: University of British Columbia,
scribbles, and then set them in neat and offi- After a year of working as Wolff’s appren- Vancouver Campus
cial typesetting, casting those living notes into tice, Knox fell in love with Montreal and de-
stone. With this understanding, you realize cided to go back to school, first majoring in Find out more: www.music.ubc.ca/baroque-or-
that you have a lot more freedom and a lot music theory rather than in harpsichord. chestra-mentorship-program
more responsibility to exercise that freedom.” “As a theory major, you had to take an in-
How does one tastefully exercise this free- strument, so I took the harpsichord. After a
dom? “In a lot of ways, it’s like jazz improvisa- semester, I realized that playing the harpsi- MCGILL UNIVERSITY,
tion, which is obviously and equally unthinkable chord was way more fun than writing about it, SCHULICH SCHOOL OF MUSIC
without its improvisational aspects. so I switched and never looked back!” Degrees offered in Early Music: BMus,
“Jazz musicians can listen to recordings to MMus, DMus, LMus, ADip
inform themselves on how to improvise. There “PIGHEADED CURIOSITY
are no recordings from the 17th century, so AND TENACITY” Find out more:
you have to be a detective. Decades later, Knox is now a highly respected www.mcgill.ca/music/programs/mmus-early-music
“You can read treatises, of course, but you performer and pedagogue. Speaking of pres-
can also look for written-out examples from ent-day students, Knox quips, “There is so
the composers in some of their continuo real- much stuff online now that I sometimes am UNIVERSITÉ DE MONTRÉAL,
izations or in some solo repertoire that was in- anxious that young musicians aren’t going to FACULTÉ DE MUSIQUE
tended for the printing press from the get-go. be able to find the market for what they do. Degrees offered in Early Music: BMus,
Usually those are much more detailed than You’re not just in competition against last MMus, D.E.S.S., DMus, M, and PhD
the [personal] manuscripts.” month’s material but with all kinds of stuff
While the endless detective work involved that goes back about a hundred years.” Find out more:  www.musique.umontreal.ca/disci-
with working on Early Music may be frustrating How do you not lose your head then? “Pig- plines_profs/instruments_anciens.html
to some, it is also what makes the endeavor fun. headed curiosity and tenacity. If you hear
“You have to really love the thrill of the chase,” something or read something that grabs your
Knox says. “You’ll always be chasing something attention, follow up on that. That will lead to UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
and you’ll never catch it. I think that is key to something, and then something else. Don’t get Degrees Offered in Early Music: Advanced
what makes a long and interesting career.” discouraged; don’t give up!” LSM Certificate, MMus, DMA
Along with fastidious detective work, a musi-
cian performing Early Music will also need to in- Hank Knox directs the McGill Baroque Orchestra at Find out more:
ternalize certain bygone skills such as Redpath Hall, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. www.music.utoronto.ca/programs.php
improvisation so that he can truly be lifted from www.mcgill.ca/music
the page. Knox advocates for such skills as part of
every musician’s formative curriculum, “We have
piano students come into my continuo class and

NOVEMBER 2018 39

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