The Handel and Haydn Society began its tradition of Historically Informed Performance (HIP) in 1986 when Christopher Hogwood assumed the position of Artistic Director. Since then the Society has emerged as one of the nation’s preeminent period orchestras.
The HIP movement began in the 1970s when people started to ask why works were being performed on instruments that hadn’t been available to the artists who composed them. For instance, the keyboard Bach used was different from the one used by Mozart, and in turn the one used by Mozart was very different from that of Beethoven. In order to appreciate the intended effects of their works, it made sense that they be performed on the instruments for which they were written.
The most visible differences between modern and period instruments can be seen in the woodwinds, which have fewer keys and are actually made of wood instead of metal or plastic. Brass instruments, meanwhile, have simpler lines and no valves. More subtle differences include the use of gut strings instead of steel in the string section, as well as lower pitches throughout the orchestra.
Ensembles were far smaller in the 18th century, and composing a symphony for 100 players was unheard of. Therefore, HIP orchestras are also smaller, with Handel and Haydn’s ranging from 25 to 50 instrumentalists depending on the performance.
Through HIP, audiences have the opportunity to hear the unique textures and dynamics afforded by period instruments and orchestras. Musical lines that might disappear in larger ensembles become clearer and more prominent, and the end result is a truly intimate and gratifying musical experience.