On Being HIP: What is Historically Informed Performance?

H+H follows Historically Informed Performance practices, commonly shortened to HIP. Because H+H performs music from the 17th though the early-19th centuries, current understanding of the musical traditions associated with those centuries underlies any performance decision.

One aspect of being HIP means using instruments (called period instruments) associated with the time of the composer. Because many of these instruments vary in construction from their modern counterparts—instruments made from the 19th century forward—how the instruments were played (performance practice) in the composer’s time is often different as well.

While most period instruments often resemble modern ones, they are not the same. Period brass instruments such as the trumpet and French horn do not have any valves and period woodwinds—oboe, clarinet, and bassoon—have fewer keys.  In addition, the period flute is made of wood rather than metal.

String instruments of 17th-and 18th-centuries have fingerboards that are shorter than modern strings. This affects how the instruments are played, as does the absence of chin rests (violins and violas) and endpins (cellos). Historical bows are shorter and can be either concave (Baroque) or slightly convex (transitional or Classical). The construction of the bow changes how it is held and played, with only the middle section of the bow used for sound production.

The actual strings are made of gut (or gut wound with steel) rather than metal, producing a warmer and sweeter sound. Gut strings are also one reason why period instruments are tuned at a lower pitch than modern ones. Modern orchestras tend to tune to A=440 Hz (or a little higher) and period-instrument ensembles generally tune to either A=415 Hz for Baroque repertoire or A=430 Hz for Classical repertoire.

While period-instrument ensembles seek to create performances that are influenced by knowledge of the time in which the work was composed, it is done with the understanding that no live musical performance can be duplicated. Being HIP does not claim superiority over modern-instrument performances; it does offer another way of hearing the music of the past, whether little known compositions or familiar favorites.


Teresa M. Neff
May 20, 2019