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Lecture | Conversation

In the Making #6: Anna Scott, Jed Wentz, Laila Neuman, Emma Williams, Art Without Soul?

Sunday 26 May 2024
West in the former American embassy
Lange Voorhout 102
The Hague

The Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA) of Leiden University and art institute West Den Haag are pleased to announce their close collaboration in the new public series In the Making. In six public sessions they will present to the public different practices of research in the arts.

Artistic production has always expressed the forms in which we know, explore, and sense the world we live in. The current practice of research in the arts consciously assumes this exploration. In the past decades the focus on research in the domain of the arts has grown – as well as its role in universities and other research contexts – expressing its engagement with the realities of the world at large.

In the Making will address how artists conduct their research. Guest artist researchers and artist researchers from Leiden University will present their projects, approaches to research, methods and results. Each session will address questions inherent to these projects. In the Making aims to deepen a perspective which conceives of artistic practice not as the sole product of individual visionaries but as a collective endeavor embedded in society. It addresses the role of art in the construction of the present and the creation of possible futures.

In the Making #6

Art Without Soul? Embodiment and Historical Performance

Modern performance critics often scorn nineteenth-century actors and musicians, assuming that because they placed emphasis on exaggerated shapes and gestures they were merely showboating — engaging in empty posturing — rather than performing from the soul. Treatises of the period, however, suggest that this visual and sonic hyper-physicality was the means by which these performers generated, channeled, and communicated emotion; that they understood their art as originating not from the soul but from the body. Engaging with these practices today, therefore, is a necessarily embodied rather than abstract, intellectual endeavor; one that handles the performing body (both past and present) as a rich, creative resource rather than a soulless distraction.

Samples of Stagecraft in Action
Drawing inspiration from the legacy of Dutch actor and painter Johannes Jelgerhuis (1770-1836), this workshop-presentation invites the audience to explore three elements of historical acting techniques: attitudes, passions, and the creation of a character. The participants will be introduced to this material by doing, so that our explorations include the concepts behind specific aspects of acting as well as the practical experience of embodiment. By presenting one facet of my practice-based research in this manner, I hope to share the transformative journey from an understanding of these acting techniques in theory to a process in which body, mind, (and soul?) are united.

Laila Cathleen Neuman is a singer and a PhD candidate at the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Leiden University. Having completed her singing studies in Milan and Salzburg, she specialised in historically informed acting techniques. Her research focuses on the theatrical legacy of the Dutch actor Johannes Jelgerhuis (1770-1836) as a source of stagecraft for performers.

Act One Play
Act One Play, a one-woman play in one act, invites you into the world of the Explorative Violinist as she navigates historical documents, perceived historical truths, biases and expectations, and the mind-body connection in embodying historical performance practices. Throughout history, vocality has often been deemed the height of musical expression. This was no exception for early-19th-century violinists, who were frequently encouraged to imitate singers when playing. Not only did early-19th-century violin techniques and expressive devices, such as portamento, tempo rubato, rhetorical articulation, and expressive vibrato, stem from the singing practices of the time, but they were in fact the natural outcome of a declamatory rhetorical way of speaking and acting, which required a complete physical, vocal, and mental embodiment of the affects. But how did early-19th-century acting, singing, and violin playing influence each other, and how does one engage with and embody these practices with creative autonomy now? There are no right or wrong answers, but the Explorative Violinist might have some ideas.

Netherlands-based Australian violinist, Emma Williams, performs with leading period instrument groups including Arcangelo, Anima Eterna Brugge, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra, and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Emma is currently researching the vocal nature of early-19C violin playing through embodying historical acting practices in her PhD through Leiden University. In 2018 she co-founded MusicBox, a collective that breaks down barriers surrounding classical music, which is both a concert series in The Hague and a podcast called Outside the MusicBox.

Historical templates vs ‘real feeling’: preparing a monologue from Byron’s Manfred
Actors working to revivify historical styles can mine a rich vein of sources: from late 17th-century preaching manuals, to 18th-century ‘how to’ books associated with the elocution movement, to early 20th-century historical recordings of famous actors delivering their signature speeches. Such varied materials offer the researcher-performer options to choose from when aiming to perform a text ‘in style’. In this paper I will present some of the sources I have used to prepare a series of 2024 performances of a one-man show with musical accompaniment entitled Byron’s Manfred. I discuss the perils and pleasures of the melodramatic genre; the links between declamation and music; and how historical models fired my imagination and animated my voice and gestures.

Jed Wentz received his Bachelor degree from Oberlin Conservatory, his Master from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague and his doctorate from Leiden University. He has recorded more than 40 CDs with various Early Music ensembles including his own (Music ad Rhenum), has conducted staged opera performances and published in journals like Early Music, Cambridge Opera Journal and Music in Art. He is university lecturer at The Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Leiden University, and is artistic advisor to the Utrecht Early Music Festival. He edited the volume “Historical Acting Techniques and the 21st-Century Body”, in European Drama and Performance Studies 2022-2, No. 19. 

A 'Historically Informed' Performance of Brahms's Intermezzo in E Minor Op. 116 No. 5. 
One day I got tired of blabbing about how historically informed performances reinforce modern ways of relating to scores, norms, and history. I sat down at the piano, and tried to imagine a version of Brahms's Intermezzo in E Minor Op. 116 No. 5 that is rooted entirely in historical evidence, but that couldn't be mapped to notation, that gave little indication of my quality as a pianist, and that bore no relation to who we think Brahms was or how his music 'should' sound. As I sat and played, listened and felt, dreamed and remembered, letting the forces that constrain melt away, I realized that beyond the doom loop of fidelity that is the lot of the modern classical musician one finds just sounds, just bodies. How, then, might it look, sound, and feel to create a performance inspired only by sounding bodies and embodied sounds, both past and present? In this presentation I propose just one possibility.

Anna Scott is Assistant Professor at Leiden University's Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, and staff at The Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Her research interests include nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century performance practices, particularly in the Brahms-Schumann circle; music, conflict, and wartime culture in Austro-German contexts (c. 1850-1950); recording processes, past and present; radical alternatives to prevailing performance norms; the intersection of performance and Western socio-political norms. 

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