INSIDE EARLY MUSIC: Conversations with Performers

by Bernard D. Sherman (Oxford University Press, 1997)

A book of unparalleled interest. It bristles with sharply defined positions and passionate arguments, all of them expressed with clarity and augmented by the author’s insightful and well-informed reflections.Library Journal

  Published Reviews
  Jacket quotes
  Sample chapter (Joshua Rifkin)
  Introduction "A fluent essay stirring up controversy with a light touch"-The Musical Times
  Table of contents
  About the cover

"Excellent.... a great achievement."
-The Times Literary Supplement

A fascinating book ...[offers] considerable insight into questions about the nature of art, the nature of human nature, and some of the great intellectual controversies of our time.”  –Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

I can’t imagine a better book of its kind. . . . readers will profit greatly and they are addressed considerately and without condescension.” –Richard Taruskin, University of California, author of The Oxford History of Western Music

From the Reviews:

"Sherman is an excellent writer and a modest, intuitive interviewer. He couches each interview in a kind of cultural portrait of the person, including a brief bio, a summary of his or her importance in the field, and a short character sketch, all done kindly and respectfully, without fawning. I particularly like his introduction, a succinct and appealing exploration of the basic question as he sees it, "Why do they play like that?" .... whom he interviews is less important than how he interviews. A truly delightful book." - Tina Chancey, Early Music America, 2005

"Sherman's contributions are among the most interesting and thoughtful in the book. He asks consistently good questions (sometimes, as in his final question to Leonhardt, quite brilliant), and provides some really excellent commentary of his own... some excellent material, much of it provided by Sherman, and a number of fascinating discussions with important performers. ... All early musical life (c. 1994) is here." -Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Early Music, 1999

"The best of his subjects give a sense of a journey in progress: just when we might have thought we were running out of things to discover, we find that we have hardly started. . . . The proceedings open with a fluent essay stirring up controversies with a light touch. To my mind, this is the best thing on early music performance since Taruskin's now infamous article (to which Sherman refers at some length). In this vibrant book the best thing is that the barriers are down." -Richard Langham Smith, The Musical Times, 1998

Thought-provoking and immensely stimulating  . . . It is intended as no disparagement to the performers interviewed to claim that the greatest strength of the book is Sherman himself, for in general he brings to his questioning and ancillary comments a formidable weight of learning and perception; ... these are not interviews of the 'what are you going to record next?' kind, but in-depth examinations of a wide range of issues that concern performance practice. . . .[the] choice of interviewees proves to be judicious. .. . truly compelling reading.”  –Brian Robins, Fanfare, 1997

"An essential read... Sherman's text is full of insights."- Colin Lawson & Robin Stowell, The Historical Performance of Music (Cambridge, 1999)

"A book of unparalleled interest. It bristles with sharply defined positions and passionate arguments, all of them expressed with clarity and augmented by the author’s insightful and well-informed reflections.  . . . Sherman has avoided the temptation to present only one side of contentious issues--and there are many--or to attempt to reconcile divergent views. He addresses these fascinating topics through interviews with some of the best-known performers in the field, having chosen those with interesting things to say and stimulated them with thought-provoking questions.”  –Timothy J. McGee, Library Journal, 1997

Exceedingly inviting and not just for Baroque record geeks.... a wide spectrum of outlooks and outputs. . . .eloquent artists with a lot to say. . . Sherman guides the conversation with a sure hand.... With grace and depth, Inside Early Music provides that which is all too rare: serious edu-tainment.”
Bradley Bambarger, Billboard, June 14, 1997

Interviews [are] rarely conducted at the intellectual level shown here. . . . Sherman interviewed 23 leading performers [who] show a wide range of attitudes.... It is a task he approaches with enormous intelligence; his questions lead somewhere and produce insight into what the musicians are trying to do, both philosophically and practically. He links, compares and contrasts (without making a meal of it), and points towards further reading and listening. Sometimes he goes further, as in his fascinating Postscript on Medieval Music, Plainchant, and 'Otherness' Clifford Bartlett, Early Music Review, October 1997.

"Sherman earns the respect of his subjects by asking well-informed questions, and they respond engagingly. The critical discographies and "suggestions for further reading" that follow each chapter are particularly valuable. . . . .The current relevance of classical music is often questioned, but what about really old music? ...[Christopher Page] argues for the value of 'an alert and compassionate approach to the arts of other civilizations, including the arts of one's own civilization in the past.' Shermans's postscript to this chapter brings an even broader perspective . . Devotion to music of the past may not be so irrelevant after all." - David Breitman, Piano and Keyboard, March/April, 1998

Excellent . . . . The teeming practical detail of this book is a great achievement in itself, but equally significant is its documentation of the major conceptual issues behind the historical-performance movement. . . . a contribution to contemporary debates.” Anthony Pryer, The Times Literary Supplement, January 16, 1998

"Sherman is a superb interviewer: well informed, thoughtful, respectful without being sycophantic. In his written introductions to each interview, he is frank about where he stands on contentious issues but lets the performers speak for themselves.....  These thoughtful, articulate musicians - and Sherman's considerable skills as journalist, critic, and guide to the reader - make this book a delight for early-music neophytes and mavens alike. It should even hold some interest for those who dislike everything "HIP" stands for. "
Matthew Westphal,

"Inside Early Music is an outstanding achievement. Bernard Sherman has managed to give a broad overview of current trends in historical performance while at the same time focusing on enough of the interesting details and current hot topics to give the book an unexpected depth. He achieves this through his thoughtful selection of interviewees, each discussing his or her own area of specialization, and also through his probing questions.
"Sherman’s ability to stand back and put the whole of the current early music scene into perspective is
admirable. Historical performance has become a remarkably diverse field over the last twenty years.... Inside Early Music gives a balanced view of the whole scene and manages to show why it still has a cohesiveness ....Sherman did a fabulous job of conducting the interviews, capturing the personality of each performer. In each interview he focuses on hot issues pertinent to that performer’s area, showing himself to be extremely well versed in the recent research relating to wildly different areas of performance.
"Inside Early Music is
likely to broaden the reader’s interests....  Sherman provides valuable introductions to each performer and annotated discographies which include quotes from reviews of the CDs mentioned. Additionally he has compiled good, basic reference lists for further reading at the end of each chapter. The discographies and reading lists not only offer tips for the many readers who will want to pursue certain material in further detail, they help amplify Sherman’s own perspective... I recommend this book highly .... The interviews are engaging and informative, while the discographies and reading lists make it a useful reference book." –John Moran, Continuo (, February 1998