Conductor Christopher Hogwood, who pioneered the performance of music by 18th-Century composers such as Bach and Handel on historically authentic instruments, died Wednesday. He was 73.
The conductor's website said he died at home in Cambridge, England following an illness lasting several months. His death was confirmed by the Academy of Ancient Music, the orchestra he founded in 1973 and with which he had many of his greatest successes.
Under Hogwood, the Academy played on period instruments and in period style as discerned from historical research. For instance, the stringed instruments used strings made of animal gut, instead of the metal-wound strings used in modern violins, violas and cellos. The result was a lighter, clearer sound now considered by some to better represent what the composers intended, or at least to provide an interesting new way to play long-familiar music.
During the 1970s and 80s, Hogwood and other British conductors such as John Eliot Gardiner and Trevor Pinnock helped popularize such historically informed performance — or HIP. Once the specialty of a few, this kind of playing spread to become commonplace. Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, for one, has added playing on an instrument set up in period fashion to his repertoire.
Hogwood made more than 200 recordings with the Academy, including a 1980 performance of George Frideric Handel's much-loved oratorio "Messiah" that BBC Music Magazine ranked as one of the top 50 recordings of all time. His work also extended to modern composers such as Stravinsky, Britten, Copland and Tippett, and he recorded the complete symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven.
Hogwood was born on Sept. 10, 1941 in Nottingham, England and studied music and classical literature at Cambridge University's Pembroke College, according to the Society's tribute to him on its website.
In 1986, Hogwood took over the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston and completed its evolution into an all-period instrument ensemble, serving as music director for 15 years. He was slated to return as conductor laureate of the 200-year-old society in March to lead a performance of Felix Mendelssohn's "Elijah."
In a 2013 interview with Classical Music magazine, Hogwood said historically informed playing was just one way of doing things. "There's nothing wrong with playing things historically completely incorrectly," he was quoted as saying. "Music is not a moral business, so you can play absolutely in a style that suits you and pleases your public. It may be completely unrecognizable to the composer, but so what, he's dead."
Harry Christophers, the current musical director of the society, said Hogwood "set the world alight" with his advocacy of period performance. "He redefined our mission — to make the old sound new," Christophers said in a statement.
The Academy of Ancient Music said Hogwood was survived by four younger siblings, three sisters and a brother. His website said the funeral would be private with a memorial service at a later date.