The development of modern styles of elite music education played a crucial role in entrenching Werktreue as the dominant practice within classical music performance. Focusing on Germany’s first conservatory, the Leipzig conservatory, which was founded in 1843, this article analyzes how Werktreue, understood as a set of tacit competencies and sensibilities that must be learned by musicians, was produced at a single historical site. Archival documents of the institution, as well as the correspondence and writings of teachers and students like Felix Mendelssohn, William Rockstro, and Ethel Smyth, show that the central objective of musical pedagogy was the faithful interpretation of musical works. Isolated as a discrete subject of training, performing musical works also functioned as the principal mode of student assessment through semesterly examinations. To transmit the necessary skills for this paradigm of performance, pupils’ bodily capacities (Technik) and ability to understand and interpret canonic compositions (Vortrag) became essential targets of conservatory pedagogy. Ubiquitous visibility among students, and the intense competition that this visibility engendered, went hand in hand with institutionalizing styles of musical expertise that continue to this day. In exploring these developments, this article asks how the productive power of modern conservatory training contributed not only to Werktreue’s rise over a wide geography, but also to the remarkable stability with which it has pervaded performance practice across multiple generations.

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