Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium

Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium

Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium

Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium

Synopsis

Nothing has more profoundly influenced the development of music making over the last two decades than the growth of the historical performance movement. Perceived by some as a threat, an indication of our loss of faith in our powers of musical creation, and by others as part of the evolution of modern attitudes towards performing styles, this trend towards "historically correct" interpretation has inspired lively debate among scholars and performers. Examining and questioning the prevailing basis for the so-called "authenticity" movement, this collection of papers deals with the conflict between approaching early music performance with respect for the composer's original intentions, and the shortcomings, according to many musicians, that this produces. The contributors include Will Crutchfield, Howard Mayer Brown, Robert Morgan, Philip Brett, and Richard Taruskin.

Excerpt

No change has more profoundly influenced the development of our music-making during the last two decades than the growth of the historical performance movement. The search for original methods and styles of performance has brought about a seachange in our listening habits, and indeed in our approach to the whole question of repertory and tradition in classical music.

On the face of it, this is an odd state of affairs. We might expect the composition and performance of new music to carry forward the development of our cultural life, but the impetus seems to have shifted inexorably. I vividly remember a contemporary composer, in the course of an American symposium on this subject a few years ago, giving as one of his objections to the 'authenticity' movement that it was 'the one musical activity these days which has the passion of the new . . . the latest step forward in authentic performance practice draws the sort of attention previously reserved for new music'. He concluded honestly: '. . . and if you want to think there's some sour grapes there you're absolutely right'.

As far as I am concerned, as a listener and as a critic, the development of new performing styles for the music of the past has been perhaps the most stimulating part of concert-going and record-listening over the last couple of decades. New contemporary music has continued to have its rich rewards, but they have been individual revelations within an unclear picture of myriad styles and jostling schools. A sense of continuity, a sense of advancement, has been more fruitfully provided by the rediscovery of old music, old instruments, and unfamiliar playing styles for them. The central question of the extent to which the authenticity movement represents a retreat from an engagement with the music of our own time is fully discussed in Robert Morgan's contribution to this symposium (Chapter 3). Why is old music more readily accessible to us now than it was in previous ages? Why has the single, developing tradition of . . .

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