dolmetsch onlineauthenticity- why?

Authenticity - Why?

extracted from Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works - Reading the Instructions

Even today, the argument continues over what 'authenticity' is and what it might be. We recommend that those who are interested in this field should read the books referenced below as well as the fascinating web pages from which we have taken the short extract below.

Here are some excerpts from the book Authenticity and Early Music, edited by Nicholas Kenyon. (Oxford University Press, 1988.) The book is a set of essays by Kenyon, Will Crutchfield, Howard Mayer Brown, Robert P Morgan, Philip Brett, Gary Tomlinson, and Richard Taruskin. (essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the history and practices of "authentic" performance, or for anyone who engages in HIP-bashing! And another good one is Harry Haskell's The Early Music Revival: A History.)

Howard Mayer Brown, pp54-56:

"It is only in the past decade [mid-1970s to mid-80s], then, that questions about authenticity have been raised in such detail that we are forced to ask: is the quest for authenticity resulting in the dead hand of scholarship forcing performers into corners and quelling their creativity? Or is it itself an act of freedom, freeing the conservatory-trained student to think for himself about questions of style and history and helping him to present the music in the best light possible? Is the point of playing music in the way the composer intended it (which is an ultimately impossible goal) to intimidate the performer and force him to change his playing style in ways he cannot easily accept? Or is it rather to help the performer to introduce audiences to new repertories and to new ways of playing that can enlighten us not only about the particular repertories in question but also about the nature of all music?"

"(...) Scholars of performance practice and editors, it seems to me, ought also to be committed to the ideal (whether it is realistic or not) that they are engaged in the positivistic task of discovering wie es eigentlich gewesen, 'how it really was.' But on the other hand, they should have a complex and sophisticated attitude towards the idea of commitment. To a good scholar, no question can ever be closed. All our most cherished notions should always remain open for discussion, debate, and correction. The editor who imposes his own solution to a difficult problem in an edition without helping the reader to find out on what basis his decision was made and what the alternative possibilities are may get high marks for personal commitment, but should be severely criticized for obscuring the difference between what can be known for certain (very little) and what is more or less fanciful reconstruction."

"The luxury of alternative possibilities and endless debate is clearly not one that can be enjoyed by a performer, who needs to know what he must do at a particular performance, and who also seems to need the psychological protection of actually believing in what he is doing. Personal commitment is a necessary virtue for performers (who ought not to play music in a particular style unless they are in sympathy with it), but it may be a luxury to which scholars ought not to aspire. Intelligent performers, of course, will inform themselves about the possibilities open to them, and the playing of the most intelligent will almost certainly these days, be 'historically informed.'"

"But the whole purpose of playing early music authentically is for the sake of the music and not for the sake of the performance. Dolmetsch certainly understood that, and so have the best of the musicians mentioned here, although in the last decade we have sometimes lost sight of that simple idea. I would be reluctant to criticize severely a performance purely on the grounds that it was not authentic. But this is a reluctance not shared by everyone, and such widespread criticisms of 'inauthentic' performance have brought their own backlash of controversy. This is, I suspect, one of the reasons why the present volume of essays was commissioned. Many have objected to those critics who, failing to be stirred by a particular performance, gave as a reason the fact that it was 'not authentic'. But the critics should probably have said that they objected to the performance because the interpretation of the music--whether done for reasons of authenticity or not--seemed to destroy some essential features of the work. Very few performances stand or fall just on the question of whether or not they are authentic. We should take care not to confuse historical with aesthetic questions, for the latter are often simply questions of personal taste. But they often involve, too, matters of propriety, decorum, and imagination. The test of a good performance more often than not is surely whether or not the music was projected with vitality and musical imagination, or whether or not the performers have in fact brought the music to life. The relation between that process and the rediscovery of past instruments and past playing techniques is a controversial area."

Richard Taruskin, pp200ff:

"Now it was just around the time that the shift to what I call authentically modern performance was completed that academic musicologists began turning their attention in a conspicuous way to performance practice. This can be viewed as part of a larger picture, the modernist take-over of the universities. In academic music studies, it was the heyday of logical positivism, symbolized, if you will, by the Princeton music department, which in the 1950s and 1960s was presided over by Milton Babbitt in composition and theory, and by Arthur Mendel in musicology. (...)"

"Performance research as Mendel practised it was a vastly different kind of enterprise from what it had been with Dolmetsch or Landowska. Positivist scholarship is interested in letter, not spirit. It sets up research experiments--'problems'--to be solved by applying rules of logic and evidence, the goal being avowedly to determine 'What was done', not 'What is to be done', let alone 'How to do it'. Direct application to actual performance is not the primary aim of such studies. They are not 'utilitarian' but 'pure research'. Howard Mayer Brown has accurately characterized the nature of such scholarship in Chapter 2 of this book, especially where he insists upon the 'dispassionate' suspension of 'personal commitment' in the quest for a truth that ultimately represents--in the words of Leopold von Ranke, the father of Historismus--'the way it really was' (wie es eigentlich gewesen). (...)"

"In one sense this agnosticism is quite salutary. It deconstructs the historiographical dogmas of the Dolmetsches, and throws some cold light on their rejection of the unloved specious 'present'. But as Howard Mayer Brown has pointed out (tongue, one hopes, in cheek), a performer 'seems to need the psychological protection of actually believing in what he is doing'. He cannot settle for a survey of the problem, he must, by performing, propose a solution. A performance simply cannot merely reflect the sketchy state of objective knowledge on a point of performance practice, it must proceed from the conviction that a full working knowledge is in the performers' (subjective) possession. While generations of scholars chew over Mendel's seven pages of problems, what is the poor performer who wants to sing some Josquin des Prez to do? Wait till all the evidence is in and all the articles are published? He will probably never open his mouth. Rejoice that the answers have not been found and he is free to do as he likes? That is certainly one solution--but he would do so risks rebuke these days from scholars whose implicit attitude seems to be, 'Shut up until we can tell you what to do.' This kind of destructive authoritarianism is rampant in reviews of performances of medieval and Renaissance music, where just about any performance at all is open to the charge of 'mixing...musicology and make-believe', if that is the kind of tack the reviewer wishes to take. (...)"

"Really talented performers are always curious, and curious performers will always find what they need in the sources and theorists--what they need being ways of enriching and enlivening what they do."