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What Authenticity Can Mean for Musicians

10 September 2015

Authenticity, like the word tradition, suggests a connection with an authorized source. Whether talking about compositional style, analytical approach, performance practice or musical origins, we generally consider authenticity a good thing. It implies some healthy connection with the mindset of the composer or thinking a work through on already sanctioned lines. It can involve playing in a way that has the authority of tradition or finding the starting point of a particular type of music amid cultural or social precedents. 

Whether classic or new, music can be authentic or inauthentic. What is certain is that listeners also normally require some understanding of precedents to make good sense of what they are hearing; they find it virtually impossible to hear a piece “from first principles”, in any meaningful way. 

My paper begins by considering how we analyze classical music, in light of its established genesis. I then juxtapose a view of new music, where the tenets of tradition and innovation are still being established. Next, I look at how such views affect the performer, and the degrees and types of authenticity and inauthenticity that performing license, in a codified tradition, does or should permit. Turning to non-Western music, I then consider how much the same issue of performing license might prevail, and what authenticity can mean in relation both to the classic and new repertory. 

The paper then turns to investigate where authenticity can be a bad thing, cramping creativity and personal interpretation, or even banning works because of claimed inauthenticity. Finally, the way in which music education cultivates both authentic and inauthentic approaches to music is examined.

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