Friday, December 03, 2010

Taruskin [it all begins here]
About ten years ago I received out of the blue an offprint of an article from the University Pennsylvania Law Review called Law, Music, and Other Performing Arts, by Professors Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas and Jack Balkin of Yale. It was ostensibly a review of Authenticity and Early Music a collection of essays edited by Nicholas Kenyon, then the editor of Early Music magazine, and published by Oxford University Press in 1988 to which I had contributed. I read it with fascination and gratitude, the latter simply because the authors had so well understood the position I had taken in the debates about what was then known as authentic performance practice. in music My musical and musicological colleagues seemed unable to hear what I was really saying when I said that their ideas of historical performance practice, on which the. claim of authenticity was based, derived from a selective reading of history in the service of a modern -or, more strongly, a modernist- ideology. They thought I was claiming that what they were doing was incorrect or misguided or deceitful; but what I meant to imply (and even said outright on occasion) was that their accomplishment was actually far more important and authentic than they claimed or even realized, since it made them the authentic voice of their time, which was our time.

…In their review Levinson and Balkin focused on the claim of privilege to which proponents of "authenticity" felt themselves entitled by virtue of their superior knowledge (or so they claimed) of composers' intentions. The law professors understood that my strictures were not addressed only to this particular claim of privilege but to any and all such claims that sought to circumvent the judgment and preferences of listeners-that is, those most immediately affected by performance decisions. They understood and endorsed my equation of the authenticists' claim to objective knowledge of history with the modernist claim to objective knowledge of musical structure, and my contentions, first, that no one's knowledge of cultural artifacts can be the product of anything other than interpretation; second, that all interpretations are to be judged on a continuum; and third, that the only proper judges are living listeners, not dead authorities, be they composers, theorists, or instrument builders.

All works of art. I argued (and they agreed), are subject to social mediation. It is, indeed, the price of living. Social mediation is what renders works of art intelligible, and it is what gives them continuing relevance, And social mediation inevitably changes whatever it mediates. There can be no appeal to a higher authority, I said (and they agreed), and any attempt at such an appeal is in fact a covert assertion of the appellant's own authority, I wanted to hug them when I read the sentence I am about to quote, which so succinctly encapsulated everything I had been trying to say. "His complaint is that authenticists, like other ideologues, try to discredit competing presentations as 'incorrect' or, indeed, incompetent, when the proper focus should be on whether the performances are more or less enjoyable and artistically effective." Yes indeed, and doesn't it seem obvious. Ought it to require a musicologist and a pair of legal scholars to come up with such a truism? Maybe not, but apparently it does.
We define the present according to our values. You can argue if you want that our values are determined by material reality and that "intention" is illusion, but you cannot argue that ignoring questions of value solves the problem. If it did than being a "moderate" in the present in the US would be no different than being a moderate in 1939 in Berlin.

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