Authentically Traditional

What does it mean to be authentically traditional? Or, more specifically, since defining “traditional” right now seems a little daunting, what would it mean to play a particular piece of music from, say, the Renaissance period authentically?

There seem to be two quite different possible approaches. One is based on the “product,” the other on the process.

The product school is about trying to recreate exactly the sound that we imagine would have been made at the time we’re interested in. This involves things like playing on period instruments and finding out whatever we can about technique and ornamentation etc. In short doing our best to create a ‘”museum artifact.” This approach no doubt has its merits, but for me, except for very specific purposes, it misses the point.

The approach of the process school is both simple and complex.

The simple part is this: Play the music on whatever instrument you happen to be able to play and enjoy playing. If something doesn’t sound like you want it to, change it. Honour the composer by joyfully re-interpreting the music each time you play it, according to the spirit and not the letter!

The more complex part is this: Music does not exist in a vacuum. There is a whole web of relationships that any music has to the time and place in which it is performed. If we seek authenticity, it is in understanding and attempting to recreate these relationships that I believe it is to be found.


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