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pianist, composer, conductor and musicologist

Season 2. July 2011 - June 2012. Number: 2, August 2011
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Authenticity in Music Performance
The so-called "authenticity" or "historical authenticity" in music performance has been a very hot subject and it is still. Read some search results on the topic...
What is an "authentic" music performance?
Start a discussion on that topic in my Facebook page... Click here to connect with me on my personal Facebook space, or here to visit my Fan page...
Textual "authenticity" can not provide for a satisfying musical performance. Actually when Wendy Carlos recorded J.S.Bach on Moog synths she was more authentic than many classical pianists...
Start a discussion on that topic in my Facebook page... Click here to connect with me on my personal Facebook space, or here to visit my Fan page...
image from Wikimedia
Bach on the piano? What about Mozart on a (modern) piano or even Chopin?
Many pianists have been criticized for "non-authenticity" for performing Bach on the piano. There were no pianos at the time of J.S. Bach. But only a few musicians know that the piano of Mozart or even the piano on which Chopin composed are so unlike the modern instruments we are playing on. Everything is different, the tonal range the sound as well as the action (mechanics).
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Historical or "textual" authenticity can not provide for a good musical performance.
My dear master Alexis Weissenberg said: "the musical score can contain only about 10% of the musical data". Of course he was totally right. Some performers are basing themselves almost exclusively on textual data and claim that their performances are "faithful". Those can only be faithful to the 10% of the composer's message. If only the text could have provided us with all we need to perform it everything would have been much easier!
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image from Wikimedia
"Switched on Bach" Bach on the Moog by Wendy Carlos
I have been shocking many colleagues by saying that Wendy Carlos's J.S. Bach performances on the electronic instruments are, in fact, extremely "authentic". Why do I say that? I believe the renditions of Carlos are so faithful to the essence and reality of Bach's music, and they transmit the message so perfectly that those performances are actually "authentic". Much more than many over-pedalled piano versions or even dry Harpsichord versions.
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Some interesting search results:

Interview -- Nite Jewel  | Guttersnipe - A magazine for discerning tastes

NJ: There’s this myth of authenticity in music that somebody somehow communicates a part of themselves, which is just total bullshit. Everybody is just communicating this "façade" in music and of course it’s personal, because it’s their take on the idea of being a performer, which is always going to involve facade. So, for me, it’s the most personal thing in the world, and the music cloaks me in a nice sound, and that’s part of a "façade", so it’s all connected really.


The topic of authenticity in music has been a lively one, especially (for some reason) in the 1980s and 1990s.  The topic was usually defined by disputes about whether a musical performance of, say, Bach, could be authentic if it was performed with instruments that were unknown to the composer.  Might it be the case that to really hear Bach's B Minor Mass one has to hear it on instruments modeled on those employed by the great German Baroque era composer?  I believe Peter Kivey has a good book on authenticity in the arts, especially music.  I think that the majority of philosophers who have considered this question concluded that authentic Bach does not require using only Baroque era instruments.

R. Mutt

We've talked a lot about this notion of authenticity in music: that music should be played as cloase as possible to the composer's original piece and that a musician should be able to write and perform orignial work. This reminded me of East Villiage Opera Company, a group from New York that reinvents opera into punk rock music. Even though it's not original it gives opera a completely differnt context and sound. I don't think that music should have to be played exactally as the composer originally intened because it removes the musician from the piece. Musicians should be able to put their own spin on what they hear and still be able to call it authentic. East Village Opera Company is original and valid because even though they don't produce new music, they still give it their own unique vision.

Articles about Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra - Los Angeles Times

Old music isn't what it used to be. The ubiquity of period instrument ensembles--playing instruments restored or newly made to the standard prevailing at the time of the music for which they are used--has shifted the focus of authenticity in music of pre-modern eras from fussy issues of embellishment to more sensual matters of sound. And that means more immediate ear appeal for listeners and performers alike.

Wendy Carlos: Biography from Answers.com

Switched-On Bach   (1968) was an early album demonstrating the use of the synthesizer as a genuine musical instrument. As an early user of  Robert Moog 's first commercially available synthesizer modules (Moog assembled these as custom installations that differed greatly from user to user), Walter Carlos helped pioneer the technology, which was significantly more difficult to use than it is today.  Multitrack recording  techniques played a critical role in the time-consuming process of creating this album.  Switched-On Bach  was the last project in his four-year-long collaboration with Benjamin Folkman and won gold records for both Carlos and Folkman. The album then became one of the first classical LPs to sell 500,000 copies, and (eventually) to go  platinum .

Theremin Vox - An Interview with Bob Moog

--   For me, Wendy Carlos is the greatest electronic musician of our time. I am especially fond of her albums  Sonic Seasonings  and  Beauty in the Beast .

--   For the same reason that a dog licks his balls. Do you know why a dog licks his balls? The answer is: because he can.

--   Of course. Technology has an unlimited supply of surprises for us.

--   Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley both bought modular synthesizers from my company. They worked together in midtown Manhattan. They were both good musicians, but Perrey liked to splice tape, and Kingsley liked to play the keyboard. I don't know if Dick Hyman actually owned one of our modular synthesizers. When he made the record "MOOG", he used a synthesizer belonging to Walter Sear in New York City. Sear helped Hyman set up the synthesizer, and Hyman then played the keyboard. That's what many musicians did, back then. Sear was also a good musician, a professional tuba player and composer. He made an album called "The Copper Plated Integrated Circuit".

--   I don't think so. But nobody else imagined it either.

--   Digital is very precise. It is always the same. It is always in tune. But Analog is warmer and fatter, and more human, I think.

--   It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I think that most of my customers are "real musicians".

--   No, I don't think that's unbelievable. I understand exactly why that is so. It is so because dirty, imprecise sound is more complex, and therefore more interesting to listen to. In technical terms, there is nothing dirtier than an electric guitar played through a distortion box, but everybody likes that sound because it's warm and expressive.

cd cover
CD: The Musical Offering by J.S.Bach
My recording of the Musical Offering makes use of electronic instruments and re-created historical instruments. The complete CD can be auditioned here...
image from Wikimedia
I recently published Masonic Signs in Music you can read it here...
image from Wikimedia
I recently created classicalvideos.net which is the one and only classical music video sharing site, please connect, publish, comment and share if you like.

J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations-Video Article ~ S. Prokofieff Sarcasms op.17 Live

Mehmet Okonsar is a pianist-composer-conductor and musicologist. Besides his international concert carrier he is a prolific writer.  He is the founder of the first classical music-musicology dedicated blog site: "inventor-musicae" as well as the first classical-music video portal : http://www.classicalvideos.net. Mehmet Okonsar's official site: http://www.okonsar.com
Inspiration By Tzvi Freeman
Kabbalah is our native cosmology, our unique way of expressing what stands beneath the surface of reality and why we do what we do [read more...]
Acquaintance, n:
    A person whom we know well enough to borrow from but not well
    enough to lend to.  A degree of friendship called slight when the
    object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous.
        -- Ambrose Bierce, "The Devil's Dictionary"
Adult, n.:
    One old enough to know better.
    A prelude to "No."

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