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The Controversy Continues At Musoc.Org Over Period Instruments In 20th Century Music

  Not too long ago I did a post here on my argument with John Boyden , artistic director of London's
New Queen's Hall orchestra , the  only period instrument orchestra devoted to music of the 20th century and the late 19th at the website ,  which aims to promote classical music in an age where many
dismiss it as dated and worthless . Musoc stands for "music and society". 

  I nominated Boyden for the site's hall of shame because of his fatuous claims about  the alleged desperate need  for a period instrument orchestra for 20th century music .  Boyden responded angrily in a letter to musoc
accusing me of bigotry toward his orchestra , which I vehemently denied .  I explained that I was merely castigating him for his  grossly unfair blanket dismissal of today's  mainstream orchestras  based on his 
bogus claim that orchestras sound alike and the bras are far to loud .

   Now Boyden's son Matthew , a former musicologist who has now become a lawyer , or barrister as they call it in England .  The younger Boyden defended his father's  claims and the NQHO orchestra , and accused me of "ignorance" regarding  such great composers as Richard Strauss, Brahms, Elgar, Wagner etc , and their
alleged conception of orchestral sound, which the NQHO  purportedly  recreates  exactly . The younger Boyden has written a biography of Richard Strauss , and in his letter , he claims that the aged Richard Strauss in 1948 , the year before his death , found the brass instruments of the 1940s too loud for the music he had written decades earlier . 

   I replied that we will never be able to know how these and other composers would have reacted to the way
our great mainstream orchestras play their music  .  In effect , father and son are putting words into the mouths of long dead composers , which is arrogant and presumptuous . 

   Of course , they are hardly alone in this . Many eminent  musicians  who  adhere to  "Historically Informed performance " (HIP)  and  use period instruments or conduct  ensembles using them have been guilty of this .  We do not   have a time machine , and no one has ever heard  exactly what the music of
the past actually sounded like , or  how musicians interpreted it .  We do not and cannot know how the composers of the past would have reacted to hearing  the Steinway pianos of today , and orchestras which use steel rather than gut strings,  and  brass instruments with valves etc. 

   Whenever you hear a performance on period instruments , you are hearing what the music MIGHT have sounded like in the past .  So many HIP musicians lack the humility and intellectual honesty to admit this fact .  They often sneer at performances which are not "politically correct "  , ie, ones which do not use period instruments .  They are insufferably smug about their  so-called authenticity ".

   But authenticity in music is a chimera .  It doesn't exist . 

Posted: Dec 02 2011, 04:23 PM by the horn | with no comments
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