Authentic Performance of Music: From Bach and Handel to Elvis, Ray Charles, and the Blues Brothers

By Mark Perlman.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There has been a major movement in the last 30 years to pursue authentic performance practice of classical music. Also known as historically-informed-performance (HIP), musicians have sought to use scholarship on historical performances and original instruments so that they can perform baroque- and classical-era musical works in an authentic manner. Moreover, some go so far as to argue that it is incorrect to play such music inauthentically, or even that we have an artistic duty to seek authenticity in performance, or that authentic performances will be aesthetically superior to inauthentic ones. The philosophical discussions of authenticity in musical performance have also centered on classical music, whether in performing music 200 or 300 years old we ought to seek to play in an ‘authentic’ way, as one might have heard in Bach’s, Handel’s, or Mozart’s time.

This context makes it appear as if the authenticity debate depends on old music, for which we have written scores but no original recordings. I argue that this is not the case, and that authenticity is not a mere historical problem – it revolves around musical styles and genres. Authenticity is a stylistic and aesthetic problem that potentially can arise in any genre of music, from any era. With examples from Be-Bop, R&B, Blues, Country/Western and Rock-and-Roll we can see that certain styles are ‘authentic’ in a genre, and others are not. With musical examples from Elvis to Ray Charles to The Blues Brothers, I will show how the same kinds of authenticity questions that arise with baroque and classical music arise in contemporary pop music. I will use this phenomenon to shed some light on the issue of musicians’ obligation to play music authentically, or at least to strive to do so, and whether authenticity automatically yields aesthetically superior performances.

Keywords: Aesthetics, Music, Performance, Authenticity, Style, Genre, Classical

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 7, pp.135-146. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.905MB).

Dr Mark Perlman

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Western Oregon University, Monmouth, Oregon, USA

Mark Perlman is a philosopher and musician – Professor of Philosophy at Western Oregon University (since 1998) and Music Director and Conductor of the Willamette Falls Symphony (Oregon City, Oregon, since 2001). He is also a bassist, following the example of his father, David Perlman, was Principal Bass of the Cleveland Orchestra (1966-1981). In addition to philosophy, he studied anthropology, and music (including conducting) as an undergraduate at Ohio State University, and spent a year abroad studying in Munich, Germany in 1985-86. In 1994 he completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Arizona, and taught at Arizona State University from 1993 until 1998. His philosophical specialties are Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Science, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Law, and Aesthetics (particularly Philosophy of Music). He is the author of “CONCEPTUAL FLUX: Mental Representation, Misrepresentation, and Concept Change” (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000) and co-editor (with Robert Cummins and Andre Ariew) of “FUNCTIONS: New Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology” (Oxford University Press, 2002), as well as a number of other journal articles. As Associate Conductor of the Scottsdale Symphony Orchestra from 1994 - 1998, Mark Perlman conducted the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 on a CD recording with pianist Nicholas Carey. He is currently also the Associate Conductor Hillsboro Symphony Orchestra (in Oregon). For more information, see: and


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