Musical Authenticity - Is it a legitimate offspring of Janus? (Part 1)

By: Rosalyn Tureck

This article was originally published in Interaction, Journal of the Tureck Bach Research Foundation, Vol. 2, (1998) and is Copyright © 1999 Graham G Hawker.

Janus, the ancient Roman deity that represents the guardian of the gates of heaven, is endowed with a face on the front and the back of his head. In Janus resides a potential power to open the door to heaven, heaven - a symbol for perfection. This double-visaged god with his two-directional nature has provided a useful metaphor in European culture for varied interpretations and applications. The double visage, with full sight in the past and in the future depicts, for me, the conditions that are requisite in the attempt on the part of the living to achieve authenticity in interpreting the productions and thought of the aphonous dead of past eras.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Janus presides over the entrance upon or the beginning of things. Hence Janus opens the way to the original source: entrance to the original source promises possibilities of achieving insight into a past culture. Concomitantly, Janus has equal vision into the future. Among other interpretations, the dictionary quotes Emerson, the American essayist, referring to Janus in an essay on friendship as follows:

A friend is Janus-faced; he looks to the past and the future.

The authenticity movement did not spring up, Venus-like, fully formed, in our historically-minded century. In order to understand the standpoint and posture of the modern notion of musical authenticity it is necessary to trace the major lines of its history farther back than our own century. The scope of this inquiry relates to the modern era, that is, from the mid-eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. It is, however, pertinent to any inquiry into the notion of authenticity to glance back, at least very briefly, to scan eras farther past in order to uncover relevant concepts that associate with the notion that has dominated the twentieth century. This notion has been centred in the concept of the existence of the pure original, represented in the field of musicology by the term 'Ur'.

To begin with, the modern German 'Ur' representing 'origin', its corollary being 'authentic', has, in itself, a history. The great authority on languages and their history, L.A. Holford-Strevens, has kindly provided me with the following comments on its origins:

"Ur, which in Old High German functions as a preposition like Gothic 'us' and Old Norse 'ór', is indeed related to 'aus', being derived from an extended form 'ūds'; the final -s became -z, which in West and North Germanic developed to 'r'. ['Aus', of course, representing 'emerging from' or 'out of'. RT] (In unstressed position before verbs the prefix became er-.) The notion of 'origin' and 'ancient' are firmly established even in the mediaeval period."

To reach still farther back in time than the mediaeval period, it becomes apparent that the very notion of 'original', and its status as constituting 'ancient', had come to the fore in previous eras. Hesiod, regarded as the father of Greek didactic poetry of the eighth century BC, wrote of successively declining ages, golden, silver and bronze, the golden relating to the original and most desirable state. "In the beginning the immortals who have their homes on Mount Olympus created the golden generation of mortal people." [1] Legends, themselves ancient, associating the first state of the world and of human beings with the purest/best, are present in many early cultures.

The impulse to hark back has periodically, throughout Western history, stimulated fresh concepts, forms and structures. Mediaeval philosophy turned to the style of reasoning of Aristotle as a model to follow. The Greeks of the classical era provided inspiration and material that poets of the early Renaissance regarded as models worthy of imitative efforts. The Renaissance represents the very idea of returning to the past. Erasmus and other humanists were also pointing to the desirability of turning back "ad fontes". With the approach of the seventeenth century, musicians were making attempts to emulate the Greek principle of song and of drama. The Greek rhapsodists singing/chanting their tale with an accompanying lyre or similar instrument were regarded as a model upon which to achieve the looked-for authentic emulations of the past. To sing, that is, an individual singing line - with an instrumental supporting background - results in what the modern West terms a 'melody' with 'accompaniment'. Although these seventeenth century musicians were arguing for authenticity in emulating a Greek musical style, a thousand years later the influences of their own time provided the stylistic core. A mistake was made in their supposed replication of a music of the past; however, this mistake was benign, for from it a new harmonic idiom and Western opera were forged.

Space does not permit a fuller consideration of more subtle influences operating, inevitably, upon the new musical approaches and structural treatments in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that led to the Western foundations of the harmonic idiom and the creation of opera. The guiding spirit was the very Renaissance effort to connect with and represent the past. In the mid-late eighteenth century the concept of authenticity, of returning to the ur - the original -was once again fired, this time being viewed more literally with greater care to the uncovering of sources. Data then promised to be the beacon of brilliant light guaranteed to illuminate the way to the goal of ultimate certainty and incontrovertibility in re-enacting the form and stylistic contours of the past.

The stimulus of the modern faith in the 'Ur' can be traced, in substantial part, to the mid/late eighteenth century. Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) nourished fresh conceptual interest in the past, calling for a renewed return to Greek art, its principles and style. Gluck (1714-1787), indeed, manifests this influence. Rousseau's writings led to calls for a return to the 'noble savage', to the past purity of humankind antecedent to the corrupting influences of civilisation - that is, the pure original, 'Ur', human being. Ideas that propel the thoughts of a culture in new directions, such as those of Rousseau and Winckelmann, are not isolated: they cannot be contained within the single realm from which they have sprung or be preserved within tightly marked-out territories. The desire to return to and represent what was judged original infiltrated the domain of music at the very time when publication of music blossomed and as commercial public performance was presented increasingly for the delectation of the secular public. These swiftly expanding activities engendered fresh needs and attitudes which in turn created new disciplines, musicology being one. The quest for reproduction in notetexts and later in performance manner formed the dominant guiding principle in both of these areas.

The late eighteenth century came face to face with the realistic, tangible conditions attendant upon bringing forward and recreating musical masterworks of the past. Here, the central interest arose not from a creative desire to emulate form and structure as in earlier times; rather the impetus emerged from the desire to reproduce accuracy of notetexts and stylistic performance manner. This desire supported a faith in the ability to discover, recapture and experience the 'Ur' in all its facets. Leading, practically, to vital attention to the best sources, the Urtext became a prime area for search and study. Sifting sources to their best established ur condition raised the standard of music publishing immeasurably. At the same time, these efforts provided a strong platform for all those concerned with text, media and stylistic performance. Throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, this faith in the 'ur' was regarded by an influential segment of the academic and performing communities as an immutable, unassailable principle inhabiting all areas of the musical art and of performance. But not all allowed this overarching faith to go unquestioned, as is evidenced in a public exchange as early as 1848, which is to be considered here.

Stimulated by the search for accuracy, a style of research was initiated that concentrated on gathering and presenting all manner of historical data. Developing in increasingly sophisticated channels in the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, this mode of investigation strengthened, in both musicological and performance circles, a powerful faith in data per se. As a consequence, it has been assumed that authoritative data provide assured conceptual identification with the productions and with the aesthetic style of thought and performance inherent in a past culture. Historical data, represented by treatises of the epoch, that relate, for example, to such technological data as the manufacture of musical instruments, or to rules of performance, provided posterity with a virtually unassailable stronghold in possession of the means for a pure and true replication of past musical concepts and of a composer's original intentions relating to stylistic performance and sonorities.

A posterity's attitude towards authenticity is consequent upon the particular focus as well as the extent and intensity of its interest in the past. The fundamental changes in music and art which erupted in the early twentieth century, for instance, were based in abandoning virtually all current notions of form, structure and style, harking back to mediaeval and, still more ancient, African cultures. From this departure, new creative concepts of forms, structure and style exploded directly into painting (Picasso, etc.), sculpture (Henry Moore, etc.), musical systems (Stravinsky, etc.), arising and spreading like a phoenix from the fertilising ashes of antique and archaic societies. In the mid/late eighteenth century, rather than fulfilling the emphasis upon looking back by way of a universal interest in the creation of new forms and structures based on past cultures, interest in the 'Ur' focused most forcibly on the reproduction of accurate notetexts and, expanding later, upon replications of period instruments and performance manner. Such activities led naturally to an interest in collecting and circulating music of previous eras.

One of the most influential expressions of interest in the past in the eighteenth century was marked by the virtual eruption and quick spread of music publishing firms. Publishing is an enterprise designed to make a created work/musical composition publicly known. Publishing firms are judged by the level of conscientiousness that is demonstrated by the degree of accuracy achieved in their publications. That the use of reliable, accurately noted manuscripts is desirable is self-evident. As we know today, not all publishers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries exhibited a fine discernment in selecting or accepting manuscripts offered for publication. The history of early music publication in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is replete not only with tiers of secondary and further receding sources but also with corrupt ascriptions to composers as well as to sources. [2] Moreover, the scratchouts and corrections, which characterise many manuscripts, were no longer possible; these remained solely in the private realm of printer's models/proofs. To the eyes of the recipient of a published work the printed page takes on an immutable character which, rightly or wrongly, conveys the impression of a final authority. Today, the knowledge gained by the analyses and dating of ink, paper and comparative studies of handwriting, etc., through the efforts of highly developed specialists in the myriad facets of manuscript studies has provided finer assessments of accuracy, but even with the most sophisticated analyses uncertainty often reigns.

The sale of printed music texts was stimulated by publishers' growing exploitation of the medium of advertising, which helped to expand far-ranging distribution. The act of passing a single music text from individual to individual, as was the case with a copyist's manuscript, became unnecessary and obsolete. Previously, the copyist was connected with the creator of the composition as student, family member, friend, or a musician/teacher interested in a particular work. This kind of relatedness constituted a direct and active individual link with the musical composition and its creator. Undoubtedly, the conscientiousness of the individual copyist formed the measure of the level of accuracy by which a manuscript copy from an autograph could be considered valid and dependable. The copyist's source is always a prime consideration. But the existence of many extant manuscripts by copyists, and even of autographs, contributes powerful evidence of second thoughts of varying degrees of accuracy, oversights, and alterations, including slips of the pen, as well as the conscious desire by copyists to modify according to individual tastes. The continuous careful sifting of manuscript variants has not dispelled, at the end of the twentieth century, questions about some of Sebastian Bach's notetexts. Scholars and publishers, even now, in an age when we have electric light, biro and felt pens, typewriters, word processors, spell checkers, etc., have similar problems with our current autographs. [3]

At that moment when publishers were bustling with enthusiasm in their efforts to outdo each other in producing quantity and quality, the spectre of inaccuracy appeared in full clarity. Of necessity, the very notion of authenticity, of original, Ur-texts, was impressed upon the minds of musicians and publishers, and was underscored in the value assessments of manuscript collectors. One of the earliest manifestations of the modern emphasis on what is adjudged original, as representing correctness, appears in the correspondence of the publishing firm Hoffmeister and Kühnel, newly established and active from 1800 to 1804, with Johann Nikolaus Forkel, whom we know as the first biographer and early propagandist of Johann Sebastian Bach, and an enthusiastic collector of manuscripts.

Forkel's initial letter of May 4, 1801 to these publishers, who had contacted him in regard to continuing their project of publishing a collection of Bach's compositions, demonstrates his preoccupation with correctness by voicing his complaint about the inadequacy of their sources. [4]

A scholar who wants to publish an edition of one of the classics takes pains to procure several manuscripts and compare them, so that, when he has enough knowledge and judgement about them, he may include only the best readings in his edition. Why didn't your editor do likewise? [5] ... Whatever you choose, you will have to proceed carefully everywhere if you do not wish to include misprints or slips of the pen... But send me your copies before you have them engraved. For I give you my word that otherwise you always run the risk of publishing incorrect tilings...[6]

This random sample of Forkel's insistence on correctness and his complaints about the manuscripts previously accepted by Hoffmeister and Kühnel point to the problem of accuracy that emerged, inevitably, from conditions of publication. Forkel's continued correspondence with Hoffmeister and Kühnel provides posterity with a jumping-off platform for the modern Western scholarly thrust, by way of documented evidence of concentrated pressure for textual accuracy and stylistic authenticity at a comparatively early stage in conscientious music publishing efforts. Forkel proves to be mistaken, however, in his certainty that all the manuscripts in his possession were the final, most authentic representations of the compositions. [7] On the other hand, his accusations and warnings reflect the positive aspect of the modern uncompromising stance that insists on correctness and the most reliable of manuscript models.

As we know, the uncertain state of claims about the authenticity of manuscripts of Sebastian's compositions, formed, by 1802, a major problem. Confusion was inevitable, due to the general decrease in interest in Sebastian's music immediately after his death in 1750, accompanied by casual or careless attention to the preservation and the dating of his autographs. Moreover, the departure from contrapuntal density and form, strongly rooted by the mid-eighteenth century, coupled with swiftly moving innovative concepts of harmonic structure and form, gave rise to new-fashioned musical choices and judgments. Evolving instruments and expanding sonorities, both in volume and timbre, had moved along with aesthetic concepts and goals into a territory utterly alien to those that formed Johann Sebastian. The era of Empfindsamkeit, that peaked so soon after Bach's death in 1750, the classical epoch represented by Mozart and Haydn in the sixties and seventies, the creative burgeoning of Beethoven - who by 1801 was a well established composer - all had occurred within the period of 50 years after Sebastian's death. In 1801, Forkel began to hand over his manuscripts to Hoffmeister and Kühnel and to operate as mentor and supervisor of most of their Bach publications. Although Forkel's continued impression that his collection comprised the most authentic and final versions of sources proved not always to be the case, his nagging condemnation of "incorrect things" provided a strengthening foundation for the establishment of uncompromising efforts in the cause of correctness.

The late eighteenth-century interest in a return to what was regarded as the natural state—as in, for instance, a human nature purified of all extraneous, distorting elements accrued via the influences of civilisation - is echoed in the correspondence of one of the most distinguished and influential musicians of the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832), director of the Berlin Singakademie since 1800, with Goethe. As is well known, Zelter, as one of the growing circle of Sebastian Bach's protagonists in the early nineteenth century, was musical mentor to the young Mendelssohn, who first heard Bach's cantatas at Zelter's famous weekly musical evenings. From the extant Zelter-Goethe correspondence, we know that Zelter introduced Goethe, also, to Sebastian's music. Zelter's explication of what he considers the true, 'ur' state of Bach's music is contained in one of his early letters to Goethe:

...old Bach with all his originality is a son of his country, and of his age and could not escape French influence, especially that of Couperin. One wants to show one's willingness to please and so one creates what does not endure. One can however dissociate him from this foreign element; it comes off like a thin froth and the shining contents lie immediately beneath. Consequently I have arranged many of his church compositions solely for my own pleasure and my heart tells me that old Bach nods approval just as the worthy Haydn used to say 'Yes, yes, that is what I wished.' [8]

Zelter expresses no compunctions about altering Bach's compositions. He expresses the belief, unblemished by any doubts, that he was succeeding in being more 'ur', i.e. authentic, than Bach himself. But inevitably, Zelter finds himself confronted with difficulties in restoring Bach's compositions to what he considered to be their true, pure state. Somewhat later Zelter admits to Goethe his recognition of the problem that presents itself when another mentality attempts to reduce a work of art to what he considers to be its original state by removing its "foreign element". He writes: "What I called Sebastian Bach's French froth ('frizzlings') is not so easily skimmed off." [9]

The case of Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 903) provides extensive evidence of the stance of assumed certainty of authenticity. For the purpose of clarifying the focus of this article I briefly review material that is familiar to all in the field of this period.

No autograph of this composition exists. As referred to above, the ardent musical ambitions of the young publishing partners, Hoffmeister and Kühnel, prompted them to contact Johann Nikolaus Forkel, who was known to enjoy access to Bach's sons Wilhelm Friedmann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. Forkel, having responded to their initial letter with a sharp criticism of the firm's use of unreliable manuscripts, proffered himself as the ultimate authority and possessor of accurate, original manuscripts. The result was a protracted relationship with Hoffmeister and Kühnel; Forkel became the prime authority and supplier of Bach manuscripts for their publications. Their first issue of Johann Sebastian's music, under the supervision of Forkel, was the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in 1802, followed almost immediately by their publication of Forkel's biography of Johann Sebastian. The plates PN74, made for this first publication of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue were used repeatedly - again in ca. 1806, issued by Kühnel alone, who had by that time separated from Hoffmeister, by C. F. Peters ca. 1815 and partially in 1819, again by Peters. The initial version in PN74, supervised by Forkel, matching the text of his own manuscript of the work is completely devoid of an editor's comments, instructions, performing devices, etc. The legend attached to Forkel's possession of the manuscript of this composition is derived from the assertion by Forkel that he received a manuscript of it from Wilhelm Friedemann. The implication of his claims indicates that Forkel provided Hoffmeister and Kühnel with the copy he received from Friedemann. However, this copy has never come to light. It is possible that Forkel gave Hoffmeister and Kühnel the very copy that Friedemann gave him and after publication this copy vanished. We do not know the fate of the manuscript. Moreover, we do not know the copyist of Friedemann's manuscript - Friedemann, Johann Sebastian, Anna Magdalena, a student? Forkel has not mentioned these points. Forkel's copy in his hand is extant and Hoffmeister and Kühnel's publication matches that.

Kühnel had continued the publishing firm without Hoffmeister and, following his death in the early years of the second decade, the emerging firm of C. F. Peters bought the entire catalogue from Kuhnel's widow. The first publication by Peters duplicated the two previous publications, utilising the very same plates that had produced these previous publications of this composition. However, in 1819, Peters published an edition of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in a totally new format - it was the first edited publication of this work. Created by Friedrich Conrad Griepenkerl, a pupil of Forkel, it contained significant alterations in the notetext and copious performance instructions with specific indications within the music score and essays on Bach's keyboard fingering technique with general instructions pertaining to Bach's performance style. Comparatively scant attention has been given to the fact that the original plates [PN74J were used for only the first four pages of the fugue and that the alterations and additions were so lavish that new plates [PN1512] had to be made for the pages comprising the entire Fantasia and the remaining four pages of the Fugue. A single sampling provides ample evidence of the notetext alterations, even apart from Griepenkerl's fleshing out of the top part in the Coda of the Fantasia. Griepenkerl's own term in his Bemerkungen for his added performance indications is "overladen".

Continue to Part 2

Musical Example 1: Chromatic Fantasy - Coda: Mus Ms P212, in Forkel's hand Example 1

Musical Example 2: Chromatic Fantasy - Coda: First Publication, Hoffmeister and Kühnel, 1802, PN 74 Example 2

Musical Example 3: Chromatic Fantasy - Coda: Fourth Publication, C. F. Peters, 1819, PN 1512 and PN 74 Example 3


[1] Hesiod, The Works and Days, trans. R. Lattimore (Hanover: University of Michigan Press, 1959), 31.

[2] Brook, B. S., 'Piracy and Panacea in the Dissemination of Music in the Late Eighteenth Century,' Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 102 (1976): 13–36.

[3] I was impressed, in about the early 80s, with the heavy sighs of my editor at Schirmer Music Inc., whom I shared with the great American composer Elliott Carter, in relating to me his difficulties in editing Carter's music due to Carter's continual changes in the final sets of proofs.

[4] Bellennann, H., 'Zwei Briefe von. Joh. Nic. Forkel an das Bureau de Musique in Leipzig,' Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 43 (22 October 1873): 675–76.

[5] Ibid. 4 December 1801.

[6] Ibid. 5 March 1802. Further reading: 'Aus Forkels Briefen an Hoffmeister & Kühnel', Kinsky, G., Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek, C.F. Peters 1932, pp. 55-68. 'The Forkel-Hoffmeister and Kühnel correspondence', ed. George B. Stauffer (New York: C. F. Peters, 1990).

[7] Hill, R.S., 'The Plate Numbers of C. F. Peters' Predecessors', Papers of the American Musicological Society, 1938, p. 125 "... Cahier 2 follows Forkel's advice and makes use of what Forkel thought were late revised editions of Bach's works - in reality these were the earliest manuscripts.

[8] Zelter/Goethe correspondence, April 8, 1827. Selected, annotated and translated by A. O. Coleridge. London, Bell and Sons 1892.

[9] Ibid. June 8, 1827

Continue to Part 2