Concepts of Authenticity in Early Music and Popular Music Communities

As a semi-professional singer and musicology graduate student in New York City in the mid-1980s, I had the opportunity to speak with other performers about their path to Early Music. Most performers, not surprisingly, told of training as Classical musicians who, fascinated by older repertories, retooled their technique for performing older music. I was particularly struck by the answers of lutenists—whose stories differed from the others even as they resembled each other. Several male lute players told me how, as teenaged pop music fans in the 1960s and 1970s, they wanted to learn to play the guitar (the phrase “I wanted to be the next Eric Clapton” recurred). When their parents arranged for Classical guitar lessons for them, they discovered that the music they liked best had originally been written for lute. Eventually they decided that if they liked lute music best, they should learn to play the lute itself. These stories revealed something that was true of all modern performers of Early Music: their musical identities had been shaped by their experiences as listeners to the music of their own time.

When these conversations were taking place, Early Music performers were deliberately shifting their performance style away from contemporary Classical music practices in pursuit of techniques better suited to the performance of music older than the eighteenth- and nineteenth- centuries that made up the Classical repertoire. Nowadays, the approaches to performance they adopted are labeled as “historically-informed performance,” but in the 1980s, performers, concert promoters and record companies labeled them “authentic.” Some in the mainstream Classical music community perceived this label to be a challenge from the upstart Early Music “movement”; but within that movement, its adoption was a legitimizing move, drawing on the authority of musicological research into the historical past.

In this article, I explore how twentieth-century Early Music revivals that saw as their goal the objective discovery of the historical musical past were themselves a part of their own contemporary music-making world. Richard Taruskin first made this point in a series of articles in the 1980s; but in them he compared Early Music performance styles and attitudes only to those of the Classical music world.1  In contrast, my argument hinges on the connections between performers and audiences for then-contemporary popular music and Early Music—especially as transmitted through recorded performance. This article’s appendix dramatizes this point by listing a number of prominent performers of Early Music, popular music, and folk music in the UK and US, arranged by birth date. Grouping these musicians together represents a first attempt at understanding what shared experiences, especially technologically mediated ones, may have shaped their musical sensibilities.

The interactions between Early Music and popular genres, including English and American folk music revivals, have been less easily recognized than connections between Early Music and Classical music. The similarities between Early Music and pop music experiences are reflected in the mediated musical objects that provided the reference points for – and are the products of – both movements. In the 1960s and 1970s, Early Music transmitted by recordings became available to a wider range of listeners, and elements of those recorded performances were appropriated by pop performers and composers for inclusion in pop music. At the same time, pop-sounding elements, particularly vocal timbre, were adopted by Early Music performers seeking alternatives to operatic-sounding voices. Changes in technology meant that musicians born after WWII were likely to grow up receiving music through recordings and broadcasts, linking generational cohorts through shared listening. Mass media allowed, and allows, generational cohorts to share characteristics across class and education lines. Scholars, respecting the categorical separations of pop and folk music from Classical and Early Music, miss noticing the existence of a shared experiential and historical zone for mutual transmission traceable in sonic borrowings across genre borderlines.

Long Play recordings changed the listening experience for mid twentieth-century music audiences. While live performances are one-time events, recordings allowed a listener to hear the exact same performance over and over again. In a Classical music model, the composer’s instructions are transmitted via notation to the performer, who performs the work for listeners. In contrast, recordings allow performers and listeners to respond to the stylistic choices and sonic qualities of other musical performances. The ability to re-listen to the same performance prompts listeners to pay greater attention to musical elements of timbre and phrasing that would vanish instantly in live performance. With live performance, the sonic presence of music vanishes as it is produced, leaving a memory of the work. With recordings, the performance remains present. The work and performance fuse together with repeated listening: the performance’s sound is present in a recording as much as the abstract composition traditionally called “the musical work”.

Changing Approaches to the Music of the Distant Past

In addition to the contemporary relationships between different musical communities, conceptions of historical time are an important dimension of Early Music revivals. Relationships across time result in unequal partnerships, involving living performers and listeners with dead composers. These cross-temporal relationships are inevitably shaped by attitudes towards the past on the part of the living. The ways in which artists in later periods respond to material from earlier periods in their creative work has been discussed more in literature, and especially Medieval Studies, than in musicology. Trans-temporality is of particular concern to Medieval Studies, not least because the very concept of “the Medieval” always serves to distance the present from a past period that is viewed negatively.2 In Medieval studies, the term “Medievalism” has been adopted for discussing the creative use of Medieval materials in any post-Medieval era,3 including such diverse phenomena as the Gothic revival in architecture,4 films about King Arthur,5 Walt Disney’s Fantasyland, 6 and J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.7 By using Medieval material in later periods, artists and audiences can combine past and present for imaginative exploration and enjoyment.8 But these kinds of creative endeavors have long been problematic within academic scholarship, as they neither seek to discover the purely historical past nor create wholly original works.9 The phenomenon of Medievalism puts past and present on equal footing, while asserting that imaginative recreations in the present are worth discussing. Such discussions challenge a view of historical scholarship that sees the historical past as the proper focus for study, with modern interpretations of historical material valuable only so far as they improve our objective knowledge and understanding of that past.

Medievalism as an area of study has much to offer historical musicology, in that modern performances of older music involve a similar trans-temporality. An old work of music performed in a later time will participate in the culture of that present through performance—even though it was created in a different temporal context. To some extent, musical revivals of pre-Classical music function as a kind of temporal exoticism, exchanging imaginative travel in time for travel in space in the minds of listeners.10 To be convincing in performance for current audiences, music written before the nineteenth-century invention of “Classical” music—that is, music for which no continuous performance tradition exists—must, besides making musical sense on its own terms, engage with whatever opinions about the past the performers and audiences hold. In this way, modern-day ideas about the past will always affect performance style for Early Music. And as ideas about the past change, we should expect to find Early Music performance styles changing as well.11 And we do: successive waves of revival show distinct differences in repertoire, performance style, personnel, and audience.12 These differences were explained as resulting from greater historical accuracy, and it is undoubtedly true that musicological research was uncovering more and more information with relevance for performance. The Early Music revivals of the twentieth century, particularly in their most intensive period of growth and popularity in the 1960s-1980s, claimed that their recreations of the past were the result of objective historical study. But new performance styles also reflected the attitudes of audiences towards the past in general and specifically concerning music, in ways parallel to creative works studied under the umbrella of Medievalism.13

This is the crux of the matter: was Early Music to be seen as a part of Classical music, representing an earlier stage in a narrative of the development of European musical style, or was it to be seen as unrelated to the Classical music that came later? Put simply, people who held the first view are likely to perceive no conflict between performance styles and sounds of the Classical music world and compositions written before the eighteenth century. People holding the second view are likely to be disturbed by the juxtaposition of sounds identified with Classical music (most specifically constant vibrato) and Early Music. When Classical music—music and performance styles associated with what has been called the “Classical canon”—is seen as normative, Early Music performances need not reject it. But for people in the second half of the twentieth century, who were young enough to live through the pop music explosions of the 1960s and not reject them, Classical music became marked sonically as a temporally specific kind of music. For them, Classical music sounds seemed out of place in Early Music, destroying the illusion of a pre-Classical past revealed through performance.

Before the mid-twentieth century, the general response to the performance of what little old music was known was to adapt it by updating it for performance by contemporary ensembles. Mozart reorchestrated Handel’s Messiah (1741) with the addition of newly-invented clarinets in 1789; and throughout the nineteenth century, much choral music originally written for small ensembles was performed by much larger choirs. In the first part of the twentieth century, increasing research into historical music made older music available, and composers and conductors updated them to fit the modern performance needs of orchestral concerts. Ottorino Respighi orchestrated sixteenth- and seventeenth-century lute music for his three “Ancient Airs and Dances” suites (1917, 1923, 1932). Leopold Stokowski’s massive orchestration of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d-minor, originally for organ, is known to everyone who has ever seen Disney’s Fantasia (1940). These orchestrations can be seen to reflect a view, shared by musicians and audiences, of the past as a simpler time than the present: more brightly colored, with stronger contrasts and emotions. Christopher Page ascribes this view in musicological scholarship to Johan Huizinga’s Waning of the Middle Ages,14 but it is older than that, deriving ultimately from nineteenth-century Romanticism that conflates distance in time with simplicity as compared to a more-sophisticated present.

The postwar Early Music revivals differ from this earlier approach to older music in that, rather than using old music as the inspiration for creative reworkings, the revivalists meant to play it “on its own terms.”  We can distinguish between four distinct temporal moments of Early Music revival in the later twentieth century. In each case, the shift from one wave to the next happened because performers and listeners were unsatisfied with current results. Their dissatisfactions were always explained in terms of greater historical accuracy, but I would argue that they stemmed as well from an intolerance of sounds perceived as anachronistic. In this way, particular sounds became unacceptable when they no longer fit with a shared mental image of the past. The unacceptable sounds were then replaced with others that did not produce anachronistic dissonance in the imaginations of performers and listeners.

1. The postwar Baroque revival is best described by Robert Fink in his chapter “ ‘A Pox on Manfredini’: The Long Playing Record, the Baroque Revival, and the Birth of Ambient Music.”15 Music historians had been uncovering eighteenth-century concertos, and publishing critical editions. Economic factors made recordings of Italian Baroque music attractive to record companies, and the availability of these recordings found an audience especially among affluent urban listeners. These performances were on modern instruments, in small “chamber” ensemble, with the addition of one antique instrument: the harpsichord, which had gone extinct in response to the nineteenth-century preference for the newer piano. Their approach to performance and style of performance was adopted by ensembles outside of Italy, including the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, founded in London in 1959, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, founded in New York City in 1972. These performers and their audiences did not posit a conceptual or temporal break between older eighteenth-century music and music written later that became the foundation of normative Classical music, and the performances they recorded sound like normative chamber music, with the addition of the harpsichord the only sonic novelty.

2. The second wave of revival was the “original-instruments” response to #1. Musicians on the European continent performing Bach’s music realized that instruments that survived from the eighteenth century to the present day had changed. They began experimenting with performance on genuinely antique instruments, sometimes “re-Baroqued,” or on modern copies of antique instruments. Performers in this wave included most prominently the Dutch harpsichordist and conductor Gustav Leonhardt, and the Austrian cellist and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whose ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien was founded in 1953. Ensembles founded in the early 1970s include La Petite Bande, founded in 1972 by Sigiswald Kuijken, the English Concert, founded by Trevor Pinnock in 1972, the Taverner Consort, founded by Andrew Parrott in 1973, and The Academy of Ancient Music, founded by Christopher Hogwood in 1973. These performers did see a real break between Baroque music and normative Classical music, and their use of period instruments (as well as new performance techniques developed to play them well) created a noticeable sonic difference between their recordings and normative chamber music. The one exception concerned singers:  just as the performers in #1 above heard no conflict between Classical-sounding instruments and performance styles and earlier music, performers in group #2 heard no conflict between the new “period” instruments and the sound of singers’ voices produced through normative vocal training. These included opera singers, as well as the use of boy sopranos and countertenors imported from modern English and German cathedral choirs for the performance of liturgical music.

3. The interest in antique instruments was extended to other, older, extinct instruments such as viols and “Renaissance” wind instruments. Instrument makers learned to produce modern versions of these instruments, allowing musicians to perform older and older works of music, from earlier periods of history. The earlier one goes in the history of music, however, one encounters more and more vocal music, requiring the use of modern singers. The very first commercial performances of Medieval and Renaissance music combined antique or re-created antique instruments with modern, Classically-trained singers. Performers and ensembles in this wave in America include the Boston Camerata, founded in 1954 by Narcissa Williamson, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and directed from 1969 to 2008 by Joel Cohen, and the Waverly Consort, founded in 1964 by Michael and Kay Jaffee. The first European groups include the Studio der Frühen Musik, founded by Thomas Binkley in 1960, and Musica Reservata, founded by Michael Morrow in 1960; in England the preeminent figure of this wave was multi-instrumentalist and conductor David Munrow, who founded the Early Music Consort of London with harpsichordist Christopher Hogwood in 1967. These groups were the first to experiment with non-normative vocal singing styles, through idiosyncratic voices, such as Dutch soprano Jantina Noorman’s krumhorn tone in recordings with Musica Reservata, to better suit more raucous older instrumental sounds. Singers such as Andrea von Ramm and Nigel Rogers were willing to experiment with vocal production techniques not a part of normative operatic style.

4. The final shift, in response to the requirements of unaccompanied, one-on-a-part vocal music, replaced normative operatic style singing with lighter flexible voices that could eschew constant vibrato in the interest of better ensemble tuning other vocal styles. This style of ensemble singing came to dominance in the 1980s. The Consort of Musicke, founded by lutenist Anthony Rooley in 1969, is the oldest of successful one-on-a-part vocal ensembles. Two important English ensembles were founded in 1973: The Hilliard Ensemble, founded by David James, Paul Elliott, and Paul Hillier, and The Tallis Scholars, founded by Peter Philips. In 1977 Benjamin Bagby and Barbara Thornton, students of Thomas Binkley’s at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, founded the Medieval ensemble. The Ensemble Clément Janequin was founded by countertenor Dominique Visse in 1978. The Sixteen was founded by Harry Christophers in 1979. Gothic Voices was founded by Christopher Page in 1981, Ensemble Organum was founded by Marcel Pérès in 1982, and the Orlando Consort was founded in 1988 by the Early Music Centre of Great Britain.16

Despite a discourse of authenticity based on fidelity to a past unmediated by contemporary technologies, by the time of wave #4’s advent, audiences were familiar with – and influenced by – a large range of singing styles transmitted through contemporary pop music recordings. Operatic-style voices began to sound anachronistic for Early Music repertoires, in that these kinds of voices were associated with nineteenth-century repertoires. While the preference for lighter, brighter voices singing with less vibrato was justified on historical terms (the argument goes like this: if Bel Canto singing style was invented at a particular time and place, then singers before that time and in other places could not have used it), that same preference can also be seen as influenced by exposure to contemporary popular music singing.17 In short: fidelity to historical styles was not the only issue at stake for Early Musicians and their audiences. What mattered was that these voices weren’t operatic ones. As popular music singing styles were the standard for non-operatic, non-Classical music voices, these kinds of voices were accepted as appropriate.

Popular Music Appropriations of Early Music Sounds

While future Early Music practitioners were being influenced by popular music sounds during the 1960s, popular musicians of that era began to incorporate Early Music sounds, particularly instrumental sounds, in their recordings. The first wave of Early Music revival in the postwar period involved Baroque music and introduced the harpsichord, and not surprisingly, these new sounds were the first to be adopted in popular music. The earliest use of a harpsichord in a non-Classical music context dates to 1940, eight tracks recorded by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five featuring pianist Johnny Guarnieri. The more sustained use of harpsichord in popular music came in the mid-1960s. Examples include hit singles by the Left Banke, “Walk Away Renee” (1966); Simon & Garfunkel, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” (1966); and album tracks by the Beatles, “Fixing a Hole” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), and “Piggies” (The Beatles, 1968), among many, many others. The popularity of the harpsichord in pop music argues that boundaries between “high art” Classical music and “low art” pop music were not so absolute or impermeable as they were perceived at the time.

When harpsichords and Baroque-style compositional features were first included in pop songs, the effect for listeners was one of surprise. An early example of a harpsichord used in a pop single in combination with compositional elements from Baroque music dates from July, 1958.18 It is an American doo-wop novelty single by the Jamies, a teenaged vocal quartet from Boston, released by Epic Records.19 In “Summertime, Summertime,” a perennial end-of-school radio favorite, the Jamies use elements of Baroque compositional style—specifically, the chorus’ a capella imitative entrances, and the song’s melodic contours, particularly approaching cadences—in addition to harpsichord continuo for the verses. “Summertime, Summertime” is typical of 1960s Baroque pop in that the elements of Baroque music are used for novelty value. The contrast between teenagers singing of their delight at the end of the school year and the more formal Baroque elements is funny.

Other examples of this kind of 1960s “pop Baroque” include Sonny and Cher’s faux Baroque hit “I Got You Babe” (1965), which manages to suggest a trio sonata without the use of specialist instruments; while the Bach-flavored organ obbligatos in The Doors’ “Light My Fire” (1967) and Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” (1967) add moody intensity to lyrics about seduction. The theme music and underscore of the British television show “Danger Man” (1960-1962, 1964-1968; broadcast in the US as “Secret Agent”) prominently featured a sophisticated touch of harpsichord; the American television series “The Addams Family” (1964-1966) used harpsichord for a jolt of the unexpected.20 The Baroque sounds imported from Early Music wave #1 recordings are cool, hip new sounds, included in compositions as a means of conveying a playful freshness, rather than a sense of history or temporal exoticism.

While Early Music sounds were first used as a touch of the new, musicians in the later 1960s and early 1970s used sounds deriving from Early Music as a musical means of signaling the idea of the past. The sounds of older music were not used to represent some specific point in history—the eighteenth century, for example—but rather to suggest a nostalgia-fueled yearning for a simpler time. To an extent this conceptual shift has generational ties: the British musicians who ushered in the new rock era (including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and guitarist Eric Clapton), all born in the early 1940s, drew on blues recordings of black Americans from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as 1950s Rock ’n’ Roll for musical styles that conveyed a sense of authenticity, especially in contrast with the commercial “light” (i.e. non-Classical) music favored by adults at the time. In contrast, some British musicians born in the later 1940s seem to have responded with a desire to draw on a musical heritage closer to home for validation, first from British folk music and then from western Classical music itself. These desires manifested themselves in the sub-genres of Folk Rock (including such groups as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span) and what has become known as Progressive Rock (e.g., Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Yes, King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and eventually Genesis). Where Folk Rock and Progressive Rock overlap, we find an interest in representing the past musically through the use of old tunes, the use of old melodic modes for new tunes, old instruments (harpsichord, but also a variety of Renaissance winds) and most importantly musical and lyrical images that explicitly evoke the past.

In the US Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” (1966) was an early proto-crossover between Early Music and folk music. The track combined, quodlibet-style—an English folk song Paul Simon had learned from Martin Carthy the year before—with an original Simon anti-war song. When heard in conjunction with Scarborough Fair’s modal tune and antique lyrics, the harpsichord on this track seems to signal a non-specific past for listeners, and not the fresh and stylish present day. Three years later English folksinger Shirley Collins and her sister Dolly Collins produced a more explicitly deliberate cross for their album, Anthems in Eden (Harvest Records, 1969). Eschewing a then-standard American-style guitar or banjo accompaniment, Collins instead chose to record a suite of English folk songs to the accompaniment, arranged by Dolly who also played portative organ, of a selection of European Early Music instruments, courtesy of David Munrow and other musicians from the Early Music Consort of London. The songs chosen for the suite “A Song-Story,” the entire A-side of the album, were ordered so as to outline the course of a love affair, including the lovers ultimately parted by war. The liner notes of the album relate the love story to the First World War, but the temporal mix of musical elements produces the sonic signaling of a less-specific sense of the past, drenched in nostalgia for a lost rural world.

In 1972 Led Zeppelin began “Stairway to Heaven” with acoustic guitar and a recorder quartet, and listeners realized the sounds were evoking a past both imagined and real.21 The recorders imply the general sense of a pre-modern “before now” while deliberately leaving the temporal association vague. The magical effect of superimposing “then” and “now” in sonic layers with reality and imagination echoes that evoked by the cover of Led Zeppelin’s self-titled fourth album, which shows (from front to back) a painting on a wallpapered wall in a building that is being knocked down in a modern city. The painting depicts a man in old-fashioned clothes with a bundle of sticks on his back; the viewer’s eye is drawn into the depth of landscape, and the interaction of that painted distance with the visual depth of the photograph on the back side of the double cover produces the whiplash of time travel for a viewer. On the album “Stairway to Heaven” is proceeded by the Tolkien-esque “Battle of Nevermore,” adding the parallel dimension of fantasy in a fantasy past to the temporal play for a listener to the complete album side.

Jethro Tull made connections between the past, time, and timelessness, counterculture views of nature, folkloric views of magic, and contemporary music explicit in the album Songs from the Wood (Chrysalis Records, 1977). In the liner notes to the 2003 CD reissue of the album, composer Ian Anderson ascribes the genesis of the album to two factors: his 1975 move to the English countryside, and the gift of "a big book on British folklore and legends" from his American manager, Jo Lustig. The front cover painting depicts an atemporal, rustic Anderson dressed in leather vest and boots, crouching by a campfire accompanied by dog, gun, and game birds, while the visually punning back cover makes a turntable out of a tree stump, with the tree's rings as grooves played by a modern tone-arm. Individual songs on the album mention druids, pre-Christian holidays such as Beltane and the Winter Solstice, and the folkloric character Jack-in-the-Green, along with temporally unspecific songs of love and yearning in the rural English countryside. The title track makes the most direct links between non-specific past and the present in music. The song opens with Anderson's voice multi-tracked to produce a capella polyphony through the most modern electronic means, while flute, pipe organ and a more standard rock lineup of electric instruments make a thoroughly gleeful sonic mix of past and present. The lyrics begin and end with the refrain "Let me bring you songs from the wood/ to make you feel much better than you could know," while the third, final, verse tumbles temporal references together in describing "all things refined ," including "galliards and lute songs," archaic greetings, references to nature, to sailing and to Christ, brought to the listener "with kitchen prose and gutter rhymes" by "a singer of these ageless times." 

The Early Music Response

Folk Rock and Progressive Rock crossovers with Early Music sounds destroyed the aura of authenticity for performances of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century music from wave #3. These popular music recordings revealed the then popular mixed voices-and-instruments approach of what in Early Music circles was later derided as “shop window consorts” (with all their exotic instruments on display) to be a colorful modern take on the past designed to satisfy modern audiences’ desires and values in the present. In response, musicians in wave #4 hoping to generate the aura of authenticity to the past for their listeners adopted new styles, specifically the all-vocal performance of Medieval and Renaissance (that is, pre-seventeenth-century) music. This approach was spearheaded by Christopher Page (b. 1952) with his group Gothic Voices; their 1983 recording, The Mirror of Narcissus, presented music by Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377) sung one on a part by clear, well-balanced voices unaccompanied by any instruments. But what made Gothic Voices’ first recordings so phenomenally successful wasn’t just the rigor of their director’s scholarship; it was also the sheer verve of their fresh, clear, immediate popular vocal sound. I seriously doubt that anyone bought these recordings for their footnotes!

Page defended his musical approach on scholarly and historical grounds. He was inspired to try all-vocal performances of Medieval music by an impressive body of evidence he discovered in Medieval literary works, evidence that made the point that wind instruments belonged outside and that courtly chansons were sung, indoors, by singers perhaps accompanied by a single harp or lute.22 Musicologists responded to Gothic Voices’ sound with strong and contradictory opinions. Some heard the group’s recordings as “authentic,” immediately convincing on musical terms. These performances allowed some listeners to experience Medieval composition in a new and attractive way. Others rejected it, again on grounds of “authenticity.”  Both sides framed their argument in terms of historical evidence, and as Daniel Leech-Wilkinson has shown, the voices-and-instruments battle that ensued turned on conflicts between classes of evidence and the interpretation of that evidence. But I wonder if another kind of “authenticity” was at work, an authenticity not of historicism but rather of resonance with listeners’ tastes and expectations. By eschewing the use of wind and bowed string instruments in polyphony, Page and his singers distanced their performances from the specific popular music appropriations of the 1970s. And by eliminating the most obvious sonic markers of normative Classical or operatic singing, the use of continuous vibrato and “chest tone,” Page and his singers also avoided triggering the association of their performances with an anachronistic Classical music sound, identified with the nineteenth century. That they ended up a sound reminiscent of English and American folk singers or even pop singers may have added to the sense of authenticity these recordings created for listeners who had grown up with 1960s popular music. But listeners for whom Classical music remained unmarked and atemporal responded negatively, hearing the popular music sound of these recordings as temporally marked by the recent past, and thus inauthentic.

It is worth pointing out that what Howard Mayer Brown unfairly but colorfully derided as the “a cappella heresy” was primarily a British phenomenon. Continental Early Music groups such as the Clemencic Consort and Hésperion XX (now Hésperion XXI), as well as American ones like the Waverly Consort and the Boston Camerata, continued, and indeed still continue, to mix voices and instruments with impunity. Those groups had not been embarrassed by the ‘Renaissance Faire’ antics of Jethro Tull and the like, and so saw no need to change their performance style.

In his book Vocal Authority, John Potter points out that the a capella style adopted by vocal consorts such as the Hilliard Ensemble or the Tallis Scholars is identical with Anglican choir style as practiced in English cathedrals and by the choirs of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. He documents how most of the singers in these groups were trained as boy choristers and/or choral scholars and so were able to avoid operatic excesses in singing Early Music. He seems to be dismayed at realizing that this singing style isn’t authentic to the past but yet another modern Medievalism (though he doesn’t use the word). But in that this singing style was a contemporary one, it could be perceived as appropriate and “normal” for listeners to whom Classical music voices read as temporally linked with the “wrong kind” of past.

Taruskin’s attacks on the concept of authenticity in Early Music threw many performers for a loop. Some responded by aiming at an even more chilly perfection, ridding their performances of anything that might suggest a connection with romantic portrayals of the imagined past, popular style, or even human feeling. Others, such as the Hilliards themselves, decided just to go ahead and be modern, championing new music and even commissioning work from living composers. And “Early Music” singing itself has gone mainstream. When Christopher Hogwood asked Joan Sutherland to sing with less vibrato for their 1985 recording of Handel’s Athalia, she famously responded that he knew what she sounded like when he hired her. When Howard Shore asked Renee Fleming to sing with “a Medieval sound” for his film score to Peter Jackson’s final Lord of the Rings film, she knew exactly what he meant, and she could do it.23

Two decades after the “Authenticity Wars” in Early Music, it seems that what was at stake was not the interpretation of historical evidence, but rather the emotional resonance between particular sounds and particular views of the past. The technologically mediated listening practices of audiences during the 1960s allowed particular timbres and other sound elements to slip from Early Music to popular music communities and back. The acceptability of these sounds for performers and listeners, how appropriate they were in combination with particular repertories, seems to have involved perception of these sounds’ temporal identity. For different listeners, sounds from one group, Classical or popular, will be perceived as unmarked and atemporal, while sounds from the other group will seem tied to a particular time. For performances of historical music to be convincing in the present – for them to create an aura of authenticity, historical or otherwise, for both performers and audiences – the sounds and styles used must be perceived as timeless.

1 Richard Taruskin, “On Letting the Music Speak for Itself: Some Reflections on Musicology and Performance,” Journal of Musicology, Vol. 1 (1982), 338-49; Taruskin, contribution to “The Limits of Authenticity: A Discussion,” Early Music, Vol. 12 (1984), 3-12; and Taruskin, “The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past,” in Nicholas Kenyon, ed., Authenticity and Early Music (Oxford, 1988), 137–210.

2 On conceptual problems with the term “the Middle Ages,” see Toby Burrows “Unmaking ‘the middle ages’,” Journal of Medieval History 7 (1981), 127-134. The term “Medieval” is a negative one, part of a view of history that sees a lost era of wonderfulness, now reborn after a period of wrongness. Burrows argues (quixotically, perhaps) in favor of ditching the term altogether, in favor of identifying literature by its century, an approach that musicology has to some extent adopted.

3 Defining Medievalism is almost a field of study all by itself. For a general overview, see Richard Utz, “Coming to terms with Medievalism,” European Journal of English Studies, 15:2 (2011), 101-113.The study of Medievalism began among scholars of English literature, and investigations of literary Medievalism continue to dominate the discussion.

4 See Chris Brooks, The Gothic Revival (Phaidon, 1999).

5 On Medievalism and Arthurian cinema, see Susan Aronstein, Hollywood Knights:  Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

6 On Disney Medievalism, see Susan Aronstein and Nancy Coiner, “Twice Knightly:  Democratizing the Middle Ages for Middle-Class America” in Medievalism in North America (Studies in Medievalism VI, Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994), 212-231; and Tison Pugh and Susan Aronstein, eds., The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy Tale and Fantasy Past (New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

7 On Tolkien’s Medievalism, see Tom Shippey, J. R. R. Tolkien:  Author of the Century (NY:  Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002), and Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982), (Revised and Expanded edition:  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003).

8 Umberto Eco described different ways of imagining “the Middle Ages” for various reasons, including creative ones; see Umberto Eco, “Dreaming of the Middle Ages,” in Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver (NY:  Harcourt, Brace, 1986), 61-72.

9 Creative reinterpretations of Medieval material have long been rejected as dilettantism in academic scholarship. “For the professional scholars at the modern university, to whom western societies had more or less relegated the authoritative reading of the past, the polysemous quality of ‘Medievalism’ became increasingly problematic…. During the first half of the twentieth century practitioners of Medieval Studies increasingly cordoned themselves off as exclusive of any self-reflexive, subjective, empathic, or playfully non-scientific discussion of Medieval culture…. It is in this climate of expulsion and abjection of Medievalism and of obdurate alterity towards the Middle Ages that Leslie J. Workman (1927-2001) embarked on making Medievalism an independent academic area of study.” Utz, “Coming to terms with Medievalism,” 106-107.

10 The interchangeability of time and space in imagination has long been noticed. See David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

11 See Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), especially the first two chapters.

12 The advent of each new approach didn’t erase the earlier ones – successive waves could and did overlap and co-exist. Not acknowledging the temporal distinctions between waves of revival muddied many twentieth-century discussions of Early Music, in that all too frequently individual discussants had completely different music, attitudes, performance styles, and performers in mind.

13 Note that while the term “Medievalism” refers to the historical period of the Middle Ages, there is no agreement as to exactly where the temporal boundaries are. In this article I consider “Medievalism” to apply more generally to modern conceptions of the pre-modern past. In this way my discussion of Early Music as Medievalist in approach can include Baroque music as well as the much earlier works described by musicologists as “Medieval.”

14 Christopher Page, “Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, and the Chanson,” chapter 5 of Discarding images: Reflections on music and culture in Medieval France, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, 140-188.

15 Robert Fink, “ ‘A Pox on Manfredini’: The Long Playing Record, the Baroque Revival, and the Birth of Ambient Music,” in Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 169-207

16 Discographies for many of the ensembles mentioned may be found online at  This website also hosts links to pages maintained by performers, record companies, concert promoters, etc.:

17 On changes in singing style, see John Potter, Vocal authority: Singing style and ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and John Potter, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Singing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). On pre-Bel Canto historical vocal training see John Potter, “The Tenor-Castrato Connection, 1760-1860,” Early Music, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Feb., 2007), 97-110. 

18 Rosemary Clooney’s 1951 #1 hit, “Come on-a my house,” written by Ross Bagdasarian and William Saroyan and arranged by Mitch Miller, also featured a harpsichord for novelty value, but without other musical signaling of the Baroque. 

19 The Jamies, “Summertime, Summertime” b/w “Searching for You” (Epic Records, 1958 single 9281 mono). See Andrew Hamilton, “The Jamies,” []. For an obituary of Tom Jamison, the single’s composer, see Todd Batista, “RIP Tom Jamison of the Jamies,” The TopShelf Times, August 10, 2009 []

20 The “Danger Man” music was written by Edwin Astley (1922-1998). “The Addams Family” theme was written and performed by Vic Mizzy (1916-2009).

21 Susan Fast is too musicologically literate in associating those recorders with the 18th century. See Fast, In the Houses of the Holy:  Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music (Oxford University Press, 2001).

22 Christopher Page published his research in a series of articles and books, beginning with “Machaut’s ‘Pupil’ Deschamps on the Performance of Music.”  Early Music, 5 (1977), 484–91, and “The Performance of Songs in Late Medieval France:  A New Source,” Early Music 10 (1982), 441-450. On Page and Gothic Voices and their reception in Early Music and musicological circles, see Leech-Wilkinson, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music (2002), chapter 2.

23 An interview with Renée Fleming, published in late 2003, was quoted online in January 2004: “I am the voice of Gollum - just before he dies. He's my favorite. You know, having sung Handel and so much Baroque music helped me with the movie's wonderful Howard Shore score, which also features Annie Lennox and James Galway. I'm heard on seven tracks. Howard asked me to emulate a Medieval sound, which meant losing my vibrato. It was a unique and fascinating experience. This experience with Academy Award-winner Howard Shore has been wonderful. It has also expanded my linguistic repertoire. I speak eight languages and now have added two more, Elvish, both present and ancient.”  <>

Appendix: some (mostly British) musicians, listed in order of birth


Joan Sutherland, (b Sydney, 7 Nov 1926; d near Montreux, Switzerland, 10 Oct 2010), soprano 

Gustav Leonhardt, (b ‘s Graveland, 30 May 1928; d Amsterdam, 16 Jan 2012), harpsichord, organ, conductor

Andrea Von Ramm, (b Pärnu, Estonia, 8 Sept 1928; d Munich, 30 Nov 1999), soprano 

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, (b Berlin, 6 Dec 1929), cello, conductor


Jantina Noorman (b Rekken, Berkelland, NL, 1930), mezzo-soprano[1]

Howard Mayer Brown (b Los Angeles, CA, April 13, 1930; d Venice, February 20, 1993), musicologist

Bruno Turner, (b London, 7 Feb 1931), choral director

Thomas Binkley, (b Cleveland, OH, 26 Dec 1931; d Bloomington, IN, 28 April 1995), musicologist, lute and early wind instruments

Roger Norrington, (b Oxford, 16 March 1934), conductor

Sonny Bono (b Detroit, MI, 16 Feb 1935; d South Lake Tahoe 5 Jan 1998), tenor

Nigel Rogers, (b Wellington, Shropshire, 21 March 1935), tenor

John Phillips (b Parris Island, SC, 30 Aug 1935; d Los Angeles 18 March 2001), tenor, the Mamas and the Papas

Shirley Collins (b Hastings, East Sussex, 5 July 1935), soprano

Bill Wyman (b Plumstead, London, 24 Oct 1936), the Rolling Stones, bass guitar

Philip Brett, (b Edwinstowe, Notts., 17 Oct 1937; d Los Angeles, 16 Oct 2002), musicologist

Ian Partridge, (b London, 12 June 1938), tenor

Judy Collins, (b Seattle, WI, 1 May 1939), soprano, guitar

Wendy Carlos (b Pawtucket, RI, 14 Nov 1939), “Switched-On Bach”


Ringo Starr (b Liverpool, 7 July 1940), drums, the Beatles

John Lennon (b Liverpool, 9 Oct 1940; d New York, 8 Dec 1980) rhythm guitar, tenor, the Beatles

Margaret Bent (b St Albans, Hertfordshire, 23 Dec 1940), musicologist


Joan Baez (b Staten Island, NYC, 9 January 1941), guitar, soprano

Martin Carthy (b Hatfield, Hertfordshire, 21 May 1941), guitar, tenor

Bob Dylan (b Duluth, MN, 24 May 1941), tenor, guitar

Charlie Watts (b Islington, London, 2 June 1941), drums, the Rolling Stones

Jordi Savall (b Igualada, Barcelona, 1 Aug 1941), viols

David Crosby (b Los Angeles, CA, 14 August 1941), guitar, tenor, songwriter

Christopher Hogwood (b Nottingham, 10 Sept 1941), harpsichord

Paul Simon (b Newark, NJ, 13 Oct 1941), guitar, tenor

Art Garfunkel (b Forest Hills, Queens, NYC, 5 Nov 1941), countertenor

James Bowman, (b Oxford, 6 Nov 1941), countertenor 


Graham Nash (b Blackpool, Lancashire, 2 Feb 1942), countertenor

Carole King (b New York, NY, 9 Feb 1942), piano, soprano

Brian Jones (b Cheltenham, 28 Feb 1942; d Hatfield, West Sussex, 3 July 1969), lead guitar, the Rolling Stones

Bruce Haynes (b Louisville, KY, 14 April 1942; d Montréal, 17 May 2011), oboe

Joel Cohen (b Providence, RI, 23 May 1942), lute

Paul Esswood, (b West Bridgford, Notts., 6 June 1942), countertenor

Paul McCartney (b Liverpool, 18 June 1942), bass guitar, tenor, the Beatles

Brian Wilson (b Inglewood, CA, 20 June 1942), countertenor, the Beach Boys

Roger McGuinn (b Chicago, IL, 14 July 1942), guitar, tenor, the Byrds

Jerry Garcia (b San Francisco, 1 Aug 1942; d San Francisco, 9 Aug 1995), guitar, tenor, the Grateful Dead

David Munrow (b Birmingham, 12 Aug 1942; d Chesham Bois, Bucks., 15 May 1976), early wind instruments


George Harrison (b Liverpool, 25 Feb 1943; d Los Angeles, 29 Nov 2001), lead guitar, tenor, the Beatles

David Thomas (b Orpington, Kent, 26 Feb 1943), bass

John Eliot Gardiner (b Fontmell Magna, Dorset, 20 April 1943), conductor

Mick Jagger (b Dartford, 26 July 1943), vocals and harmonica, the Rolling Stones

Joni Mitchell (b Fort McCleod, Alberta, 7 November 1943), guitar, soprano

Keith Richards (b Dartford, 18 Dec 1943), guitar, the Rolling Stones


Jimmy Page (b Heston, Middx, 9 Jan 1944), guitar, Led Zeppelin

Sigiswald Kuijken (b Dilbbek, near Brussels, Belgium, 16 Feb 1944), violin

Roger Daltrey (b Shepherd’s Bush, 1 March 1944), vocals, The Who

Rogers Covey-Crump (b St Albans, 24 March 1944), tenor

Joshua Rifkin (b New York City, 22 April 1944), musicologist, conductor

Anthony Rooley (b Leeds, 10 June 1944), lute, director, the Consort of Musicke

Roger Waters (b Great Bookham, Surrey, 9 Sept 1944), bass guitar, vocals, Pink Floyd

Martyn Hill (b Rochester, 14 Sept 1944), tenor

John Entwistle (b Chiswick, 9 Oct 1944), bass guitar, the Who

Jon Anderson (b Accrington, 25 Oct 1944), countertenor, Yes

Keith Emerson (b Todmorden, 1 Nov 1944), keyboards, ELP

Crispian Steele-Perkins (b Exeter, 18 Dec 1944), trumpet

William Christie, (b Buffalo, NY, 19 Dec 1944), harpsichord and conductor


Stephen Stills (b Dallas, TX, 3 Jan 1945), guitar, tenor

Ashley Hutchings (b Southgate, 24 Jan 1945), guitar and vocals, Fairport Convention

Eric Clapton (b Ripley, Surrey, 30 March 1945), guitar and vocals, Cream, etc.

Richard Taruskin, (b New York, 2 April 1945). American musicologist

Pete Townshend (b Chiswick, 19 May 1945), guitar, The Who

Neil Young (b Toronto, ON, 12 Nov 1945), countertenor, guitar

David Fallows (b Buxton, 20 Dec 1945), musicologist


Hopkinson Smith (b New York City, 1946), lute

Syd Barrett (b Cambridge, 6 Jan 1946), guitar and vocals, Pink Floyd

Robert Fripp (b Wimbourne, 16 May 1946) guitar, King Crimson

Cher (Cheryl Sarkisian; b El Centro, CA, 20 May 1946), singer

Keith Moon (b Wellesden, 23 August 1946), drums, The Who

René Jacobs (b Ghent, Belgium, 30 Oct 1946), countertenor

Trevor Pinnock (b Canterbury, 16 Dec 1946), harpsichordist


Dave Gilmour (b Cambridge, 6 March 1947), guitar and vocals, Pink Floyd

Andrew Parrott (b Walsall, 10 March 1947), conductor

Ian Anderson (b Edinburgh, 10 Aug 1947), flute, guitar and lead vocals, Jethro Tull

Maddy Prior (b Blackpool, 14 Aug 1947), folk/folk-rock soprano, Steeleye Span, etc.


Sandy Denny (b London, 6 Jan 1948; d London, 21 April 1978), soprano, Fairport Convention

James Taylor (b Boston MA, 12 March 1948), guitar, baritone

John Bonham (b West Bromwich, 31 May 1948; d Windsor, 25 Sept 1980), drums, Led Zeppelin

Robert Plant (b West Bromwich, 20 Aug 1948), vocals and harmonica, Led Zeppelin

Greg Lake (b Bournemouth, 10 Nov 1948), bass guitar and vocals, ELP


Paul Hillier (b Dorchester, Dorset, 9 Feb 1949), baritone

Emma Kirkby (b Camberle, Surrey, 26 Feb 1949), soprano

Carolyn Watkinson (b Preston, 19 March 1949), mezzo-soprano 

Rick Wakeman (b Middlesex, 18 May 1949), keyboards, Yes

Charles Medlam, (b Port of Spain, Trinidad, 10 Sept 1949), cello


David James (b 1950), countertenor

Mike Rutherford (b 1950), bass guitar, Genesis

Peter Gabriel (b Cobham, Surrey, 13 Feb 1950), vocals, Genesis

Paul Elliott (b Macclefield, Cheshire, 19 March 19 1950), tenor

Philip Pickett (b London, 19 Nov 1950), recorder


Phil Collins (b Chiswick, London, 31 Jan 1951), drums, Genesis

Carl Palmer (b Handsworth, Birmingham, 20 March 1951), drums, ELP


Christopher Page (b London, 8 April 1952), literary scholar, lute, Gothic Voices


Mike Oldfield, (b Reading, 15 May 1953), guitar, composed “Tubular Bells”

Peter Phillips (b Southampton, 15 Oct 1953), director, The Tallis Scholars

Harry Christophers (b Goudhurst, Kent 26 Dec 1953), director, The Sixteen


Paul O’Dette (b Columbus, OH 2 Feb 1954), lute

Nigel North (b London, 5 June 1954), lute

Daniel Leech-Wilkinson (b 21 October 1954), musicologist


Dominique Visse (b Lisieux, France, 30 August 1955), countertenor


Marcel Pérès (b Oran, Algeria, 15 July 1956), musicologist and director of Ensemble Organum


Renée Fleming (b Indiana, PA, 14 Feb 1959), soprano

[1] Eelco Schilder, “Jantina Noorman, Pioneer of Dutch Folk Songs,” FolkWorld - the online music magazine, Issue 31 No. 1 (2006) <>