Gadamer and the Hermeneutics of Early Music Performance

Research in Phenomenology 48 (3):365-384 (2018)
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The success of the early music movement has long raised questions about performing historical works: Should musicians perform on period instruments and try to reconstruct the original style? If a historically “authentic” performance is impossible or undesirable, what should be the goal of the early music movement? I turn to Gadamer to answer these questions by constructing the outlines of a hermeneutics of early music performance. In the first half of the paper, I examine Gadamer’s critique of historical reconstruction and argue that this critique sheds light on mistaken tendencies and misunderstandings within the early music movement, but it does not discredit the movement as such. In the second half of the paper, I attempt to show how Gadamer’s dialogical account of historical consciousness provides a framework for understanding what historically informed performance is seeking to accomplish, as well as its advantage over a Nietzschean approach.

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Mark J. Thomas
Central College

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