Advertisement

‘[A] single, true, certain authenticity’: The authenticity wars in English twentieth-century folk and medieval music revivals

  • 3 Accesses

Abstract

At intervals throughout the twentieth century, serious disputes about authentic musical values arose amongst performers, collectors, scholars, directors, reviewers, and audiences in the folk and medieval music spheres. Analysis of these controversies offers insights into the deep emotions, fantasies, and desires in arguments around authenticity in medievalism. This essay considers two examples of English musical revivalism, one exemplified by the folk song collector Cecil Sharp, the other by Christopher Page, the medieval literature and music scholar and director of music group Gothic Voices. In the writings of both men, emotional concerns about the purity of English musical traditions reveal the role music is given in the maintenance of English nationalism, and more generally in defending notions of identity and social order against feared sources of contamination.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 103

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Musicologist Elizabeth Randell Upton and musicologist and ethnomusicologist John Haines have also, in Haines’s words, categorized ‘modern performances of medieval music as a phenomenon of musical revival’ (Haines, 2013, 73).

  2. 2.

    I am conscious, as I write, of David Matthews’s words in a recent essay: ‘[W]hat we call a revival is in fact predicated on the certainty that nothing will revive, and that everything remains in the past. That past is dead and has no further generative capacity’ (Matthews, 2018, 217). Revivals have the supreme advantage of being able to pick and choose what is resuscitated and can camouflage any less rose-coloured aspects of the beloved past, although the choice may not be spoken – or even thought.

  3. 3.

    Florrie Forde, born in Fitzroy, Melbourne, performed this song in London (Forde, 1908). It is difficult now to understand the animus aroused by songs like this.

  4. 4.

    The accent on Englishness can be seen as a further, more exclusively nationalist step in the centrality already given by Europeans to European music as a matter of ‘blood’ rather than mere curiosity. In the opinion of François August Gevaert, writing in 1890: ‘[T]he musical interest which the old [European liturgical chant] melodies offered to the artist […] is not a matter of pure curiosity, as would be the music of exotic people – Chinese or Hindu – where we encounter bizarre melodies and rhythms, piquant perhaps but at bottom strange to our manner of feeling.’ As Treitler adds, ‘As simply as that Gevaert identifies at once the absolute divide between what is “ours” and some (bizarre, strange) Other’ (Treitler, 1991, 281).

  5. 5.

    An example of the early twentieth-century recordings made by the folk song collectors is ‘Brigg Fair’ (Taylor, 1908), collected by Percy Grainger in Lincolnshire. This was the music which was pitted against songs like ‘Oh! Oh! Antonio,’ recorded in the same year.

  6. 6.

    The Representation of the People Act 1867 (Parliament of the United Kingdom, 1867) enfranchised a large proportion of the urban male working class in England and Wales.

  7. 7.

    According to Thomas Falconer, the English jurist and explorer (1805–1882), the Elementary Education Act was ‘a necessary supplement to the Act extending the electoral franchise to a large class of persons who are to elect the members of one branch of the legislature to which is confided the care of the great public interests of this Kingdom’ (Falconer, 1871, 6).

  8. 8.

    See, for instance, Arthur de Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races, first published in 1853. See also Charlotte S. Burne’s Handbook of Folklore for the contributions of the English folklorists to explanations of the ‘varying degrees of civilization’ found in different countries (Burne, 1914, 3).

  9. 9.

    The woman’s voice begins after a minute and a half of instrumental prelude (start 1.46–2.57). The entire track runs for 11.30 minutes on YouTube.

  10. 10.

    Brown, a member of the other faction who had recently died, had, according to an earlier essay by Page, coined the phrase, the ‘English “a cappella heresy”’ (Page, 1992, 453).

  11. 11.

    There is a suggestion of special pleading in the 1993 essay which is not supported everywhere in Page’s writing. The notion of the selfless striving of singers is at odds with his remarks in a 1997 interview with Bernard D. Sherman: ‘By the fourteenth century, there are clear references, most of them disparaging, to singers in England who sing elaborate polyphony so that they will be congratulated afterwards by laypersons’ (Sherman, 1997, 95).

  12. 12.

    See Melanie L. Marshall for the association of vocal purity with Englishness: ‘The “pure” sound of women’s early music singing […] is akin to a sound of white Britishness’ (Marshall, 2015, 43).

  13. 13.

    A space seems to be left here for a multiculturalism which was not superficial, but Page did not specify what it might look like.

  14. 14.

    As the word itself suggests, only a linear temporality can uphold identity and guarantee authenticity.

References

  1. Berger, H. and G. P. Del Negro. Identity and Everyday Life: Essays in the Study of Folklore, Music, and Popular Culture. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

  2. Boyes, G. 2010. The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

  3. Brown, H. 1988. Pedantry or Liberation: A Sketch of the Historical Performance Movement. In Authenticity and Early Music, ed. N. Kenyon, 27–56. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  4. Burne, C. 1914. The Handbook of Folklore. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

  5. de Gobineau, A. 1915. The Inequality of Human Races, trans. A. Collins. London: Heinemann.

  6. De Landa, M. 2000. Deleuze, Diagrams and the Open-Ended Becoming of the World. In Making Futures: Explorations in Time, Memory and Becoming, ed. E. Grosz. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 29–41.

  7. Deleuze, G. [1990] 2004. The Simulacrum and Ancient Philosophy. In The Logic of Sense, ed. C. Boundas, trans. M. Lester with C. Stivale, 291–320. London: Continuum,.

  8. Douglas, M. [1966] 2003. Collected Works. Vol. 2. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge.

  9. Falconer, T. 1871. The Elementary Education Act, 1870: Speech delivered at Usk. Usk, UK: J.H. Clark.

  10. Forde, F., vocalist. 1908. Oh! Oh! Antonio. By D. Lipton and C.W. Murphy. Zoophone X-43167. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1raydJ-HYSc.

  11. Haines, J. 2001. The Arabic Style of Performing Medieval Music. Early Music 29(3): 369–78.

  12. Haines, J. 2013. Antiquarian Nostalgia and the Institutionalization of Early Music. In The Oxford Handbook of Music Revival, eds. C. Bithell and J. Hill, 73–93. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  13. Harker, D. 1985. Fakesong: The Manufacture of British ‘Folksong’ 1700 to the Present Day. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press.

  14. Kenyon, N. 1988. Introduction. In Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium, ed. N. Kenyon, 1–18. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  15. Kidson, F. 1891. Traditional Tunes: A Collection of Ballad Airs, Chiefly Obtained in Yorkshire and the South of Scotland; Together with their Appropriate Words from Broadsides and from Oral Tradition / Collected and Edited with Illustrative Notes by Frank Kidson. Oxford, UK: Chas. Taphouse & Son.

  16. Kristeva, J. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. L. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.

  17. Livingston, T. 1999. Music Revivals: Toward a General Theory. Ethnomusicology 43(1): 66–85.

  18. Marshall, M. L. 2015. Voce Bianca: Purity and Whiteness in British Early Music Vocality. Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19: 36–44.

  19. Matthews, D. 2018. In Search of Lost Feeling: The Emotional History of Medievalism. Exemplaria 30(3): 207–22.

  20. Page, C. 1992. The English a cappella Heresy. In Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, eds. T. Knighton and D. Fallows, 23–29. London: Dent.

  21. Page, C. 1993. The English a cappella Renaissance. Early Music 21(3): 453–71.

  22. Parliament of the United Kingdom. 1867. The Representation of the People Act 1867, 30 & 31 Vict. c. 102. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1867/102/pdfs/ukpga_18670102_en.pdf.

  23. Said, E. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

  24. Sharp, C. 1907. English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions. London: Simpkin & Co; Novello & Co.

  25. Sharp, C. and S. Baring-Gould. ca. 1906. English Folk-Songs for Schools. London: Curwen.

  26. Sherman, B. 1997. The Colonizing Ear: Christopher Page on Medieval Music. In Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers, 71–95. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  27. Studio der Frühen Musik. 1978. Chanterai por mon coraige. By G. de Dijon. On Chansons der Trouvères. Telefunken SAWT 9630-A. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJZN7vhvYUs.

  28. Taruskin, R. 1988. The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past. In Authenticity and Early Music, ed. N. Kenyon, 137–207. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  29. Taylor, J., vocalist. 1908. Brigg Fair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdmgUM4LbS4.

  30. Tomlinson, G. 1988. The Historian, the Performer, and Authentic Meaning in Music. In Authenticity and Early Music: A Symposium, ed. N. Kenyon, 115–36. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  31. Treitler, L. 1991. The Politics of Reception: Tailoring the Present as Fulfilment of a Desired Past. Journal of the Royal Musical Association 116(2): 280–98.

  32. Turner, V. 1974. Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology. Rice University Studies 60(3): 53–92.

  33. Upton, E.R. 2012. Concepts of Authenticity in Early Music and Popular Music Communities. Ethnomusicology Review 17: n.p. https://ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/journal/volume/17/piece/591.

  34. Yri, K. 2010. Thomas Binkley and the Studio der Frühen Musik: Challenging ‘the Myth of Westernness.’ Early Music 38(2): 273–80.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Helen Dell.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dell, H. ‘[A] single, true, certain authenticity’: The authenticity wars in English twentieth-century folk and medieval music revivals. Postmedieval 10, 439–451 (2019) doi:10.1057/s41280-019-00143-x

Download citation