Hearing Anew

In a section discussing the ever-so subjective topic of music “restoration,” in which among other preferences, one might focus more on the letter of the piece or on the spirit in trying to re-capture the more “authentic” Bach, Beethoven, or Chopin, Bruce Ellis Benson, writes,

“Following Hegel, Gadamer argues that an essential ingredient in having a genuine experience (Erfahrung) is the element of surprise: it is precisely when we do not expect something that it affects us the most, which means genuine experiences have the character of a reversal. As such, they cannot be repeated again and again. This reversal is precisely what early music performances[1] accomplish. They force us to listen, and it is in the act of truly listening that we have a genuine experience in which we make contact with what we hear. But, since a genuine experience is surprising and shocking, we cannot continue to experience a piece by having it performed repeatedly in the same way. It needs to be changed, not merely so that we can hear it anew but so that we can hear it at all” (The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, p. 118).

[1] In brief, a movement that tries to recapture the “real” experience of, say, a Bach fugue by (as one example) not using modern pianos, and opting for instruments that were likely used (when possible) during the composer’s day. In so doing, promoters of this movement no doubt have their own assumptions and subjective inclinations as to what a more “authentic” performance is. This notwithstanding, hearing a piece played on a harpsichord that we are accustomed to hear played on a modern Steinway can cause one to listen anew, and thus, experience the same piece differently.