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Music has a perplexing relationship with truth. According to the analytical philosopher Nelson Goodman known musical works cannot be forged. This supposed characteristic grounds Goodman’s well known classification of music as an allographic art. Allographic works of art are distinguished from autographic artworks. The identity of the latter is defined by a “history of production” whereas the identity of the former is defined by their notation. Autographic artworks such as paintings can be copied. Any such imitation may corruptly claim authenticity. For this to be the case, someone needs to claim- or pretend to claim a particular “history of production” of the work in question. The difference between a copy and a forgery in art is then essentially an historical – not an aesthetic- difference. We establish the authenticity of an artwork by making findings about the true history of an object.

According to Goodman, however, such a differentiation does not apply to pieces of music. A “known” musical work cannot be forged. Goodman’s argument relies on an epistemic grounding of musical identity. We supposedly know a work of music through its notation, that is, when we know its pitches and its timing. We may listen to different versions of a work or encounter different copies of the score. But in effect any copy of the work is simply a different version of the work. A known musical work cannot become subject to forgery because the identity of a copy is – for Goodman - not dependent on a history of production. It is only dependent on the notation of the original score itself. Thus, forging Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is simply a process of copying the score of the original symphony. There may be mistakes in such a copy. There may be instances of deviation from the original, of error and inadvertent or intentional misrepresentation. But, a copy of a notated musical work can never become a forgery. It will always be a “version” of the work.

How good is the argument? And how does it accord with the musical phenomena or realities? Does it account for fakery in music? Does it explain the phenomena of con-artists and musical pretenders?

One problem with Goodman’s view is that his concept of a “known” work is largely unclear. The epistemic conditions under which we can claim to know a musical work are in reality not complete. Knowledge of a musical work is a matter of ongoing interpretation. This process is in essence never closed. The interpretation of a musical work is always incomplete as we continue to search for the meaning of an intentional object. This implies that only a history of reception or interpretation of the score in its totality approximates the known work. In essence we can never fully “know” a musical work. Restricting knowledge of a work to notated symbols, symbols of pitch and duration as Goodman does, does not reflect how we get to know a musical work or why we actually engage with music of the past. I am suggesting that recognising familiar or known works does not sustain our interest. We continue to be attracted by musical works of the past because despite their familiarity they reveal themselves as mysterious and unknown to us. A compelling performance or reading of a “known” work leaves us with a sense of surprise about our ignorance of the work. Such a performance leaves us with a striking impression of having heard the work anew, perhaps even for the first time and in fact suggests that we did not know this work very much at all.

Our dissatisfaction with Goodman’s view has to do with an understanding what a musical score is and what it does. For Goodman, the score is epistemologically a literal device in which a code signifies sound unambiguously. Knowledge of the work is derived from simply reading and articulating the pitches and rhythms. For Goodman, the signs of a score are the necessary and sufficient conditions articulating the identity of a work. However, in practice that is not so. A score or a text (the case is the same in the allographic works of literature) is dependent on a complex context and history of interpretation. This history includes various moments of articulation, from the notation (which is an approximation of the composer’s or author’s imagined conception), through the publication process with its historical determinations and transformations to an entire history of interpretation and reception. A different way of looking at this phenomenon would be to say that a musical work (or any allographic work for that matter) establishes its identity through a complex dialogue between composers or authors, readers or performers and listeners unfolding in time. This dialogue as a whole establishes our knowledge of a work of music. The identity of the musical work cannot be separated from our essentially historical search for its meaning.

There is a slightly different way of looking at this which also alerts us to some potential cultural demands: The musical work is an intentional object. We engage with – and know it through listening. Listening is an active process that includes perception and reflection. Listening is essentially dialogical: The composition and the performance propose. The listener reflects and responds. The musical work is the topic of a historically determined dialogue between creators, re-creators or performers and listeners. This means any concrete knowledge about it is subject to a dialogical unfolding. Listening is an active search for knowledge including dimensions of interpretation. (Adorno seems to imply as much when he speaks of the “riddle-nature” of the musical work) This search can be truthful or it can be faked and even forged, that is, deliberately, pretentiously or corruptly imitated.

Knowledge of a work of music is conditional and contingent on the confidence we have in the authenticity of the history of musical interpretation. A work is only “known” at a point in history because we have confidence in the authenticity of the search to that point. Since authenticity requirements play a part at any point in this dialogue and since they can be conceivably “forged” we can also “forge” the work. Peter Kivy (“How to forge a musical work”, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol 58, 3, 233-235) has provided us with an interesting example which points into this direction: A complex forgery in which a manuscript, supporting historical documentation and aspects of the history of reception are forged can actually alter the identity of a work of music at any point in time. While we would have to revise our conception of any original work at that point, a revision of that intentional conception is possible at the point where the forged aspects are proven to have been faked. However, to establish this we require from all participants in the dialogue a will to truth.

If the combined history of creation and interpretation indeed determines the authenticity of the work of music we are faced with some pretty strong cultural demands: All musical engagement needs to be truthful or we will contribute to the fakery or forgery of musical works. Performers need to be serious in their interpretative search and listeners need to be critical, that is, attentive to the search for meaning. Otherwise the ongoing interpretative dialogue may become a sham. A musical work makes a claim to authenticity and identity by virtue of its history of creation and interpretation. If this history is shaped by fakery or forgery, the identity of the musical work is in question. Music which loses its claim to identity turns instead into decorative babble. The implication for musicians and listeners is clear: Either we face the music truthfully or we endure the tedium of a faceless music.