Institute of Philosophy

Interdisciplinary conference

Authenticity versus Improvisation in the Philosophy of Music?

Friday, 2017/05/19 - Saturday, 2017/05/20

Bernardo Strozzi (1581 - 1644) Street Musicians (c. 1630)
Detroit Institute of Arts

What is improvisation? How are musical performances made authentic? And how are authenticity and improvisation related to each other? This interdisciplinary conference brings together philosophers and musicologists to answer these questions.

Event organizer: Marcello Ruta, Annabel Colas, Thomas Gartmann, Claus Beisbart (Bern)
Speaker: J. Dodd (Manchester University), R. Pouivet (Université de Lorraine, Nancy), B. Gallet (HEAR, Strasbourg/Mulhouse)
Date: 2017/05/19 - 2017/05/20
Time: 09:00 h
Locality: 19.5: Hauptgebäude / main building room 304 (Hochschulstrasse 4)
20.5: UniS room A-119 (Schanzeneckstr. 1)
University of Bern
3000 Bern
Registration: Registration is required, please write an email to
Characteristics: open to the public
free of charge

The notions of improvisation and authenticity are often used to classify and to evaluate musical performances. But closer philosophical reflection unveals problems. The notion of improvisation makes one think of unlimited spontaneity. But the latter is not attainable, since, in practice, well-known patterns and rules need to be followed. As far as authenticity is concerned, we may distinguish between a subjective and an objective variety. The former comprises authentic self-expression, while objective authenticity aims at the true origin or the alleged intention of a musical work to realize the “original version” or the experience behind it. In either case, the question is, whether full authenticity may ever be realized or even consistently conceived.

The aim of this conference is to understand what improvisation and authenticity might be and how they are related to each other. In particular, both notions will be used to illuminate the notion of a musical work. The conference is interdisciplinary and brings together philosophy and musicology,

The talks presented at the conference will deal with the following topics, among others:

  • How can improvisation be distinguished from other musical practices?
  • What do we mean by an authentic improvisation?
  • To what extent can musical recordings be authentic?
  • How useful is the notion of a musical work, when we talk about improvisation?
  • Which notions of improvisation may be extracted from concrete musical practices or theories of music?
  • What is freedom of improvisation?

These questions are answered on the basis of both theoretical arguments and concrete examples. Interdisciplinary dialogue will not only bring together expertise from several fields; rather, distinct perspectives will be compared and related to each other.

Financial Support:

The conference is generously supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

  Swiss National Science Foundation