This final part draws from the multitude of instances of artistic practice - documented, analysed and discussed in the video essays - some fundamental observations concerning the role of the body in the interpretation and performance of baroque music. I eventually propose that, given the essential role that the musician’s body has in these processes, a full understanding of musical performance of scored music can be understood as ‘embodied interpretation’.
The first section, 'Exploring musical structure through body movement', articulates a response to the first of my research questions:
● How can the body movement of a violinist inform a performative interpretation?
The second section, 'Gesture, Interaction and Sound', develops the communicative perspectives of body movement and provides a wider understanding of the role of the body in a performative interpretation, thereby laying the ground for my response to the second research question:
● Can the qualities of mimetic gesture, dance, and poetry be assimilated into baroque violin bowing through an embodied interpretation of a musical score?
In the third and final section I propose that a more overarching perspective of the role of body movement in musical performance can be provided by the notion of ‘embodied interpretation’, a proposal that simultaneously articulates a clear positive response to the second research question.
5.1 Exploring musical structure through body movement
The question of how body movement can inform a performative interpretation permeates most of this thesis. Clearly, in baroque music, which draws its formal structure from dance forms, the relation between the two in the compositional process is complex, and multidimensional. While there is always a component of abstraction and detachment in the process of writing (Östersjö, 2008, Ricoeur, 1991), in the music as performed, the origin of an embodied experience of movement can always be re-enacted. Also, as we have particularly seen in the Telemann study (V1), gestural patterns from everyday human experience can translate into a score, and through the body of a musician into musical shaping in performance.
The relationship between musical structure and body movement has attracted a lot of scholarly attention. Some studies explore the ways in which musical structure informs the body movements of performers, establishing the musical structure as a fixed point of departure (the premise), and exploring the different ways it can be manifested in body movements (the variable). The trajectory of the information in these studies is unidirectional: the musical score informs the body and the body manifests the musical structure (Hatten, 2006; Lidov, 2006). Other studies attempt to find a “two-way” trajectory by exploring reciprocally how the body informs musical structure, focusing on the relationship between musical structure and dance forms (Dalen, 2013) or musical structure and body movement (Gorton & Östersjö, 2016; Pierce, 2007; Pierce, 2012; Davidson, 2002). Such relations can indeed be dynamic and open-ended: ‘the expressive gestures of the performer are associated with more than just the management of structure; they are hardwired into a compositional process that is re-enacted with each new performance’ (Gorton & Östersjö, 2016, p. 15).
However, while most of these studies seem to limit the trajectory of their enquiries to an oscillation between musical structure and the body, several of my explorations in this thesis transcend the musical score, as if taking off from the narrow path of translations between the domains of musical structure and body movement. A body immersed in dance and mimetic gestures transcends the score (and with that also the implied 'authenticities' of performance practice) and connects to the moving body that lies behind the musical structure, the body that has inspired this structure, or even the very body that the musical structure attempts to capture and emulate.
I will now turn to some general observations from my studies in order to further consider the relationship between musical structure and the body in performance.
In a piece of baroque music that draws on dance forms, the contrasting motivic elements share a distinct kinaesthetic character for the duration of the entire section or movement. Additionally, instrumental and vocal pieces which are not explicitly dances, i.e. a concerto, sonata, or aria, are built on dance structures. The complexity of the relationship between the actual dance movement and the movement qualities in the scored music is one reason why this music demands an interpretation which takes these two levels of body movement into account.
In the music with the Windmills motif (V1bT1) I find the musical structure ambiguous, in the way it employs several contrasting kinaesthetic characters.
Ex. 1 Windmills motif in Telemann’s Don Quichotte, ‘Son attaque des moulins à vent’, bar 1, (17??).
Initially, in my studio, I experimented with the identity of this motif, trying realizations as an Allemande, as a dramatic aria, or even as a slow lyrical composition. Each version triggered different expressive body movements, and the quality of the body movement also became part of the evaluation of each attempt. The final version, the sword fighting version, is informed by the title of the movement, with reference to the underlying narrative. By drawing on the embodied experiences in the living body, the playing movements could be imbued with the physical impact of sword fighting. As a tool to connect the musical structure, the sound producing movements, and embodied experiences, I applied Johnson’s image schemata (Johnson, 1987) in the reading and realisation of the score. In the case of sword fighting, the image schema of diversion (Johnson, 1987, p. 46) bridged the sonically realised accents with the embodied enactment of sword fighting in the body movements.
Ex. 2 Gestalt image schema of diversion (Johnson, 1987, p. 46).
This, and other similar instances, underline the important role of body movement in the reading of the musical score.
Although several movements in Telemann’s Don Quichotte do qualify as dances, the narrative requires an entirely different treatment of the structure. For instance, the beginning of Sancho’s punishment (V1aT3) is based on the Gavotte pattern, and the structure in Dulcinea could be danced as the Sarabande. The Gavotte, representing Sancho being teased and drawn out of the inn, needed to have pull and push qualities in the body movements, foreign to the typically light and elegant Gavotte.
Ex. 3 Telemann’s Don Quichotte, a) Windmills motive in ‘Son attaque des moulins à vent’, bar 1 and b) Dulcinea ‘Ses soupirs amoureux après la Princesse Dulciné’, bb. 16-17, (Telemann, 17??).
Ex. 4 The mean upbeats executed as body movement pushing forward through the resistance of the bow action, bb. 1-2 in Telemann’s Don Quichotte, ‘Sanche Panse berné’, (Telemann, 17??)
The Sarabande implied in the Dulcinea structure will hardly fit to the flowing step-units of a dancer. The body movements of the performers are broken into pathetic sighs that stop the forward movement, followed by a sobbing that speeds up.
Ex.5 A sigh (an eighth note semitone step) followed by an interjected inhalation (the sixteenth note falling figure with interrupted slurs), Telemann’s Don Quichotte, ‘Ses soupirs amoureux après la Princesse Dulciné’, bb. 9-10, (17??).
The gestural impact implied in the musical structures of sword fighting and sighing can be related to Johnson’s image scheme of blockage (Johnson, 1987, p. 45).
Ex. 6 The gestalt image schema of blockage (Johnson, 1987, p. 45).
In Section V1aT2 'Placement of the scale figure in the metric structure' I discuss the interesting phenomenon of a 'distorted' metric structure. While the time signature is 4/4, the scale figures add two additional beats to the bar:
V1aT2 Ex. 7 The 'scale figure' does not fit into the 4/4 metric structure (Telemann, 17??).
The obvious solution is to incorporate the scale figure in one of the neighbouring quarter notes, in order not to distort the metre. I explore all the possible versions, analysing video examples with various ensembles, in most of which the scale figure gets lost or sounds indifferent. It was only in my attempt to translate the scale figure as a throwing gesture, imitating the physical action of throwing, that the seeming inconsistence in the metrical structure translated into a coherent gesture. The way the scale figures seem to 'jump out' of the page was manifested in the body movements in the joint action of the whole ensemble.
Vivaldi shapes the musical structure in the Four Seasons according to the programmatic content of the Sonnets. Thus, he often chooses to distort the balanced structure of the dance form. If balance is enabled by a reciprocal distribution of forces (Johnson, 1987, p.86), the act of falling down through breaking ice is an extreme case of balance distortion.
Ex. 8 Image schema of twin-pan balance (Johnson, 1987, p. 86).
Ex. 9 The stumbling and falling figure in the finale of the Winter concerto bb. 95-99 (Vivaldi, 1725) and the scale figure of Sancho’s punishment (Telemann, 17??).
The five-note pattern sequence of downward arpeggios, crashing down onto the lowest open string might recall the similar falls of Sancho in Telemann’s Don Quichotte.
The difference is that Sancho’s fall is triggered by the upward throwing gesture. Sancho thus experiences a moment of weightless inertia between flying up and falling down. The crashing through the ice in the Vivaldi example is merciless. In fact, it is a series of stumbles: feet fly up higher and higher with each stumble, until the long descending scale of the final fall.
The ascending scale figure, representing a throwing gesture, as well as the descending scale, representing falling through the ice, are metaphorical… on several parallel levels.
The high C of the falling scale is the highest note on the violin that is reachable from the basic first position; the low G is the lowest note. A movement from high C to low G is of course not an extreme distance by Vivaldi’s technical standards. It is not unusual for virtuosic passages to end up at the extreme end of the fingerboard. But, if the falling metaphor is also expressed in body movement, the actual distance of the interval is not essential.
The virtuoso Soundist displaying their instrumental skills will make a brilliant sound on the top note and produce a resonant scale. The technical dexterity will narrow the distance, and the fall will only be implied in the background, in the awareness of the story behind.
A Gesturist will enhance the fall, exaggerating the extremes in body movements, which will translate into sound with an extremely tense sonority on the high C falling into a scratchy, crashing attack on the low G. What the musical structure metaphorically suggests is realised in body movement as a mimetic gesture of falling, resulting in a sound corresponding to the implied poetic image of the Sonnet. Here, the music in performance reminds us of how ‘imagination is tied to our bodily processes and can also be creative and transformative of experience. Our ability [is] to make new meaning and arrive at new ways of making sense of things’ (Johnson, 2007, p. 13).
To conclude, through the above examples we can see how the intricate relations between embodied experience and musical structure can be activated in musical performance through an interpretation that draws on body movement. A musician’s body then, is the primary measure by which we (and here I am paraphrasing the composer Roger Sessions’ reflections on listening) create, discover, or become and remain aware of the ‘relationships between sounds, between musical ideas, and between rhythmic accents, motifs, phrases, periods, sections, movements’ (Sessions, 1971, p. 31-32). He concludes with the observation that ‘in the largest sense it [i.e. the body] develops into […] musical imagination’ (ibid). I argue that a contemporary understanding of human perception tells us that it is through the entire body, not just through our ears, that we perceive and make sense of music.
5.2 Gesture, interaction and sound
My first research question is concerned with how the body movement of a violinist can inform a performative interpretation. We have seen in the above examples that the ways in which this takes place are manifold. But what is the role of the body in the communication of the same interpretation? In what ways can a Gesturist performance communicate with an audience?
According to Marc Leman ‘musical communication is based on the sharing of neural structures that pertain to movement’ (Leman, 2008, p. 161). Our imagination is embodied and our perception of the world related to movement. Further, he proposes that intention is projected to music in the same way as in other social interaction. Östersjö (2016) concludes that ‘in musical performance, patterns of sonic energy evoke bodily gestures that are culturally meaningful to an individual, again, because our imagination is embodied’ (Östersjö, 2016, p. 481). A second person perspective analysis of the interaction between the musicians in a Gesturist performance may reveal an important degree of communication. One may argue that a Gesturist performance is first, highly communicative within the ensemble, and second, also communicative through the same means with the audience.
In terms of gestural expressivity, musical communication of a narrative, and, no doubt, spontaneous humour and theatricality, Vid. 3 in V1aT6 (waiting for Sancho to fall) is a powerful demonstration of a gestural image emerging from the interaction between the players.
Vid. 1 “Waiting for Sancho to fall” (from Vid. 3 in V1aT6).
Furthermore, the communication between the players is not action that has been ‘added’ to the interpretation, but on the contrary, the interpretation is drawn from this interaction. The identity of the music then, is drawn not only from the score and performance practice, but from the activation of the performative qualities inherent in the situation, in the interaction between the performers and their audience. Again, returning to Elisabeth Le Guin, ‘[j]ust as the composer-performer’s embodied experience informed musical choices on every level, so did that of the listeners’ (Le Guin, 2006, p. 258). A Gesturist performance may propose a different approach to the identity of a musical composition, situating its identity less in the materiality of the work (Östersjö, 2017) and more in the domain of performativity (Bolt, 2016). But also for the listener, a different relation between performer and audience is proposed, where the demands for a detached listening situation are questioned, and the contemporary listener is invited to experience even how the music may dance.
5.3 Embodied Interpretation
Can the qualities of mimetic gesture, dance, and poetry be assimilated into baroque violin bowing through an embodied interpretation of a musical score? The answer to my second research question is by now quite obvious: yes, this can be done through a series of approaches related to body movement. I was always convinced of this, but it was not until I discovered Johnson’s image schemata that I could develop an understanding of 'how', and of the mechanisms behind an embodied interpretation. In the following, I will reflect on the interactions between instrument, scores, and musicians, such as I experienced it through my research, and provide an argument for why the term ‘embodied interpretation’ may provide an overarching perspective on this process.
The music of the baroque period presupposes the constructive agency of a performer (Donington, 1974; Tarling, 2005; Abbate, 2004). A baroque score can be understood as an invitation to co-creation, and to inventive exploration of its materials. This process, I would argue, can be described as embodied interpretation, since it draws on a complex interplay between analytical and embodied knowing.
In the analytical process I applied to the three studies V1-V3, three distinct stages of interpretation-finding emerged: recognition, realization, and performance. Out of these, the first phase rests most clearly on analytical thinking. But such analytical interpretations were immediately linked to performing. To identify a dance pattern, a specific gesture, or a poetic image implied in the score, was part of my experimental practicing in the studio. Some gestures, like the throwing gesture in Telemann (V1a), are equally apparent in the musical structure as in the underlying narrative. Other gestures are less obvious in the musical structure and come to light only through the narrative. Such a case was the sword fighting gesture in Telemann’s Windmills (V1b), where I found that the musical structure could imply many contrasting interpretations.
The initial interpretative phase was different in the Rebel study (V2 'Dance'), where I needed to be informed by a study of dance step-units and the character of individual dance forms in order to properly engage in an embodied interpretation of the score. If in Telemann, I applied Johnson’s image schemata in the analytical process as a corroboration of my own physical embodied experiences, the application of the image schemata in Rebel provided a crucial tool for being able to embody the newly acquired theoretical and historical knowledge in my violin playing.
Vivaldi’s score is similar to Telemann’s in shaping the musical structure according to the implied narrative. While Telemann only suggests the implied story in the titles of the individual movements, Vivaldi is more specific. Apart from the Sonnets attached to the concertos, the individual gestures and images are indicated throughout the concertos. Although I could again rely on my embodied experiences, as in Telemann, the exploration of the gestures in my body movements was often challenged by the demanding technical features of the concertos.
Recognising the music as something beyond the notation itself, will determine the treatment of the basic features of notation as relative to this something. Tempo designations like Allegro or Adagio are not absolute values in themselves, but rather indicate a tempo region in the context of the recognized dance or gesture. Thus, the Allegro of a Menuet is faster than the Allegro of a Sarabande. And, theoretically, an Adagio designated Menuet will still be faster than any Vivace Sarabande (that is, with a Sarabande of the late baroque period, see V2d). Similarly, a staccato mark on a Sarabande quarter note is nowhere near as short as the 'staccatoed' quarter notes in a Menuet.
Recognising the difference between the Menuet and the Sarabande will trigger the possible means of realization. In a Menuet, the bow will generally need to bounce, while in a Sarabande it will stay more attached to the string, employing slower body movements. In the throwing gesture I attempted to assimilate the violin playing movements with a fast upward lift of the body, representing the action of throwing Sancho up in the air. In the unbearable heat of the Summer concerto I applied languid movements, as if unwilling to proceed from one note to another.
If the recognition and realization phases rather clearly express a point of departure, in being an interpretation of something – a score, a dance pattern, and so on – the rehearsals and performances bring a new perspective to the process: the interaction in performance. It is obviously easier to engage in a fierce attack on the Windmills when being supported by a group of brave violin knights. As discussed in section 5.2 above, in the interaction, the gestures and dance movements are enacted, coordinated, and reshaped. Such musical negotiations, both verbal and those happening in direct musical dialogue, express the breadth of the actions (and indeed perceptions) that form an embodied interpretation.
This is the final text in section Theoretical Framework.
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