V3 'Poetic imagery' (Vivaldi – The Four Seasons)
General Introduction to V3 on the Project overview page ('From Gesture to Sound - Projects')
In the two previous studies I explored how a violinist’s body movements can assimilate mimetic action (V1) and dance (V2). In section V3, I will explore gestures that are drawn from the structural features of music imbued with poetic imagery. The accompanying Sonnets which Vivaldi included in the 1725 printed edition of his violin concertos op. 8 reveal a programmatic content that certainly influenced the compositional process (Everett, 1996). While the assimilation of poetic imagery into bodily gesture in V3 will in some respects overlap with the assimilation of mimetic action and dance, the trajectory of the enquiry will explore new aspects of the Gesturist and Soundist approaches to musical interpretation and performance.
While mimetic action and dance appear to have a direct impact on the body movements of a violinist, the musical structures drawing on poetic imagery are often constructed as sonic representations, ‘the most straightforward way that music, the “art of combining sounds,” has at its disposal: onomatopoeia, direct “sound-alike” imitation’ (Taruskin, 2005, p. 227) . Vivaldi 'paints' the natural phenomena in sound: the murmuring of springs and leaves, flashes of lightning, bird song, the barking of a dog, etc. Does this mean that a Soundist strategy is more fitting to capture the poetic content in the music? What kinaesthetic implications will emerge when I employ a Gesturist strategy to this music?
Earlier in this thesis I established the violinist’s body as a key methodological tool in the construction of a musical interpretation. In this study I attempt to transcend the sonic imitation of natural phenomena by exploring the kinaesthetic implication of the poetic images. How does a storm ‘move’? How do I differentiate the cuckoo from a nightingale, or a summer storm from a winter northern wind, in my body movements?
In the analytical process of this study I apply Johnson’s elaboration of basic embodied gestalt image schemata (Johnson, 1987) as a tool to link the different aspects of poetic imagery to the embodied experiences: i.e. perceiving a storm as powerful and striking; leaves, plants, and streams as calming and pleasing; birds as amorous or ominous; frost and ice as threatening and dangerous. In the process of characterizing the poetic images recognized in the score, I will explore their kinaesthetic affordances in the body movements of a violinist.
The majority of relevant musicological studies delineate the relationship between musical structure and poetic imagery by its manifestation in the musical score (Talbot, 1993; Everett, 1996). In my study I instead attempt to translate the poetic images into the body of a violinist. Thus, the resulting sound is not just a sonic realization of the poetic images implied in the score, but rather an enactment or a personification of the images in body movement. Instead of imitating the sound of a storm, leaves, ice, or birds, I employ stormy and murmuring movements, I feel the frostiness in my body, or sit high up in a tree and sing like a bird. The melodic line of the lament is interrupted by sighs and sobs, and desperate throws of the body. As a drunkard in the Autumn concerto I lose control of my body several times before falling asleep. The cracking of the ice in Winter is not just a sound, the ice eventually breaks and my body falls in panicking desperation.
The musical 'painting' applied in the performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons provides the performer with a similar challenge to the gestures in Don Quichotte and the dance movements in Les Caractères de la danse. The expressive body movements, although being visually communicative, must be channelled into performance on the instrument. In V3 the challenge of merging the expressive movements into sound producing movements has a specific implication. While the technical demands in the previous case studies are moderate, and the application of expressive movements fairly straightforward, The Four Seasons are virtuoso concertos where the focused and coordinated application of sound producing movements is crucial. ‘These works, indeed, are almost as highly regarded for their remarkable technical feats as for their imagery and narrative’ (Everret, 1996, p. 68).
This increased focus on violin technique brings the Soundist – Gesturist dichotomy to a different level. Will I be able to implement the poetic imagery as a Gesturist through my body movements without compromising the essential feature of the genre of the solo concerto: a display of virtuosity?
See more on musical onomatopoeia and the history of discourse on programmatic versus absolute music in Castelőes (2009).