Ups and Downs

Violin bowing as gesture



Peter Spissky





by due permission of the Malmö Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts, Lund University, Sweden.

To be defended in Röda Rummet at Inter Arts Center

Bergsgatan 29 Malmö

On 9th October 2017 at 10:00.


Faculty opponent

Prof. Richard Wistreich





Date of issue

September 11, 2017



Peter Spissky


Title and subtitle

Ups and Downs, Violin Bowing as Gesture




This thesis is an inquiry into musical interpretation and performance. It builds on my practice as a professional baroque violinist. Qualitative analysis of the video documentation of my individual practise, rehearsals, and concert performances is the core method of the project. Here, the roles of a musical score, of performance practice, instruments, and the human body in musical creativity are explored. The analytical perspective builds on the theory of embodied music cognition, according to which, musical perception is multi-modal and grounded in the body. If we understand music as movement and recognize that baroque music is based on mimetic gestures, dance, and poetry, then it may be conceivable that a performance interpretation of a baroque score can be drawn from the details of embodied knowledge of a musician. Therefore, the aim of this project is to explore the body as

a)    a factor in the interaction with the instrument

b)    a factor in the interpretation of a composition

Two research questions further define these aims:

How can the body movement of a violinist inform a performative interpretation?

Can the qualities of mimetic gesture, dance, and poetry be assimilated into baroque violin bowing through an embodied interpretation of a musical score?

An embodied understanding of musical performance also gave rise to the analytical perspective of ‘Soundist’ and ‘Gesturist’ performance strategies, two poles which I employ in the process of interpretation-finding. The results of the video analysis are presented in ‘video essays’, which discuss these and other questions through the embodied knowledge of musicians in performance. The projects are divided into three video groups, each with a specific case study, a structure which reflects my attempt to distinguish and categorize the different kinaesthetic sources of violinists’ expressive movements through the fields of mimetic action, dance and poetic imagery.

The thesis takes advantage of the specific possibilities of the website format, integrating the video essays not just as complementary examples to the written text, but as a main means for argumentation, analysis, and discussion. The issues discussed in the video essays are further unpacked in texts with music examples, analyses of scores, comparative illustrations of body movements, and audio examples. Analytical texts, constructed in several layers, follow each video essay, progressing from practical observations to theoretical implications of each study.

The thesis eventually proposes that a full understanding of musical performance of scored music can be understood as ‘embodied interpretation’, through which the intricate relations between embodied experience and musical structure can be activated.


Key words

musical gesture, musical interpretation, baroque music, embodied music cognition, body movement, baroque violin, historically informed performance, historical performance practice, baroque dance





ISSN and key title

Doctoral Studies and Research in Fine and Performing Arts, no 17. ISSN: 1653-8617





Being the copyright owner of the abstract of the above-mentioned dissertation, I hereby grant to all reference sources permission to publish and disseminate the abstract of the above-mentioned dissertation.


Peter Spissky 2017







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