A concert in Dublin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music 8 September 2016

A recital lecture: Practise-led research on the musical gestures embedded in François Couperin’s harpsichord music

Assi Karttunen, DMus, postdoc-researcher


François Couperin (1668-1733): Le Quatrième (et dernier) livre de pièces de clavecin (1730) L'exquise, allemande ; Les Pavots ; Les Chinois, 27e ordre.

Harpsichord, Assi Karttunen


My lecture recital will focus on some methodological choices concerning my recent and on-going research into musical gestures combined with some examples composed by François Couperin. My examples include orientalistic, grotesque gestures of Les Chinois (27e ordre) as well as musically gestural detachment and disorientation of Les Pavots (27e ordre).

The approach I chose this time proceeds in line with Hans Robert Jauss (1982,141–142) and is based on successive, hermeneutical readings: “In the poetic text, aesthetic understanding is primarily directed at the process of perception; therefore it is hermeneutically related to the horizon of expectations of the first reading – which often, especially with historically distant texts or with hermetic lyrics, can only be made visible in its shaped coherence and its fullness of significance through repeated reading.”

Firstly, this implies in my case, practicing and embodied reading of the musically gestural movements embedded in the notation. The second reading, which already has been introspectively referred to the first reading, seeks musical-rhetorical sources relevant for the particular piece of music and asks, what kind of horizons of expectations this specific piece of music created at the time it was composed. Thirdly, I have often included a reading of the contemporary performing context or a description of practice-based processes. These series of readings may at least provide wide-ranging view-points necessary for someone listening and performing the repertory. Also, this approach will bring forth musician’s bodily ways of score-reading.

The research of musical gesture has consisted of delightfully resourceful ways of exploring music and its corporeality. Instead of merely relying on score-driven methods, the research of gesture has implied versatile ways of studying perception and embodiment of music. The practice of calling this embodiment “gestures” instead of mere “movements” is based on the gesture´s ability to refer to the meaning embedded in the movement being used (Godøy & Leman ed. 2010,13). “Movement denotes physical displacement of an object in a place, whereas meaning denotes the mental activation of an experience (Ibid., 2010,13).

For example, Martin Knust (2008) has researched gestures and modes of artful text-delivery: recitation and declamation influencing Wagner’s compositional technique. Rolf Inge Godøy and Marc Leman have developed gestural mapping strategies (wearable sensors) and analysed the received data in research that was published in 2010. Jed Wentz (2010) has combined both traditional academic study and a newer kind of inquiry known as research in and through performance in his study on the relationship between gesture, affect and rhythmic freedom in the performance of French tragic opera from Lully to Rameau. Elisabeth Le Guin´s study, The Boccherini’s Body, (2005) includes a revealing chapter on gestures embedded in Boccherini’s music. Not to mention books on historical acting written by Joseph Roach (1985), Angelica Goodden (1987), Sabine Chaouche (2001), and the book of essays edited by Jacqueline Waeber (2009).

My study represents an alternative version of historically informed performance studies. The archaic, metaphoric and poetic associations related to musical gestures are explored in our contemporary context of musical perception.


Embodiment, gesture, Baroque, rhetoric, metaphor, reading, artistic research, historically informed performance HIP, performance practice, reception


Jauss, Hans Robert 1982. Toward an Aesthetic Reception. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

CV in English


Harpsichordist Assi Karttunen has specialized in performing and researching Baroque music. She also performs in interdisciplinary groups with experimental and contemporary repertory in Finland and abroad.
Karttunen works as a musician-researcher and as a teacher at the DocMus, Doctoral school of Sibelius Academy, and teaches harpsichord playing and basso continuo at the Early Music faculty, Sibelius Academy.
She has recorded 4 solo albums (Alba, Divine Art) and has played in several orchestras and ensembles, currently working in Elysian Fields-workshop www.elysion.fi, which has been founded by her and her colleagues. The emphasis of her thesis was on the aesthetic and philosophical background of the eighteenth-century French cantata.