An abstract of a spoken paper

DMus Assi Karttunen

Sibelius Academy

University of the Arts, Helsinki

Recontextualizing Couperin’s Les Pavots – the music-related gestures of detachment


Every historically informed musician faces the question of what would be a possible and an interesting way to perform music that has been composed centuries ago. The original context has gone. In my spoken paper I explore the ways musical gestures related to sleep, dizziness and detachment are transformed in the new sociocultural context.

To talk about context means discussing time and place, and about how a place could be understood as a dynamic force. According to the ideas of Doreen Massey (2015, 30 & 59), embodied time-space is a meeting point of simultaneous social relations having their own causalities. This means that we create and define our place (time-space), which is actually limited only by our imagination. Time and space can be understood and perceived also as an active process implying its inner conflicts, and not just as a static arena.

The study of gesture related to music is one of the key areas of modern music research.

Music perceived as sound and movement brings forth the musician´s bodily way of reading the score. 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. “Movement denotes physical displacement of an object in a place, whereas meaning denotes the mental activation of an experience. The notion of gesture somehow covers both aspects and therefore bypasses the Cartesian divide between matter and mind” (ed. Godøy & Leman 2010,13). “In fact, we believe that musical experience is inseparable from the sensations of movement, and hence, that studying these gestures, what we call musical gestures, ought to be high priority task in music research.” (Ibid., 3.)

My aim is to concentrate on following questions:

What happens when an eighteenth-century solo harpsichord composition of Les Pavots by François Couperin is detached from its original context? ”[…] that is, how musics become subject to inevitable historical processes of reinterpretation and then reinsertion into the changing sociocultural formation.” (Born & Hesmondhaghl ed. 2000, 36.)

What are the qualities of a specific performing place, the Chapel of Silence, providing a context for a piece of (so called) early music? What kind of musical gestures do I embody by playing Les Pavots, a harpsichord piece composed by François Couperin (1668-1733)? Furthermore, in what ways do these bodily gestures communicate in the chosen contemporary performing context? How do these gestures embody detachment?


Embodiment, musical gesture, perception, metaphor, music-related movements, musical rhetoric, historically informed performance, time-space, phenomenology

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