Merging borders – historical research and artistic research as interdisciplinary approaches to music studies October 19th–22nd 2016

Arts without borders 16 10 20 009

How does an artistic research project apply historical information?

Would it not be practical, if we just could write a historically informed article at first, and then proceed to the performing? Only one problem emerges: the needed knowledge is actually gained during the rehearsals and during the performance. The relationship between historical information and its application to the practice is not as straightforward as one might assume. Before the actual practice-based part (including the rehearsals) of the research, there is not much to write about. Therefore, we should be more interested in the ways the approaches of HIP (historically informed performance) and practice-based artistic research merge into each other.

It’ s true that a musician seldom considers the historical research results relevant as such, when it comes to performing. The results are often directing to a whole gamut of possibilities rather than to a specific ‘correct’ way of performing a piece of music. Why is this? Instead of seeing the approach of historically informed performance as something completely useless, we could pay attention to the actual process of digesting, varying, and processing of the gained insights, based on the historical research of the performed music.

During the 3rd recitative of the cantata l´Amour piqué par une abeille by Clérambault (1676–1749) the performance becomes a nexus of living meanings. Maurice Merleau-Ponty ([1945] 2010, 175) writes: “A novel, poem, picture, or musical work are individuals, that is , being in which the expression is indistinguishable from the thing expressed, their meaning, accessible only through direct contact, being radiated with no change of their temporal and spatial situation. It is in this sense that our body is comparable to a work of art. It is a nexus of living meanings, not a law for a certain number of covariant terms.”

The recitative describes an act of a faked death scene on the idyllic island of Cythera.

There are many examples available related to musically expressed dying. The musical-rhetorical tradition provides a full spectrum of musical options starting from different pauses, sighs and omissions to glissandos and several ways of exclamation. The early music musicians know well the famous example by Michel-Pignolet de Montéclair, who composes Lucretia’s death scene into a texture of fragmented sighs, the last of which includes a slide of a semitone-glissando.

By looking at the score and Montéclair´s treatise Principes de Musique (1736) one can see that the technique the singer is supposed to apply to this glass-like voice is glissando. Glissando, le son glissé, is described in Montéclair´s treatise.Also le son filé was described in Montéclair´s treatise ([1736], 1972, 88) as singing without vibrato and increasing the voice’s dynamics little by little poignantly. “The voice should be, so to say, unified like glass, during all the note´s duration.” La voix doit être, pour ainsy dire, unie comme une glace, pendant toutte la durée de la note”.

According to Gilbert Austin ([1806] 2010, 490), “distress when extreme lays the palm of the hand upon the forehead, throws the head and body back, and retires with a long and sudden step.” It’s not my intention to suggest these music-related gestures as guidelines for performing French music. However, it’s interesting to pay attention to the strong, bodily gestures associated with certain kinds of expressions; languor and distress.

Molière used old-fashioned diction as le jeu affecté in his comedies in order to create a certain kind of pomposity. In general, he disliked actors who used disproportionate gestures just to please the audience and to beg for the so-called brouhaha, the buzz heard when the audience was impressed. (Chaouche 2001, 263–266.) However, in some cases the repetition and expansion were used purposely to exaggerate the chosen gesture. These expressive outlines have, of course, a long historical background inherited from the works of Roman poets and playwrights.

We also happen to know some details of how the famous eighteenth-century actor David Garrick (1717–1779) played his death scene. Could we as present-day performers experiment with the corporeality of this death scene once described by Giovanni-Andrea Gallini (1728–1805) in his A Treatise on the Art of Dancing (1762)?

The recitative brings out the classical, rhetorical figures of hyperbola, amplification and antithesis. We enter into the world of early Baroque emblematas representing the myth about Amor and a honey-bee. Annami Hylkilä, a soprano graduated from the Sibelius-Academy, is singing the recitative, while I’m playing basso continuo on harpsichord.

How do we approach these rhetorical elements of exaggeration as historically informed musicians and present-day performers?

  1. The toposes of lamenting brought into light by experimenting with several lamenting techniques described in the source literature: le jeu affecté, le son file, le son glissé
  2. The possibilities revealed by the basso continuo-part meaning improvisation based on the harmony and rhythm: imitations of written out examples of historical lamentations.
  3. The gestural possibilities.

The aim of these experiments is to pay attention to the actual momentum of bodily and historically informed performance. Instead of merely exploring the possible historical sources, characteristic for early music studies, we are bringing into focus the current processes of applied knowledge and theoretical understanding.


Austin, Gilbert [1806] 2010. Chironomia, or, A Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery. Facsimile edition. London: Lightning Source Uk Ltd.

Bartel, Dietrich1997. Musica Poetica, Musical-Rhetorical Figures in German baroque music. The First edition 1985. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 

Chaouche, Sabine 2001. L´Art du comedien, Déclamation et jeu scénique en France à l´âge classique (1629-1680). Paris: Editions Champion.

Le Cerf de la Viéville, Jean-Laurent [1705–1706] 1972. Comparaison de la Musique Italienne et de la Musique Françoise.Facsimile edition. Genève: Minkoff.

Gallini, Giovanni-Andrea [1762] 2008. A Treatise on the Art of Dancing. The Project Gutenberg EBook.[Web publication]

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice [1945] 2010. Phenomenology of perception. New York: Routledge Classics.

Montéclair, Michel Pignolet de [1736] 1972. Prinçipes de Musique.

Genève, Paris: Minkoff Éditions.

Scholten, Frits 2005. L ´Amour menaçant or Menacing Love, A Statue by Falconet. Amsterdam: Waanders Publishers.

The scores:

Eighteenth Century French Cantata. 1990. New York: Garland Pub­lishing, Inc.


Historical research, historically informed performance HIP, performance practice, embodiment, experiment, time-space, Baroque, performativity, phenomenology, artistic research, rhetoric, musica poetica

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