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Musical Time and Form: A Study in Musical Performance and Listening

This project studies musical performances of selected works in Western Art Music, and the listening experiences of those performances.

Young violinist sitting with her back to the camera in rehersal
Photo: Colourbox

Same composition, different interpretation

Musical Time and Form investigates the salient differences between performances of selected orchestral compositions in Western Art Music from the last two centuries. The original composition is interpreted and performed differently depending on the conductor, the performers and other factors such as the time and place of the performance.

The project also investigates the listening experiences of those performances and aims to improve the language with which we discuss musical performance and the listening experience.


1. Qualitative method

The project performs a qualitative study into the musical interpretation of orchestral performances and the aesthetic experience of musical listening. The comparison of musical interpretations through a deepening listening into large amounts of recorded performances is a central method in this project.

We are listening through several recorded performances of the same musical work and taking notes on each performance – concerning musical interpretation, phrasing, articulation, orchestral sound and balance, timing and tempo fluctuations, as well as on the rendition of the overall formal process.

Also, musical and aesthetic expression is an irreducible part of the picture, and the question of how to verbalize musical listening and how to pin down musically relevant differences in a scientifically viable language is unavoidable. Not all performances are of equal musical importance, relevance, and interest.

The project's emphasis is on conductors with an arguably central role in Western art music and a seminal influence on performance history, as well as on the musical expression, understanding and musical impact of the pieces at hand. The project is informed by musicological conceptualizations of music analysis, formal analysis, score analysis and interpretation of the selected composers' singular understanding of musical form.

Also, different performance traditions (like the Toscanini–Furtwängler "quarrel" – or the "quarrel" on Historically Informed Performance Practice) is of relevance. The overall changes in the use of tempo fluctuations throughout the last 100 years is of particular interest.

2. Quantitative method

A quantitative study into patterns of durations – inside performances and across different conductors, orchestras, and traditions. The project engages and develops software programs to make:

  • Visual representations of digital music files of recorded performances
  • Visual representations of tempo fluctuations in recorded performances
  • Statistical surveys of trends and developments in performance across different orchestras and cultures through the last century

Quantitative analyses and alignments of digital music files along different musical parameters (dynamics, sound, timbre, texture, tempo, timing, and tempo fluctuations) to be able to document and supplement our qualitative listenings into musical interpretation and aesthetic expression.

3. Philosophy of science

The project searches for a viable analytical, metaphorical, and critical language in order to be able to describe and interpret musical performance and listening experience in the form of verbal text.

    Published Mar. 9, 2020 3:10 PM - Last modified June 29, 2022 9:39 AM