2. The Shift to Performativity. Music as Tones-In-Motion


Towards the end of the twentieth century the so-called ‘mainstream’ interpretive approach was seriously challenged, first by the ‘historically informed performance’, then (on a deeper level), by a shift from text-based to performative-based renderings of musical pieces. Richard Taruskin’s Text and Act (1995), and Carolyn Abbate’s article ‘Music—Drastic or Gnostic?’ (2004) focussed attention upon the experience of musical performance more as an ‘event’ than as a ‘work’, more an ‘act’ than a ‘text’, more ‘drastic’ than ‘gnostic’. Abbate was able to make a claim for the need of a musicological turn from text to performance. Furthermore, she devised in the ‘performative’ an umbrella concept for new approaches, seeing the performance event as ‘a polysemic text to be analyzed in its many conflicting domains’ (Abbate, 2004: 507). The shift to performance and performativity proposed by Taruskin and Abbate should be seen as part of a wider, more general phenomenon: the historical shift out of a textual culture into a ‘mediatized’ image and sound culture. Retraceable in domains such as the Visual Arts and in Theatre (that actually preceded Music in this respect), the shift derived from the changing media constellation in the twentieth century, particularly in its last decades, allowing for the emergence of Performance Studies as a discipline. A renewed attention was given to the materiality of performance and to renewed challenges to the dominance of the text. Music was more resistant to such developments, but they finally arrived, with many practitioners also developing work within the academic framework, laying the basis for what was to be called (especially in Britain) ‘practice as research’.

A concrete shift to music performance, to the study of music performance and practices of music performance took shape — originally in the UK, and related to scholars and/or performers such as John Rink, Nicholas Cook and Eric Clarke, to name just a few. Their work established new fields of inquiry, centring the discourse in elements of music that might be labelled as ‘beyond text’. The propositions, findings and research aims of these UK-based researchers led to the constitution of the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM), afterwards, to the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP), and, more recently to the Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies (CMPS), all three focussed on the analysis of performance and performances.

Read further: 3. From Performance Studies to Artistic Research