Expressiveness in Music Performance: Empirical Approaches across Styles and Cultures ed. by Dorottya Fabian, Renee Timmers, and Emery Schubert (review)
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Expressiveness in Music Performance: Empirical Approaches across Styles and Cultures Ed. by Dorottya Fabian, Renee Timmers, and Emery Schubert (Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 2014. £55. ISBN 978-0-19-965964-7.)

This is an excellent and weighty collection of essays by a group of distinguished writers representing a wide spectrum of performance studies. The book is superbly edited, nicely produced, and comes with helpful sound clips on an associated website. While I highly commend the book as a whole, I do have reservations about some of the angles it takes, although these pertain as much to orientations in the discipline in general as to the volume at hand. Leaving aside the question as to whether or not performance studies has actually come of age as a discipline, one could argue that it has still not acquired a theory. And yet, ironically, for lack of a theory, many of its presuppositions have hardened into doctrine, if not dogma. Two presuppositions advocated by most of the contributors to this collection are flagged up in the editors' introduction. The first is that 'expressiveness' inheres in the way music is performed, rather than in any of its structural features. Thus expressiveness is held to be variation of auditory parameters relative to a prototypical performance (emphatically not the score, even if there is one). The second definition is that expressiveness is engendered by deviation or irregularity, instead of residing within any performance idiom in itself. A corollary of this is that expressiveness is intransitive, so doesn't need to express a particular emotion or mood (happy, sad, etc.). Both axioms are highly contestable, but not significantly contested by the twenty-two contributors who were invited to shape their texts around the editors' definition of expressiveness. I'll return to that at the end of this review, in the light of everything the authors have to say.

The book is effectively structured in four parts, addressing, respectively, Western classical music, world and popular musics, research methodologies, and a set of critical responses to the collection by five senior scholars representing different fields. Mine Doğantan-Dack's discursive 'philosophical reflections' kicks off the volume. Forceful as they are, Doğantan-Dack's arguments sometimes fly off at tangents, especially when they rehearse the antipathy towards the idea that musical material has any character in itself: 'It is in reality very difficult, if not impossible,' she claims, 'to demonstrate that the materials of a musical idiom have any expressive properties in the absence of a (real or imagined) performative context' (p. 11). This is straw-man reasoning, neglecting the fact that performance idioms can become as durable as stylistic ones; indeed instrumental and stylistic gestures are so tightly intertwined that it is tendentious to separate them out. Rising trumpet fanfares in D major have 'transitively' expressed joy for centuries, and one could point to dozens of other topics and stereotypes. Doğantan-Dack's critique of Patrik Juslin's transitive theory of musical expression is equally puzzling. When Juslin reports that performers can shape a melody so as to express different emotional categories (happiness, sadness, etc.), he isn't really talking about what the performers are feeling, as Doğantan-Dack infers (p. 16).

Elena Alessandri's excellent chapter, 'The Notion of Expression in Music Criticism', is a razor-sharp typology of four kinds of expression, ranging from the mechanical to the interpretative. [End Page 677] A musician reproduces performance indications (Type A); chooses to bring out certain details in a piece (Type B); and can perform 'expressively' (Type C). The latter follows the philosopher Jenefer Robinson's observation that an upside-down smiley and Edvard Munch's Melancholy both 'express' sadness, although only the painting is an expressive expression of this emotion (p. 29). Alessandri's fourth kind of expression (TypeD) occurs when the music is expressive in itself, although this distinction eluded me.

Based on hundreds of interviews, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and Helen Prior's 'Heuristics for Expressive Performance' brings out the practical import of musicians' metaphorical language when they talk about music. One particularly fresh metaphor which emerged was the 'moving target' heuristic, based on 'the short...


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