The New State of Play in Performance Studies
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The New State of Play in Performance Studies

In an essay published in 2004,1 John Rink characterized the field of 'Performance Studies' in music as consisting of 'three overlapping domains': historical performance practice, the psychology of performance, and analysis and performance. Within these he found a series of problematic biases: towards Western art music, solo piano repertory, and the study of tempo and dynamics. Of these, historical performance practice (or HIP—historically informed performance) is much the oldest, dating back at least as far as the work of François-Joseph Fétis in the 1830s, and gaining in prominence later that century. At the time of Rink's essay, this field was already starting to embrace the study of historical recordings, building on the pioneering work of Robert Philip, and this has been labelled a subdiscipline in its own right: 'phonomusicology'.2 (I prefer to see recordings and videos more simply as a source-type for the study of musical performance, with only limited application for the nineteenth century, and almost none for earlier periods.) The study of historical performance practice now includes historical instruments and techniques, performance style and normative practices in specific times and places, and self-reflection on methodological and aesthetic considerations appertaining to the field in general.3 The psychology of performance emerged from the early 1980s onwards, not least through the important work of John Sloboda and Eric Clarke. Analysis and performance came to the fore in the 1990s, stimulated by a debate following the publication of Wallace Berry's Musical Structure and Performance in 1989,4 and this field has been notable for major contributions from Rink, Jonathan Dunsby, and Nicholas Cook.5 [End Page 281]

The field has spawned subdisciplines since Rink's essay, and I would identify a further important domain already established at that time—critical, philosophical, and theological reflection on performance, which sometimes draws upon wider scholarship on theatre, performance, and performativity6—together with at least eight other latent or subsequently developed fields, some of which overlap with those identified by Rink. These are: performance-as-research and performance-based research (and its continental European counterpart, artistic research into performance), generally undertaken by practitioners and requiring a practical element; study of the performance of contemporary art music, including techniques and practices, a relatively autonomous field and underdeveloped in terms of critical methodology; ethnographic studies of performance and performers; cultural history and study of performances, considering particular performances and groups of performances, relating their musical characteristics to wider cultural and social concerns; studies of performance traditions, a field which incorporates much of the best work in popular-music studies and ethnomusicology; detailed study of specific performers and groups of performers, intense investigation of the musical work of individual performers or ensembles, bands, orchestras, choirs, etc. (a tradition which in many Western contexts (art and popular musics) has previously been pursued mostly by amateurs); historical and comparative performance pedagogy; and the study of the theatre of performance.

In the UK, one can identify three principal clusters of scholars working on performance: the first, focusing primarily on HIP, is centred on the University of Leeds and features many active performers, including Clive Brown, Peter Holman, David Milsom, George Kennaway, and Neal Peres da Costa. A second cluster is more focused on instruments through the work of Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell. The third, and today most powerful and influential, spans several universities and centres on four scholars: Rink, Clarke, Cook, and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson. Their most prominent collective endeavour was the establishment of CHARM, the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, in 2004,7 and they were involved with the design of the software Sonic Visualiser, used in various CHARM projects. Collectively, these four scholars have worked across the domains outlined above, but the emphasis of their work is distant from the HIP scholarship of the other two clusters (notwithstanding Rink's work on Chopin and Leech-Wilkinson's on medieval music). Cook has become the dominant figure in British performance studies; putting to one side the fields of performance research into early music and the work of the Leeds group...


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