Empirical Musicology: Aims, Methods, Prospects

By Eric Clarke; Nicholas Cook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Empirical Methods in the Study
of Performance

Eric Clarke


Introduction

From the perspective of musicology, the empirical study of performance has coincided with a move away from the primacy of the score and toward increasing interest in music as performance. The rise of performance studies as a research area has brought a focus on different performance traditions, the nature of performance interpretation and its relationship to analysis, and the legacy of historical recordings (now dating back 100 years) and what it can tell us about changes in performance styles. Musicologists have been interested in empirical studies of performance as ways of documenting what goes on in performance, and for their ability to make performance a concrete object of study with the same tangibility that was previously confined to scores and sketches.

Although performance occupies a central position in just about every musical culture, systematic studies of performance go back only to the turn of the twentieth century. The reason for this is the problem of transience: only once methods had been developed to record either the sounds of performance, or the actions of instruments, was any kind of detailed study possible—and so the piano roll, record, magnetic tape, and computer have all played their part at different stages in the short history of empirical studies of performance. Gabrielsson (1999) provides a survey of empirical studies starting with Binet and Courtier’s (1895) study of piano playing, and demonstrates the rapid growth in the field—particularly since about 1980, while the 37 separate chapters in Rink (2002) and Parncutt and McPherson (2002) indicate how active the field continues to be. A significant factor in this development has been the involvement of psychologists, to whom music performance has appealed as an area of study on various grounds. It represents an example of a very sophisticated and complex motor skill, on which there is a wider research literature in psychology; it has affinities with language (about which there has been a great deal of psychological research), but represents a distinct form of nonverbal communication; it provides an opportunity to study rhythmic and other temporal skills at various levels of expertise; and it provides a “window” onto hidden cognitive processes in music. For these and other reasons, and because of the converging interests of psychologists and musicologists, performance research is perhaps the most developed

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