Ups and Downs, Violin Bowing as Gesture

Peter Spissky

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (artistic)


This thesis is an inquiry into musical interpretation and performance. It builds on my practice as a professional baroque violinist. Qualitative analysis of the video documentation of my individual practise, rehearsals, and concert performances is the core method of the project. Here, the roles of a musical score, of performance practice, instruments, and the human body in musical creativity are explored. The analytical perspective builds on the theory of embodied music cognition, according to which, musical perception is multi-modal and grounded in the body. If we understand music as movement and recognize that baroque music is based on mimetic gestures, dance, and poetry, then it may be conceivable that a performance interpretation of a baroque score can be drawn from the details of embodied knowledge of a musician. Therefore, the aim of this project is to explore the body as
a) a factor in the interaction with the instrument
b) a factor in the interpretation of a composition
Two research questions further define these aims:
How can the body movement of a violinist inform a performative interpretation?
Can the qualities of mimetic gesture, dance, and poetry be assimilated into baroque violin bowing through an embodied interpretation of a musical score?
An embodied understanding of musical performance also gave rise to the analytical perspective of ‘Soundist’ and ‘Gesturist’ performance strategies, two poles which I employ in the process of interpretation-finding. The results of the video analysis are presented in ‘video essays’, which discuss these and other questions through the embodied knowledge of musicians in performance. The projects are divided into three video groups, each with a specific case study, a structure which reflects my attempt to distinguish and categorize the different kinaesthetic sources of violinists’ expressive movements through the fields of mimetic action, dance and poetic imagery.
The thesis takes advantage of the specific possibilities of the website format, integrating the video essays not just as complementary examples to the written text, but as a main means for argumentation, analysis, and discussion. The issues discussed in the video essays are further unpacked in texts with music examples, analyses of scores, comparative illustrations of body movements, and audio examples. Analytical texts, constructed in several layers, follow each video essay, progressing from practical observations to theoretical implications of each study.
The thesis eventually proposes that a full understanding of musical performance of scored music can be understood as ‘embodied interpretation’, through which the intricate relations between embodied experience and musical structure can be activated.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Östersjö, Stefan, Supervisor
  • Hellsten, Hans, Supervisor
Award date2017 Oct 9
Place of PublicationMalmö
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-88409-11-9
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2017-10-09
Time: 10:00
Place: Red Room, Inter Arts Center, Bergsgatan 29, 214 22 Malmö
External reviewer(s)
Name: Richard Wistreich
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Royal College of Music


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Music

Artistic work

  • Web publication/site
  • Performance
  • Composition
  • Concert
  • Text
  • Digital or Visual Product

Free keywords

  • musical gestures
  • musical interpretation
  • baroque music
  • embodied music cognition
  • historical performance practice
  • Historically informed performance
  • baroque dance


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