chapter  1
18 Pages

A Theory of Musical Gesture and its Application to Beethoven and Schubert

WithRobert S. Hatten

A theory of musical gesture must begin with an understanding of human gesture prior to its manifestation in sophisticated musical works. Human gestures include characteristics that we can associate with a fundamental musicality shared by all: the capacity to perceive, and roughly reproduce, characteristic shapings of rhythm, timing, pitch contour and intensity. In Western musical styles a kind of virtual gravitational field or vectoral space provides an analogue to the forces working on the human body in physical space, enabling the motivated opposition of downwards grief versus upwards elation. Inevitably, thematic gestures result from the compositional attention musical gestures receive as basic-level carriers of emotional force. Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 784, offers a compelling example of how gesture, topic and trope can combine forces to create powerful new expressive meanings. The prototypical molar gesture takes place in the perceptual present of working memory, and its interpretation draws on both imagistic and temporal gestalt perception.