Music | Musical Gesture: Theory and Interpretation
T561 | 9824 | Robert Hatten

Musical Gesture: Theory and Interpretation
Instructor: Robert Hatten

Meeting times MWF 9:05-9:55 a.m., Music Annex 454

Musical gesture is biologically and culturally grounded in
communicative human movement. Gesture draws upon the close
interaction (and intermodality) of a range of human perceptual and
motor systems to synthesize the energetic shaping of motion through
time into significant events with unique expressive force. The
biological and cultural motivations of musical gesture are further
negotiated within the conventions of a musical style, whose elements
include both the discrete (pitch, rhythm, meter) and the analog
(dynamics, articulation, temporal pacing). Musical gestures are
emergent gestalts that convey affective motion, emotion, and agency
by fusing otherwise separate elements into continuities of shape and

The course will develop a workable general concept of musical gesture
and then explore how gesture is negotiated with (or synthesized from)
musical elements within the context of various musical styles (common
practice and beyond) and performance practices. An important
component of the course will be the expressive interpretation of
musical gesture from the perspective of actual performance, as well
as analysis and criticism. Categories of gesture to be examined will
include the “spontaneous,” thematic, dialogical, rhetorical, and
tropological. The role of gesture in the expressive discourse of
entire movements will be demonstrated, and the interrelationships
between gesture and other dimensions of musical form and structure
will be explored.

Readings will include recent work on gesture, as well as theories of
musical gesture by David Lidov, Manfred Clynes, Alexandra Pierce,
Naomi Cumming, and Robert Hatten, including the manuscript of Prof.
Hatten’s new book, Interpreting Musical Gesture, Topics, and Tropes:
Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert (to appear, Indiana University Press).
Readings specific to the interests of participants will also be
selected. Additional assignments will include interpretive analytical
essays, in-class performance interpretations, and a final paper
interpreting a major movement or work from the perspective of musical

Theorists, musicologists, performers, conductors, and music educators
are all encouraged to enroll. The course assumes tonal and 20th-
century analytical abilities.