Beyond Cognitivism
: Alternative perspectives on the communication of musical structure through performance

  • Favio Shifres

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the communication of musical structure between performers and listeners; in particular, the prolongational structure of music (as defined by Heinrich Schenker). The concept of musical performance is explored at the intersection of the psychological and musicological agendas corresponding to different musical cultures. Accordingly, although this study is focused on the performance of 19th century western classical piano music, it also examines two sub-cultures that utilise this repertoire. The study starts by considering the objective performance’s framework, which is epistemologically related to classical cognitive science. However, since the postmodern musicological context claims that music performance goes beyond classical cognitivism, another theoretical and methodological framework is proposed.

First, an empirical study was undertaken that was based on the classic cognitive
perspective. It took communication to be a linear, rule-governed circulation of perceptual and/or conceptual contents. The results of the analysis of a series of piano performances and listening tests indicate that, although certain regularities of the prolongational features emerge in both performance and reception, these do not clarify the role of this structure in the performer-listener dyad.

Second, a new perspective on the role of structure in communication during performance is proposed that acknowledges that need for originality and individuality characteristic of current performance practice. It is based on three theoretical pillars: (a) Transposition, which characterizes a dialectic relationship between composition and performance; (b) Intersubjectivity, which alludes to states of mutuality in which sharing a particular temporal configuration is crucial; (c) Narrativity, which is presented as psychogenetically linked to the configuration of time in music performance. An experiment shows (i) how the prolongational structure of a composition can form the material of two different transpositions (one cinematographic and one pianistic), and (ii) that listeners comprehend
that material by means of crossmodal capacities, which are communicated by the
particular temporal configuration of the performance.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton

Cite this