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LeGuin, Elisabeth

"As My Works Show Me to Be": Physicality as Compositional Technique in the Instrumental Music of Luigi Boccherini

Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1997
(elegvin@value.net)

This dissertation examines early works of the cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), in order to develop a music-critical language capable of including performed experience as integral to the work of art.

Chapter One establishes philosophical context, presenting considerations of the concepts of virtue, action, performance and composition by Aristotle, Thomas Twining and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Close readings of these writings suggest that a middle ground between personal virtue and art can be created through reference to the performer's bodily experience.

Chapter Two uses Boccherini's Sonatas for cello and basso to introduce the dissertation's chief research method: playing works and taking detailed notes on the tactile and kinesthetic experiences involved. A number of recurrent, unique tactile and kinesthetic features of these works are presented, with examples given of compositional usages that can be consistently associated with each. Chapter Three expands this research method into the first four opera of string quartets, and discusses the complications attendant upon "translating" from an individual's bodily experience of performance to that of a group. Such a process of "translation" is implicated in Boccherini's lifelong penchant for repetitive, textural, and non-narrative writing.

Chapter Four presents two analyses of the quartet Op. 15 no. 3, a piece illustrative of this penchant. One analysis is conventionally topical, the second based on a questionnaire submitted to a quartet involved in rehearsing the piece. The questionnaire elicits the quartet's experiences of pleasure/unpleasantness, ease/difficulty, good or bad sound, and connection/disconnection during the process of executing the music; their answers suggest meanings for the piece, and explanations for its peculiarities, not otherwise available.

Chapter Five returns to philosophical and cultural context, provided by contemporary critical responses (collected and translated in Appendix One) to Boccherini's work. By means of a discussion of some eighteenth-century concepts of embodiment, it is suggested that these responses, especially those that refer to Boccherini's works' pictorial clarity of affect and exceptional melancholy, are to some degree responses to the composer's unusual sensitivity and artistic fidelity to matters of physical experience.