With the research team MusicExperiment21 I had been working on the artistic project Raschx, a series of performances and lectures based upon two main materials: Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana op. 16 (1838), and Roland Barthes’s essays on Schumann’s music, particularly focusing on “Rasch” (Barthes 1991a). The aim of the project was to generate “an intricate network of aesthetic-epistemic cross-references, through which the listener has the freedom to focus on different layers of perception” (Assis et al., 2017). It involved live piano playing, visual elements, projection and reading of texts, playback, and live electronics.

Inserted into a wider research project on the production of experimental performance practices, Raschx questions “what we know” about Kreisleriana, by exposing to audiences in concert situations materials that are not contained in its score, but that belong to its wider landscape: Kreisleriana is not only a musical work in its traditional ontological definition, nor does it coincide with a physical object (such as one of its editions), but it is an “assemblage” (cf. Assis, 2018) of materials, forces, affects, and percepts that exceed the actual moment of its composition. In the project, such a familiar musical and aesthetic object is turned into an object for thought, through a defamiliarisation that happens nonetheless through materials and activities generated within a widened, reshaped image of it as musical work.[1]

In this context, I worked on a version of Kreislerianum n. 4 for a live performance as the 23rd instantiation of the project, Rasch23. It consisted of a soundtrack to be played alongside a live piano performance, in place of the enigmatic five fermatas in bar 11 of Kreislerianum n. 4 between the end of section A and the beginning of section B or intermezzo (fig. 16). In this, I could experiment with yet another performative function of the sonic image, that is its direct insertion into the performance of the primary work it departs from, as if it were a crater opening between the piece’s two sections, a new and unexpected dimension emanating from the traditional rendition of the piece.

To a certain extent, this work reflects also on some of the concepts underlying the whole Raschx project, and the methodologies developed and utilised by MusicExperiment21. In turn, these concepts and methodologies exposed me to operations that were active aspects of my previous experiences, but that had not yet emerged so explicitly on a reflective level. Quoting from the principal investigator of MusicExperiment21, Paulo de Assis:



Crucial to this approach is a new ‘image of work’ where works are no longer seen as static entities (the score, the recording, the performance), but rather as highly elaborated manifolds with potentially infinite constitutive parts (sketches, manuscripts, editions, recordings, theoretical reflections, previous works or styles that exerted an influence, future works that shed new light upon them, etc.). In place of a reiteration of uncritically inherited performance practices, this perspective offers a methodology for unconventional, critical renderings that expose the variety and complexity of the music materials available today. More than repeating what one already knows about a given work, it claims the unknown as the most productive field for artistic practices. Rather than accepting a reproductive tradition, it argues for an experimental, creative attitude. (Assis 2016)



If many elements of the new sonic image are taken from the score and its “interpretational” rendition, then others are influenced by the wider network of materials constituting the “manifold” of Kreisleriana. In particular, the reading of Barthes’s texts became inextricable part of Schumann’s piece, adding new dimensions to the preparatory phase. In other words, the glance thrown towards the work by my practice (the new status of the “of”) is not only mobile in itself; it also relates to an entity – the musical work – that is not ontologically enclosed, and whose affective potency also depends on its capacity to implicate innumerable materials. Musical works are “assemblages”. They enfold a material dimension, a historical one, and a psychological one.


The second important concept that influenced this particular experience is the Barthesian idea of “somatheme”, or “figur[e] of the body” (Barthes 1991a, 307). The whole essay “Rasch” is based upon the idea that a fundamental part of Schumann’s music can only be grasped, experienced, and understood through the body of the performer and of the listener. The “figures of the body” provide a sort of second layer of the score, linked to and yet in fight against the musical text constituted by “grammar” and “musical semiology: … identification and arrangement of ‘themes’, ‘cells’, ‘phrases’” (Ibid.). For each of the Kreisleriana, Barthes sketches the respective “somathemes", which are determined by the movements of the hands of the pianist, by the affective impact of the accents on the body of the performer/listener (the “blows”, ibid. 299), or by the voice-like character of certain musical gestures.

The “somatheme” that Barthes associates part A of Kreislerianum n. 4 with is “quasi parlando” (Ibid., 306) [almost speaking], the effort of a voice that cannot speak but that needs and wants to. In this fragment, it is as if the body “pu[t] itself in a state of speech” (ibid., 306). In the intermezzo (part B), on the contrary, “it speaks, it declares: someone declares himself” (Ibid., 299). The two limits of human utterances suggested by the two somathemes have provided a sort of imaginative and physical framework for the whole performance of Rasch23: on one end an impeded will to speak; on the opposite end the scream, the violent explosion of inarticulate utterance. Following from this, my own Kreislerianum n. 4 starts with soft prolonged notes, echoing the ending of part A. At a certain point, the “scream” irrupts, through processed siren sounds and heavily distorted textures, to then end in a sort of reprise where the residues of the beginning (fragmented, stuttering and distorted) return, only to fade out again before the piano starts after the five fermatas.


[1]For a complete overview on the new image of work elaborated within the research project MusicExperiment21, see Paulo de Assis, Logic of Experimentation, chapter 1 (upcoming 2018).



P O W E R S   O F   D I V E R G E N C E

Rasch234, after Robert Schumann’s Kreislerianum n. 4

Composer: Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Primary work: Kreislerianum n. 4
Published in Kreisleriana op. 16 (1838)


Preparatory phase: Reading the score. Listening to existing recordings and performances of the piece: Vladimir Horowitz, Yves Nat.
Compositional phase (generating the sonic image): recording and electronic editing of a track produced using glasses, singing bell, wooden sticks, pre-recorded sample, electric guitar, voice, Ableton Live software.
Semiotic and performative phase (designing the live performance): integrating the playback of the track with live piano performance of Kreislerianum n. 4

T H E   M U S I C A L   W O R K   A S   " M A N I F O L D "

c a s e   s t u d y :   r o b e r t   s c h u m a n n

"Divergent performance" of Kreislerianum 4. Lucia D'Errico, soundtrack

Interpretation of Kreislerianum 4. Vladimir Horowitz, piano


The initial long pitch around which the whole soundtrack is constructed, a processed sound of a singing bell, refers to the starting and ending pitches of the melodic phrases at bars 11-13 (and similar). In the background are noises, patterns of husky sounds with a faltering articulation. These were probably suggested by the hesitating pace with which Horowitz articulates some of the arpeggio formulas in the intermezzo, lingering on the crotchet notes of the melody. The irruption of siren sounds and of heavily distorted backgrounds is like a violent utterance. It reflects the contrast between the commentaries that Barthes gave about the first part of the piece and the intermezzo after the five fermatas. The first part, which for Barthes is “quasi parlando” (1991a, 306), expresses the effort of one that cannot speak but that needs and wants to. In the intermezzo, on the contrary, “it speaks, it declares: someone declares himself” (Ibid., 299).
After evoking the four initial pitches of the melody (D, E, F sharp, G), the piece goes back to the initial noisy patterns, where some of the pitches already enunciated return in crescendo waves.