Before providing two more examples that show how this feedback loop can guide musical practice, I will first highlight the contrast between Eusebius Traum and the traditional realization of a precomposed musical work in performance in order to show how the musical work-concept specifically restricts performance practice. In order to do so, the question of what constitutes a performance of a musical work must be addressed. In theoretical terms, fulfilling the requirements that constitute the performance of a musical work is a task that, according to certain strict nominalist understandings of the work-concept, is nearly impossible to realize. In these rather extreme cases, one wrong note serves to render the performance no longer compliant with the work. In The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, philosopher Lydia Goehr discusses Nelson Goodman's nominalist and Jerrold Levinson's modified Platonist views of the musical work-concept. In this she continually references the issue of performance and the poor viability of analytic theory to understand the musical work, when the conditions under which a performance is considered compliant remain so improbable in practice. In order to transition away from analytic theory and proclaim the need for a historical understanding of the work-concept, Goehr uses a case example that I find particularly applicable for highlighting the difference between traditional performances of a precomposed work and the kinds of performances like Eusebius Traum that are exposed in this project. Looking for a way to understand performances as being compliant with works that also reflects certain realities of musical practice, Goehr distinguishes between internal compliance – "that a score's exhibited characters are complied with in a performance" (Goehr 1992, 65) – and external compliance – "intend[ing] to produce a performance [...] to intend-to-comply-internally” (ibid.) – in order to allow for the intention of the performer to partially constitute the definition of a performance of a musical work:
One must seriously intend to perform a work and this intention must stand in the right kind of relation to past performances or score-copies of the work—even in the right kind of relation to the original compositional activity. “I intend to produce something which is like the performance I heard yesterday” [...] The idea is that a work's identity in a chain of performances, and thus also the identity of the performances, is guaranteed by the continuity of relatedness—be it intentional, causal, or both. Continuity serves to put and keep the performance and the listener on the right musical track. (ibid., 66)
Assuming that the modern approach to classical music performance practice very often maintains the serious intention of performing a musical work, I argue that this intention and the inevitable cataloguing of such a performance into a chain of performances that are compliant with the work have a mimetic effect on this practice. Goehr's example of performing "something which is like the performance I heard yesterday" references the tendency towards mimesis in the act of performing a precomposed musical work. Even if one were interested in playing, for example, Schumann's Kreisleriana differently than yesterday, the restrictions imposed by the pre-existing musical work (while certainly allocating some room for morphosic performance elements, especially regarding non-pitch related parameters like timing and dynamics) still demand a relatively high amount of mimesis from the performer.1
How does the feedback loop between mimesis and morphosis that guides the music-making exposed in the three instances of Eusebius Traum function differently than in a compliant performance of Kreisleriana? Although improvisation, both mimetic and morphosic in nature, takes place in both cases, in the performance of a precomposed work it is restricted to decisions that, for example, do not involve pitch content. While performing Kreisleriana, a mimetic relation to the score restricts the pianist from playing whatever pitches he or she chooses; simultaneously, however, there are constant shifts and modifications taking place (reactions to how a particular piano sounds, adjustments in tempo and dynamics, et cetera). Hence, morphosic elements are also integral to a performance of a precomposed musical work, albeit to a lesser degree. In Eusebius Traum, the situation is actually strikingly similar. The demands of following the figured-bass score and imitating certain melodic figurations require a mimetic relation from the performer. In this case, pitches are not concretely fixed and can be chosen in the moment, but the limits imposed by the figured-bass score and melodic material maintain significant control over the availability of pitches from which the performer may choose. Morphosic elements in Eusebius Traum also include reacting to how a particular piano responds as well as adjustments in tempo and dynamics, just as in a performance of a precomposed musical work; but the option of choosing certain pitch content is also included in the process of performing Eusebius Traum, unlike in a performance of a precomposed work like Kreisleriana.
Ultimately, the discussion of mimesis and morphosis in musical performance seems to center around the issue of to what degree they are restricted, or to what degree the feedback loop between the two guides the process. The chapter On Scales of Improvisation will discuss degrees of improvised musical behavior in far more detail, but the examples of transposition and more freely improvised music (not related to any specific pre-existing musical work or figured-bass score) will now be provided to shed further light on the variety of ways that the feedback loop between mimesis and morphosis can function in performance.
The example on the right of a few bars from the first two pages of Schumann's Humoreske, Op. 20, performed in E Major instead of the notated Bb Major, exposes the highly mimetic process of realizing the score as written with the simultaneously morphosic act of having to do so in a different key. During the act of transposing music from one key to another, especially when there has been no preparatory practice in advance, the feedback loop between the mimetic relation to a score and the morphosis of realizing it "for the first time," due to a completely different keyboard topography and hand movements, guides the performer. Navigating a musical score in an unfamiliar key is an embodied activity: the "ways of the hand" (to utilize the title of David Sudnow's 1978 book on learning to improvise jazz on the piano) are completely different, yet the contents of the musical score remain intact. A relatively explicit ratio between mimetic and morphosic elements can therefore be conceived for this act: a mimetic relation to the score remains as intact as in the realization of the work during a performance in the original key, while the playing is traversed by the morphosic elements that newly emerge when embodying the score in a different key. The feedback loop between these two guides the practitioner who hears how the music should sound while realizing those sounds with foreign hand movements.
In the many examples exposed in this research project that do not relate directly to any specific pre-existing musical work (such as the Lieder ohne Worte), the feedback loop between mimesis and morphosis takes on a more prominent role in that it is the main guiding force during the moment that the music takes shape; external demands such as transposing or following a figured-bass score are no longer present; the music thus emerges from a more unrestricted feedback between mimesis and morphosis. Lacking concrete and predetermined external guidance from any specific musical parameter, mimesis and morphosis more freely interact and influence each other. The resulting music exhibits (often highly) mimetic elements in that familiar figurations, harmonic patterns, and melodic gestures emerge as a result of their presence in the practitioner's embodied knowledge. However, these materials do not emerge in a pre-established context guided by any external score or other parameters, but rather in a musical moment filled by the morphosic situationality of the moment. The morphosic shifts and modifications influence what kinds of mimetized materials emerge, and the feedback between these two propels the music forward.2
In the Introduction, I mentioned that Playing Schumann Again for the First Time intends to circumvent the ontology of the musical work. I will explain this in more detail here by using the concepts of mimesis and morphosis while comparing the nature of the musical work to that of contemporary classical musical practice (which will be discussed in more detail in the chapter On Rethinking the Current Performance Practice of Nineteenth-Century Music). Returning to Goehr and the claim I made earlier that the intention to perform musical works compliantly results in a highly mimetic performance practice, I will now contrast this mimetic aspect of performance with the morphosic nature of the musical work itself. This contrast is presented here in order to ultimately propose that a conceptually simple exchange between the morphosic and mimetic natures of the musical work and performance practice results in more space for improvised behavior in the performance of classical music. Tired of the attempts made by analytic philosophers to define what a musical work is (because of the relative ease in finding case examples of either non-paradigmatic works or questions of performance that do not sync with how musical practice actually works), Goehr articulates the need to move away from a purely ontological approach to defining a musical work and towards a more historically-inspired understanding. The reasoning behind the need to understand how the musical work-concept unfolded over time lies in the three-fold claim that it is an open concept (Goehr 1992, 93–95), that it became a regulative concept at a certain point in history (ibid., 101–106), and that it is therefore an emergent concept (ibid., 107–111). The essential point made here in relation to my desire to circumvent the musical work during performance is that the musical work-concept changed and is continuing to change over time. Understood within the context of mimesis and morphosis, Goehr's claim highlights the morphosic nature of the musical work itself. In his article “Epistemic Complexity and Experimental Systems in Music Performance,” musician-researcher Paulo de Assis describes certain properties of the musical work that I understand as morphosic:
Musical works are highly elaborated, complex semiotic artefacts with intricate operational functions. They are made of a variable, though normally large, number of constitutive parts that interact in non-trivial ways. This gives them, in the first place, systemic complexity. But they are also the products of invention and embed a rich array of interconnected knowledge encapsulating one or more operational principles. [...] Like organisms, they also manifest evolution [...] doing this in three ways: (1) in terms of "pure" creation, that is, new, original compositions; (2) in terms of re-creation, that is, the performance of past musical works; (3) in the sophisticated process of their preservation over time (editions, recordings, theoretical reflections, etc.). (de Assis 2013, 155)
In particular, the property of musical works to manifest evolution resonates with the definition of morphosis presented earlier, as “nonadaptive structural modification,” and De Assis' comparison of musical works to organisms references the analogous use of morphosis as borrowed from biology. The way that musical works manifest evolution that will be most useful in the upcoming argument, the "sophisticated process" of a work's "preservation over time," results in an ever-increasing amount of what De Assis calls constitutive elements. He claims that "the dismantling of musical works into their graspable constitutive elements reveals them as complex accumulations of singularities, as multi-layered amalgamations of 'things'" (de Assis 2013, 151). I understand this aspect of the musical work – the continual modification of itself that results in an ever-increasing number of its parts – as morphosic. In order to substantiate the claim that the "variable, though normally large" amount of things that constitute a particular work changes and that it in fact also increases over time, I will once more use Schumann's Kreisleriana as an example. The existence of this work presupposes the ability that it shifts and modifies itself towards a seemingly infinite amount of "things." These “things” include but are not limited to: E.T.A. Hoffmann's character Johannes Kreisler who appears in three of his novels, including Kreisleriana from 1813; Schumann's first version of the composition written in April 1838; his second version of the piece due to revisions made in 1850; the recording of a performance by Alfred Cortot in 1935; recordings by Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich; Roland Barthes' text Loving Schumann; the improvised tracks based on Kreisleriana on Michael Gees' 2013 album Beyond Schumann; the private performance of Kreisleriana I witnessed at Frederic Rzewski's home in September 2013; Paulo de Assis' Rasch project (the 11th instantiation of which includes my Kreisleriana V. meets Kreisleriana VIII. and Free Fantasy in the Style of Kreisleriana VI.); the practice method I propose for the opening bars of Kreisleriana I. in the Practicing subchapter of the chapter On My Improvisation Methods; et cetera. This list is obviously incomplete and heavily reflective of my engagement with the work; still, it shows how morphosic a musical work is. Continually adopting musical "things" – new performances, recordings, critical editions, texts, practice methods, etc. – affects Kreisleriana in a way that leaves the work in a constant morphosic state.
In order to return to the explanation of why I intend to circumvent the (already existing) musical work in this research project, consider the effects of the constantly morphosing musical work on the performance practice of such a work. The regulative force of the work places performance practice in a position to remain in a space where the work can be recognized, all the more necessary due to the work’s morphosic properties. In support of this claim that the musical work-concept stabilizes musical practice, Goehr says that "we do not, for example, improvise while performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D 'seriously' in a concert hall" (Goehr 1992, 105). Is this actually true? And who are "we" in her example? Some clarification is necessary and will be provided in this research project. That we actually do improvise (to some degree) while playing Beethoven's violin concerto will be made clear in the chapter On Scales of Improvisation, while the chapter On Rethinking the Current Practice of Nineteenth-Century Improvisation will show that "we" classical musicians are in a constant process of searching for varying approaches to the performance practice of this music. For now, it can be understood that her argument is that performers often relate to specific musical works in a manner that leaves performance practice in an increasingly mimetic state. Consider the ways in which compliant (Goehr might say "serious," also using quotation marks herself to allude to the irony of using such a word) performances of Kreisleriana are similar, but also how they are different from each other. Variation in tempo, sound quality, dynamics, and timing remain acceptable and practiced to a certain extent; variation in the actual pitches is another matter. Does this mean that Michael Gees' Beyond Schumann or my Kreisleriana V. meets Kreisleriana VIII. are not "serious?" Or, does it simply mean that they are "non-compliant?" Playing Schumann Again for the First Time proposes a conceptually simple exchange between the morphosic and mimetic elements of the musical work and its performance practice in order to circumvent the work-concept and to create more space for improvised behavior in the performance of classical music: By increasing morphosic behavior in performance to such a degree that the musical work may or (more likely) may not continue to be recognizable, room for various degrees of improvised behavior is created. As a result, the feedback loop between mimesis and morphosis should begin to play the role that the musical work previously played – namely, to provide the guiding framework for performing music. With a specific musical work no longer necessarily present, the engagement with mimesis, engrained through practice and experience, happens in a morphosic context influenced by shifting experiences, musical moments just performed, and the specific performative demands of the moment.