Humoreske has attributes that make it remarkably similar to Schumann's compositions; the melody was taken directly from Schumann's own Humoreske (Op. 20) and similar harmonic progressions can easily be found in Schumann's music (the frequent augmented chords and the brief modulation to the major key associated with the flat-sixth scale degree, to give two examples). Zart presents harmonic and melodic materials that are certainly related to what could be found in Schumann’s works, but an analysis of zart could potentially show that certain melodic gestures (especially the suspensions on the seventh scale degree) and the openness of the harmonies (lots of subdominant-to-tonic movement) display signs of being influenced by music that lies outside the realm of Schumann's compositions, for instance American twentieth-century singer-songwriter music. Although Schumann certainly used suspensions on the seventh scale degree and subdominant-to-tonic harmonic movement, he used these materials less often or in different contexts. I intend to attribute many factors inherent to the musical results of both Humoreske and zart to my sonic signature. Throughout the course of my work within the scope of this project I began to consciously and ever-increasingly pay attention to my sonic signature.
In which ways are Humoreske and zart reflective of Schumann's works and how are they the results of my musical practice? Although the guiding principle of this project ‒ the "framework," to use Frederic Rzewski's terminology ‒ has been to utilize Schumann's musical material to try to find ways to improvise more convincingly within the context of Romantic-era piano repertoire, the music presented here is very clearly a direct result of my own musical practice in that my piano playing is the means that bring the music into existence. Although Schumann's notated heritage plays a significant role in the two extemporized pieces, I must ultimately take responsibility for the way the music sounds. My music-making is a result of a personal accumulation of knowledge (embodied and otherwise), experiences, and informed intuition; each of these elements contribute to my music-making and together they impose a sonic signature onto the music that can only be my own. Therefore, a different practitioner, engaging with the same materials and using the same rules and framework, would most certainly produce music that sounds different from my playing.
Of course, the concept of sonic signature can also be applied to performers who remain closer to the score. For example, the claim that Martha Argerich and Vladimir Horowitz’s performances of Kreisleriana sound very different was made in the chapter On Rethinking the Current Performance Practice of Nineteenth-Century Music. This can be attributed to their respective sonic signatures. The examples that I use here to explain the notion of sonic signature are not simply realizations of a precomposed work ‒ as is the case when Argerich and Horowitz perform Kreisleriana ‒ but rather music-making that exhibits a greater degree of improvisation. However, in all performances, regardless of how many degrees of improvisation are active, a performer’s sonic signature is present.
Initially, I wanted my improvisations to remain close to Schumann's musical material and to limit the space for other musical influences. Despite this, my sonic signature still comprises elements that have been collected from other aspects of my practice. I describe this as an accent in the Introduction. My initial experiments were important, in the sense that they helped me to focus on Schumann and consciously avoid other influences in my playing as much as possible (see R meets R for example). However, my goal is not to repress but rather to negotiate my (current) sonic signature in combination with Schumann’s material in order to produce improvisatory results that reflect both, and through this process, to adopt elements from his material that form, inform, and transform my sonic signature. As I have already stated, a sonic signature does not simply exist; rather, it reflects the accumulation of materials that a performer has been exposed to and is permeated by countless external influences, including one’s cultural background, education, the existing musical canon, and the instrument(s) at one’s disposal. In this project, I am working with Schumann’s musical material with the express intention of trying to integrate it into my sonic signature, with the hope that it will influence the way my piano playing sounds. However, new encounters do not overtake or destroy the thread of other factors that contribute to my sonic signature; the process of integrating elements into a sonic signature leave new traces that, alongside the others, become characteristics that make an individual's sonic signature unique.1
My ideas regarding sonic signature are closely related to what Peter Kivy calls "personal authenticity" in his book Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance from 1995. In it, Kivy pinpoints four main authenticities that can guide a musician's approach to performing a pre-existing musical work:
"composer authenticity" ‒ the respect for a composer's original conception;
"sonic authenticity" ‒ the quest to restore the sound materials with which a composer worked;
"performance practice authenticity" ‒ the quest to recreate the same performance practice environment in which the music was initially created;
"personal authenticity" ‒ the esteem accorded the performer's individual expression, which may at times deviate from what a composer indicated. (Jackson 1997, 1‒2)2
I believe that a "performer's individual expression" should be given esteem, and that exhibiting personal expression seems all the more possible when the music-making integrates greater degrees of improvisation than are typically present during the realization of a precomposed musical work in performance. However, regardless of the esteem granted a performer's personal authenticity, I have already argued here that a sonic signature is always present and that a performer necessarily brings elements of his or her practice (through embodied and tacit knowledge) into play.
Therefore, I think it is necessary to deviate from Kivy’s use of the term “authenticity” to avoid the connotations of what it can mean to be authentic, which can range from being “genuine,” to an understanding rooted in existentialist philosophy where authenticity can denote the degree to which an individual's actions are congruent with his or her beliefs and desires. I argue that every practitioner has a sonic signature, regardless of their desire to be genuine or align their work with certain (ideological) norms and values. Just as every literate person can sign their own name (an embodied act), everyone who makes music carries certain traits in his or her (embodied) practice that leave an imprint on the way the music-making sounds.
Kivy’s list does however raise the issue of proportion between the different authenticities. Musical results may more heavily reflect the more historical authenticities if a performer's sonic signature or individual expression is not actively pursued. Considering the degree to which a sonic signature is present in any performance, compared to other factors relating to other authenticities, may be the most efficient way of understanding how practitioners themselves understand the impact their own sonic signature has on their engagement with historical repertoire.