Transforming Performance: an inquiry into the emotional processes of a classical pianist

An artistic research thesis defended the 4th of February 2021 at Malmö Academy of Music. Faculty opponent Daniel Leech-Wilkinson. This exposition contains videos and publications included in the thesis. The written thesis can be downloaded following this link:


Skoogh, F. (2021). Performance values – an artistic research perspective on music performance anxiety in classical music. [PhD thesis. Lund University].

Articles and artistic outputs

Performance values – an artistic research perspective on music performance anxiety in classical music

Francisca Skoogh Lund University Henrik Frisk Royal College of Music in Stockholm DOI:


Music performance anxiety (MPA) has been studied mainly within the field of psychology and has been defined as a sub-type of social anxiety. Musicians suffering from MPA are commonly referred to individual psychological treatment, but the condition is not yet researched from an artistic perspective. The hypothesis put forward in this article is that the issues concerning MPA are part of a complex system of interactions between performance values and perfectionism and that musicians in general are not given the necessary tools to tackle the anxiety. One of the challenges is that Western classical music performance has many built-in values that need to be problematized and researched in order to address the problems with MPA. Hence, MPA is not to be considered as solely an individual problem but should rather be seen as the result of a wider structural issue related to the commodification of classical Western music and its focus on perfection and virtuosity. This article gives an example from the field of artistic research on how it is possible for the performer herself to develop methods to understand and emotionally regulate the impact of perfectionism in Western classical music. (Skoogh & Frisk, 2019)

Notes from Endenich (Daphne Records)

Link to CD

Notes from Endenich is an album that pivots around Robert Schumann. In a collaboration, part of a PhD project, pianist Francisca Skoogh and composer Staffan Storm and pianist Francisca Skoogh investigates different aspects of his life. Unbekanntes Blatt aus Endenicher Zeit is a musical reflection on texts by Robert Schumann written around the time of his last illness. Two sources were used: a letter to his friend Joseph Joachim and a sheet of paper with fragments of writing from his stay as a patient at the psychiatric hospital Endenich. These fragments provide insight into Schumann’s life towards the end of his life, his relationship to life and art, and the lingering memories and thoughts that occupied him during this time. Although Schumann’s piano sonata op. 11 is his first attempt to compose a sonata, he manages to transform it into the romantic style with a distinct personal expression.

Notes from Endenich is a piano album featuring composer Staffan Storm and pianist Francisca Skoogh’s close collaboration over thematic material from Robert Schumann. Storm’s works contain both musical motifs and text fragments written by Schumann from the end of his life. Schumann’s own first sonata for piano op. 11 displays his remarkable palette of musical expression. The project aims to create a deeper understanding of how classical works can live on in our day, with the listener in mind, but also among the composers and practitioners of art music today.

Play always as if in the presence of a master

Kent Olofsson & Francisca Skoogh

Manuscript submitted for publication. This is a preliminary version. If accepted after completed review process, the final version will be available at


In classical music performance perfectionism as the only tool to sustain the great tradition may hijack artistic expression and freedom, and possibly limit the expressive potential of the pianist. Taken together, the vast repertoire, the pressure to compete, and the institutional demands in order to make a career leaves very little room for exploring parameters in performance or interpretation in new and radical ways. “Potential space” was Donald Winnicott’s term for an inviting and safe interpersonal field in which one can be spontaneously playful while at the same time connected to others. This audio paper by Kent Olofsson and Francisca Skoogh is a sound composition focusing on portraying performance as a potential space, with interpretation as play material. In it, we also hear a pianist with many years of experience in performing Western classical music expresses her performance values; how she manages emotions connected to expected behavior on stage and to the repertoire. A transcription of Winnicott’s potential space to artistic practice in order to challenge the relations between score and performer, between expected concert traditions. It explores one of the great sonatas of the piano repertoire, the Sonata op. 11 by Robert Schumann.

Play emotional regulation in classical music performance (Skoogh, in press)


Musicians examining performance anxiety within the context of their own regular concert performances, is a rare event in western classical music. The Western classical music culture, from conservatory to the professional life that follows, is tinged with disciplined practise, competitions, result-focused ambition and demands for perfection. There is little or no room to explore psychological issues connected to the profession, a silence that needs to be addressed. Classical musicians are highly dedicated to their vocation but they also suffer from more music performance anxiety (MPA) than musicians in other musical genres. This article gives examples on how musicians themselves can find new ways of emotionally regulate MPA by identifying performance values connected to the traditions and ceremonies of classical music. Built in values concerning performance can be defined and explored through experimental concert settings. Furthermore the article gives examples on how Artistic Research (AR) projects are designed to challenge the silenced artist in the traditional classical concert setting and how AR can contribute to the research field of MPA giving voice to the artist’s thoughts. The experimental projects presented in this article describe how different interventions can help to regulate the artist’s emotions and at the same time develop concert performance practice. One project connects neuroscientific findings to performance and the second one is based on the psychoanalytic concept of play. (Skoogh, 2021, in press)

Link to article

Schumann piano concerto

Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, conductor José Miguel Esandi
Discussed in section 4.4.1.

Excerpt from thesis:

I was astonished by how happy I felt entering the stage, which I even found physiologically visible when looking at myself in the video recording. I was also surprised by the quality of my performance, in that I varied dynamics, and I was able to communicate with sections in the concerto that are set up as chamber music interactions with parts of the orchestra. I felt free in my phrasings, and had a good overall technical control, as can be heard during the first two minutes in the first movement and also in the cadenza, thirteen minutes into the first movement. As discussed in the third article (Skoogh, in press) the whole experience had an impact on me, down to my actual motor skills during the performance. It was simply a very unusual concert performance for me, and my conclusion was that this seemingly simple interaction with the audience enhanced my performance and my joy of playing. The audience became close to “co-performers”, in that I could talk to them and see them, which made them appear more “human”. There was a playfulness in the interaction, which is notable in the video. (p. 105)

Lied performance

Discussed in section 4.2

Excerpt from thesis:

In 2014, soprano Sara Wilén and I set out to explore possible ways of deconstructing the concert rituals and built-in values of the lieder recital. Traditionally, such a recital is stripped of the dramaturgy, decor and acting that is part of the staged performance of opera and theatre. Our method of deconstructing the lieder performance grew out of our conversations, and involved lighting, three tv-screens, and the choreography of our movements on stage with the aim of altering our physical positions in the concert space. This was made possible by the technical facilities provided at the concert venue, the Inter Arts Centre (IAC), Malmö. Our aim was to create a wider understanding of what it is we want, and what we are allowed to do, as musicians. (p. 87)

Link to video

Performance Simulator

Discussed in section 4.3.

Excerpt from thesis:

A few weeks later I gave my first ever performance of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto in Malmö with the Malmö Academic Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Hansson, and later that spring in May 2016 with the Helsingborg Symphony orchestra, conducted by Stefan Solyom. The experience in the Performance Simulator had given me the opportunity to try out and test the way I performed under stress and heightened levels of anxiety. The simulator is designed to create an experience as close to a real performance as possible. A bi-product of this is that it also creates a simulated performance, where the confusion I felt made me react and perform “as if” I performed in front of a live audience. (p. 96)

Link to video

Piano Visions, piano recital, Stockholm December, 2018

This piano recital includes Kent Olofsson’s Play always as if in the presence of a master, discussed for example in sections 2.5.1 and 5.1. Link to video:

Link to video