• Gisela Paterno

Musical Gesture - Introduction

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Musical gesture as a source and generator of motivic composition procedure - An Introduction

In the last 50 years, the sound itself has become important and independent of the traditional Western European model of composition, which is commonly known as “Common Practice” in Composition and Harmony Treatises. One of the most important and significant examples is the book “Fundamentals of Musical Composition” written by the iconic Arnold Schoenberg, one of the creators of the Atonal Music at the beginning of the 20th century.

The musical gesture can contain all the necessary information to trigger the creation of any musical work, the fundamental factor here is the way in which this information is perceived, no longer relating it to a certain scale or certain melodic contours and predefined rhythms based on a pre-existing model, but that their identity in forming holistic makes the gesture speak for itself.

Quantification of the musical gesture as a carrier of information

The musical gesture has been approached innumerable times by specialists in semiotics, but we must bear in mind that in that area, the treatment of the gesture has always been subjective (which depends on the point of view of a subject) and not objective. The musical gesture is objectively quantifiable information carrier as well as any Bach's or Mozart's motive on either a Fugue or Sonata.

Musical gesture and electroacoustic music

Electroacoustic music has developed more than any musical gesture. This is because, especially at the beginning, its lack of musical notation, a "limitation" in the eyes of the musicians of that time. This just led to the development of something much more straightforward, bereft of a “rational and calculating method of composition” or subject to prior structuring, as it could be a Sonata form or the thought of how to develop a motif with a certain melodic-rhythmic pattern; model that had been the only one from the baroque to post-romanticism.

This music was characterized, among other things, in focusing its attention on gestures, and not so much on a scalar model and the pre-fixed hierarchical functions related to it. Over time, musicians have tried to replicate these elements in instrumental music, resulting in a plethora of techniques, now called "extended". The liberation that this model produced made the gesture begin to take life. A melodic-rhythmic structure was no longer needed. The gesture was enough to generate a musical work.


Jorge Sad "Sound, gesture, musical interaction" in which he states in a fragment:

"Both the act of" making "the sounds, of producing them directly with an instrument or indirectly from the composition, as well as the act of listening to them, can give rise to the unleashing of a set of kinetic interpretants of the sound fact at what we call musical gestures "

However, the musical gesture cannot be reduced to the bodily movement of the musicians or the public: certain musical figures resulting from the scriptures are called gestures - for example Francois Nicolas (1995) defines certain rhythmic structures used in some of his works of this way - and, under certain conditions, the sound itself becomes a gesture.


The musical gesture has gained a poetic conception among the contemporary music repertoire as a resource to concentrate listening in one of its central plots, giving birth to new music, and most importantly, a new conception of music linked to other disciplines, such as new technologies such as movement-related, Dance, Visual Arts and Painting.

In the next articles, I will exemplify this topic with my own body or work.

#compositionlondon #compositionlessonslondon #GiselaPaterno #wkmt #pianolessonslondon #pianoteachers

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