A Handwriting Analysis of Music

SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MUSIC: a contribution to the analysis of the creative process of the composers …by Dominique Dupraz

Stravinsky was able to say: “music is calligraphy!” Even if this formulation of the composer of the “Rite of Spring” could be taken for a joke, the fact remains that it has a true and fair view of what a music manuscript is before its sound production: a set of traits or factors, codified to be readable by all.

Musical notation and ordinary handwriting are both the result of an infinitely complex mechanical gesture, since each involves an infinite variety of movements of the fingers of the hand, arm, forearm and body. These gestural, physical and sensorial patterns made  on paper are determined by the psyche of the writer who models them at will, as they reach their unique and ultimate forms. This complexity and variety of treatment is as important in ordinary writing as in the writing ot music!

In their graphic realizations of the original model, and the immense variety of final realization, both musical and ordinary writing work in a similar way … by their natural or accidental deviation from the graphic standard, both forms of writing are a nearly complete signifier, ideal, to penetrate further, the psychology of musical creation and the process of the composer –  and in trying to  open this ultimate door of artistic creation and its eternal questioning of what makes Beauty.

Chez Pierre Boulez, the graphics of ordinary writing and of writing music, are the same and function the same way. The graphic characters of the two entries meet the same species and genera, as defined by Crépieux-Jamin, in his treatise on graphology. It can not be denied: the influence of psychological parameters on the creative act and its graphic and compositional consequences put on the surface of the paper..

The importance of emotional determinism in the act of writing, or just as well the transcendence of  idea in the finished work, following upon the analysis of a manuscript score of Berlioz or BEETHOVEN, can be illuminated in exciting ways by study and a reasonable and reasoned observation of their musical graphics. This “semiographic” approach to music, allows us to identify and develop musically important graphic signifiers:  order with DEBUSSY, form in HAENDEL, dimension in SCHUMANN, continuity in MOZART, temperature  in BEETHOVEN, musical direction in BACH, relaxation in SATIE, among others ….!

The precise analysis of these different graphic types then leads me to identify relevant aesthetic factual characteristics in each of these composers: the  figuration of DEBUSSY, the tendency to headlong virtuosity in HAENDEL, the role of folly in SCHUMANN, compositional techinique in BEETHOVEN, the genius of inspiration in Mozart, Gregorian melodic curve of the graphic writing of BACH,  the paranoia of SATIE.

Thus, a comprehensive and scientific study of the handwriting of musical manuscripts from many autograph scores, allows me to find the compositional process of composers, through the ultimate act of artistic creation: the outline of the Idea on the ruled paper. My conclusions, which clarify the creative processes of these creators, can also be a valuable aid to the realization in sound of their music: it is no longer just calligraphy on paper,  or manuscripts and various drafts, but it becomes music to interpret according to the traces left …!

Article composer Dominique DUPRAZ

published on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of

Centre Pompidou / Beaubourg and the published book

Pierre Boulez on. (C) 1987

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