"The Practicality of the Impossible": studies in 20th- and 21st-century piano études
University of Cambridge
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Woo, N. (2020). "The Practicality of the Impossible": studies in 20th- and 21st-century piano études (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.55146
This thesis examines piano études by John Cage, György Ligeti, Conlon Nancarrow, and Nicole Lizée that push the limits of the human body in performance. The thesis opens with an account of the origins of the piano étude in the works of Chopin and Liszt, situating it within the political, economic, and aesthetic conditions of the 19th century. Subsequently, sets of études by Cage, Ligeti, Nancarrow, and Lizée are studied, each using a different body of theoretical literature—including utopian thought, queer theory, and posthumanism—to understand how this limit manifests in musical works. These analyses enrich understanding by bridging gaps between musical performance studies and other areas of knowledge. For example, the chapter on Cage’s Études Australes addresses the notion of the limit using the utopian aesthetic philosophy of Ernst Bloch, thereby demonstrating novel correspondences between Bloch studies and performance studies. The thesis concludes by describing new forms of virtuosity that have emerged in the 20th and 21st centuries, and ties together the divergent modes of analysis used in each section. Theoretical investigations are interspersed with case study demonstrations from piano études, which draw on scores, recordings, and my personal experience as a pianist. This approach advocates the importance of embodiment, phenomenology, and performance research as key ways of knowing, and contributes to the growing field of artistic research at the piano. The project offers an original exploration of the performing body at its limits and presents a theory of contemporary virtuosity. In the process, it makes a multi-faceted contribution to scholarly work in musical performance and offers ways of thinking about musical aesthetics applicable to other genres and areas of study.
piano, performance studies, performance philosophy, virtuosity
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.55146
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