The Viola in the 21st Century - Sound, Instrument Technologies, Playing Techniques and Performance
Santos Boia, Pedro Jose
Date: 28 August 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Sociology
This thesis develops an ecological perspective devoted to the question of what, if anything, it means to speak of music ‘itself’. As such it seeks to enrich and further develop music-centred perspectives in the sociology of music. To this end, the thesis uses and develops a sociology of mediations designed to specify empirically the ...
This thesis develops an ecological perspective devoted to the question of what, if anything, it means to speak of music ‘itself’. As such it seeks to enrich and further develop music-centred perspectives in the sociology of music. To this end, the thesis uses and develops a sociology of mediations designed to specify empirically the constituents of localized, emergent and performed configurations of “music” within the ‘classical’ music world. An ethnographically informed and practice-driven case study of viola and viola playing is used as a means to gain insight into the avant-garde of viola playing today and to follow the ways in which different protagonists constitute viola aesthetics. Considering the viola’s identity historically, in terms of both reproduction and change (specifically, the instrument’s shift from a marginal status to a position nearer the centre within ‘classical’ music), the study addresses instrument materiality and technologies, sound playing techniques, as well as, more globally, viola identities in relation to the instrument’s sonic features, repertoire, psycho-cultural and affective associations and meaning making in interpretation and performance. It is also shown how musicians deal with and ‘erase’ ‘limitations’ formerly attributed to the viola and make the instrument ‘work’ (through technological calibration in collaboration with instrument-makers as well as playing techniques) and thus correspond the requirements of contemporary music performance. Aiming to be a useful resource for violists, this thesis traces change but also identifies potential constraints produced by the past history of the viola upon the ways the instrument is seen, used and explored. The data for this study was collected through audio/video-recorded interviews with eight widely recognized highly-skilled violists, video-recorded performance and observations of viola lessons, and documentary analysis. This thesis highlights the importance of intermediate mediations that, situated in-between score and performance, affect how music comes to sound when played. It also outlines a grounded theory of the affordances of couplings made between players and instruments, so as to develop a performative idiom that considers representations, discourses and social construction, but also materiality, bodies and minds, internalization processes, practices. The thesis concludes by suggesting that a ‘strong’ cultural and musical sociology requires a relational and transdiciplinary approach and that this approach in turn helps to articulate an eclectic and hybrid sociology of imbrications, one that challenges intra-disciplinary divides.
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