The Trilogy of Intentions: Between composer, performer and audience

Led by: , The MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney

Keywords: , , , .

In creating an interpretation of a piece of music, the performer must make choices in how to perform each part of the piece from the vast number of possibilities made available to them from what can be considered as an ill-defined representation of that music, the score. In traditional repertoire these choices are normally made on the basis of not just the score, but the history surrounding the composer, the style and most often a set of recordings which will inform the performance. In contemporary music, in the absence of any established performing traditions, and sometimes without an established composer’s style to take reference from, the performer has only the notated score from which to glean this information.

So how effective is this communication between composer and performer through the score? Can a performer create an interpretation without the other surrounding information that is satisfying to the composer’s intentions, but still allows the performer a sense of creativity and individuality? How then does the audience sense this creativity on the part of the performer when the piece is not part of their well-known repertoire?



The project is split into two stages:The first is an exercise in assessing the communication between composer and performer. This has a dual-purpose: to discover 1) Can a contemporary score effectively communicate all information necessary to perform the piece as the composer intended? 2) How can we assess the creativity brought by the performer different to the ideas generated by the composer in a contemporary performance?The second stage involves collecting audience responses to different performances of these compositions, to see how well each performance distinguishes itself from another.


 Two composers were asked to write a new piece for piano. The pieces produced used different notation. One was written in terms of a traditional piano score, whereas the other used graphical representations of the sounds desired. The composers’ thoughts on their piece and score markings denoting locations of particular expressive interest were recorded via semi-structured interview.Three pianists from different piano classes at the Conservatory della Svizzera Italiana were then given each piece to interpret and prepare over a period of four weeks for a final performance with a live audience, which was also video-recorded. Individual semi-structured post-performance interviews were conducted with both performers and composers, discussing locations of technical, structural and emotional features.The composers and pianists were directed to have no other communication than the musical score.At the current time, methods for the second stage evaluating audience perceptions are still being devised.


Over the period of preparation for the performances, the pianists spent a large portion of time practising the technical requirements of each piece, finding harmonics, experimenting with achieving the right sound. The type of notation used in the compositions may have influenced the extent of agreement between composers and performers in terms of the overall structure of the piece, with the graphical notation producing varying interpretations whereas the standard notation led the performers to conform to an agreed overall structure. However, the reverse was observed for the scores in terms of tension discerned by the performers: the standard notation score produced more differing views than the graphical score.The second stage will explore the perceived differences between the three performances of each piece.