by Robert S. Hatten

Musical Gesture

Course Description

Gesture is movement that may be interpreted as significant. Musical gesture presents more challenging problems, since it must often be inferred from notation and an understanding of performance practice and style. These lectures will assume much of the historical argument and concentrate instead on semiotic and speculative theoretical approaches to interpretation grounded in the insights of gesture as applied to analysis and performance.

The theoretical and practical contributions of David Lidov (York University, Downsview, Ontario) and Alexandra Pierce (Redlands University, Redlands, California) will be featured in the earlier lectures; gestural premises and their working out through the course of multi-movement works will be the focus of the central lectures; and the issues of troping, agency, and continuity will be explored in the final lectures.

Special Note:
Given my own performance commitment to the piano, and the interesting issues raised by gestural realization in the context of a digital sound source, many of the musical examples discussed will be from the piano literature. Inexpensive scores may be purchased from Dover publications for much of this repertoire. I will often refer to music examples by measure number. Music examples from the readings will also be referenced.


  1. Toward a characterization of gesture in music: An introduction to the issues.The opening idea of the second movement of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845 (Op. 42) is the theme for a set of variations in C major. Its first eight bars have a rather simple harmonic and phrase structure (4+4), with the second phrase moving to the dominant. The melody is in the […]
  2. Embodying sound: The role of semiotics. Readings: Barthes, Roland. 1985 [1982]. “Music’s Body,” Part II of The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley: University of California Press), 243-312. Lidov, David. 1987. “Mind and Body in Music,” Semiotica 66:1/3, 69-97.
  3. Embodying sound: The role of movement in performance and interpretation. Readings:
    Pierce, Alexandra. 1994. “Developing Schenkerian Hearing and Performing,” Intégral 8, 51-123.
  4. Gesture and motive: Developing variation I Listening and score study:
    Schubert, Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959, complete.
    Beethoven, Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, first movement.
    Hatten, Robert S. 1993. “Schubert the Progressive: The Role of Resonance and Gesture in the Piano Sonata in A, D. 959,” Intégral 7, 38-81.
  5. Gesture and motive: Developing variation II Listening and score study:
    Beethoven, Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 101, complete.
  6. Gestural troping Listening and score study:
    Beethoven, Sonata for Piano and Cello in C major, Op. 102, no. 1, complete.
    Hatten, Robert S. 1994. Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 161-202.
  7. Gesture and agency Listening and score study:
    Bach, Prelude in Eb minor, W.T.C. I.
    Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C major (the “Waldstein”), op. 53, first movement.
    Beethoven, Piano Trio in D major (the “Ghost”), Op. 70, no. 1, first movement.
    Debussy, Des pas sur la neige, Préludes, Book I, no. 6.
  8. Gesture and the problem of continuity Listening and score study:
    Mozart, Piano Sonata in A minor, K. 310, first and third movements.
    Beethoven, Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (the “Appassionata”), third movement.
    Schubert, Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 784 (Op. 143)
    Schubert, Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845, fourth movement.
    Schubert, Piano Sonata in G major, D. 894, first movement.
    Bruckner, Fifth Symphony, first movement.

Robert S. Hatten | Biography

Robert Hatten, Professor of Music Theory at Indiana University, has taught on the faculties of SUNY Buffalo, The University of Michigan, and Penn State University. He also held a Mellon Fellowship for the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985-6. Prof. Hatten is the author of Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation (Indiana University Press, 1994), which was co-recipient of the Wallace Berry Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory in 1997. His articles and reviews have been published in numerous music theory, musicology, and semiotic journals and volumes here and abroad. In addition to guest lecture series at universities in Helsinki, Mexico City, and Poznan (2002), he has been invited to give papers at many universities in North America, as well as Krak<ó>w, Tallinn, Paris, Aix-en-Provence, London, Manchester, and Leeds. Dr. Hatten’s research interests include speculative theories of musical gesture, semiotic and hermeneutic approaches to the interpretation of musical expressive meaning (especially for Beethoven and Schubert) and twentieth-century opera. His Cybersemiotic Lectures on Musical Gesture will appear in expanded form in a book-in-progress, Musical Meaning and Interpretation: Topics, Tropes, Gestures, and Continuity.

Send comments or questions to Robert S Hatten: or by mail to: Prof. Robert S. Hatten School of Music Penn State University University Park, PA 16802