LETTIE, Chris: Systematic Variation and Microtoning in Rhythmic Performance of Bach and its Relation to Polyphony

Wikis > Final Projects > LETTIE, Chris: Systematic Variation and Microtoning in Rhythmic Performance of Bach and its Relation to Polyphony

Question: What systematic deviations from a mechanical norm can be found in the performance of the solo cello work of Bach?  How do these deviations relate to the underlying polyphonic structure of the piece and what tendencies can be derived from the analysis?

As a performer, I am particularly interested in how to interpret the music that I play.  This question allows me to look closely at how the finest perfomers interpret the music of Bach and to see what deviations they all have in common.  This experiment deals mainly with the performance of musical rhythm.  This question is important because, through data analysis, I expect to find standard variation in timing which correlates with a change of voice in the polyphonic structure.

“Systematic deviation” refers to consistent and recurring deviations from the mechanical norm Bengtsson & Gabrielsson (1980).

For data analysis, I will choose 8 performers interpretations of 4 specific measures of polyphony from the Allegro portion of the Prelude to Bach’s Suite for Cello No. 5 in C minor.  Using Davis (2006) analytical system, I can provide proof of where the lines change voices using her numbered score system.  I chose to use only 4 measures because of the issue of time.

The duration analysis will be carried out in the following fashion, as it was in Bengtsson & Gabrielsson (1980):

“The durations measured and analyzed in this paper refer
to the duration from the beginning (onset) of one tone
sound event to the beginning of the next tone sound event”

I will present my findings in a paper format with data inserts.

As Bengtsson and Gabrielsson (1980) found, I expect that the analysis of systematic variations or SYSVAR will elucidate important and relevant perceptual data with respect to the cognition of polyphonic music..


Bengtsson, Ingmar, & Gabrielsson, A. L. F. (1980). Methods for analyzing performance of musical rhythm. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 21(1), 257-268. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9450.1980.tb00369.x     (ARTICLES+)

Stacey Davis. (2006). Implied Polyphony in the Solo String Works of J. S. Bach: A Case for the Perceptual Relevance of Structural Expression. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23(5), 423-446. doi: 10.1525/mp.2006.23.5.423   (GOOGLE SCHOLAR)