PhD Thesis

The gesture’s parameterisation in scenic musical forms. Example of contemporary music theatre: state of the art, historiography, analysis

This PhD thesis was supervised by Jean-François Trubert and defended in Nice (Université Côte d’Azur) on 11th July 2019 before a jury composed of:

  • Muriel Plana : Professor of Theatre Studies, Université de Toulouse (examiner);
  • Enrico Pitozzi : Researcher in Performating Arts, Université de Bologne (rapporteur);
  • Pierre Michel : Professor of Musicology, Université de Strasbourg (rapporteur);
  • Pascal Decroupet : Professor of Musicology, Université Côte d’Azur (jury president).


Over the course of the 20th century, gesture gradually became a parameter of musical composition in the repertoires of the Western classical tradition. The avant-garde (Dada, futurism, Bauhaus, expressionism, etc.) is at the origin of performance concept while noise music broadens the field of aesthetically audible sounds. Rejecting the romantic opera and all its attributes (lyrical singing technique, supremacy of the dramatic text over music, orchestra pit, the illusion of the reality, orchestral opulence, intermissions, etc.), composers feel the need to express themselves differently while the capacity for renewal of the tonal system wanes. New scenic musical forms are defined in a framework dictated by performance and in accordance with a new awareness of listening resulting from numerous experiments carried out in the musical studios. After World War II, with the advent of musique concrète, the voice became not only the vector of speech but also a generator of sound, the scenic space was rid of the performer and, in return, some composers (Mauricio Kagel, Dieter Schnebel, Luciano Berio, John Cage, to name but a few) offered hybrid pieces where music is combined with the diction of a narrator, pantomime or theatrical action,  without one component constantly getting the upper hand. According to an empirical approach to the body mediated through video recording (based on a corpus stretching from 1960 to 2016), it is possible to highlight counterpoints of information from several elements of the recorded performances (music, gestures, movements, light, etc.) which ultimately construct a meaningful reality for the listener-spectator. By directly analysing the performative works, it appears that the gesture is a structural element of a spectacular nature that participates in the creation of discursive forms, which makes it an indispensable element of reception. By focusing on the parameterisation of the gesture, this work provides a first element of answer to the following question: how does musical performance in its living aspect integrate the gesture and how does it influence the form? In this way, it hopes to pave the way for a musicology of contemporary music theatre.


Empirical musicology, contemporary, music theatre, instrumental theatre, musical gesture, instrumental gesture, spectacular, musical form, analysis, methodology, historiography, Gestalt psychology, embodied musical cognition, parameterisation.