Expressive strategies and instrumental characteristics: A comparison between organ, harpsichord, and piano
Bruno Gingras

According to the musical communication hypothesis proposed by Kendall and Carterette (1990), the performer plays a central role in transmitting the composer’s musical intentions to listeners. Previous research has emphasized the role of expressive strategies in performance in conveying the formal structure of a piece (Clarke, 1985; Palmer, 1989) and its emotional content (Juslin, 2000), clarifying the polyphonic texture (Palmer, 1996; Goebl, 2001; Gingras, 2006), or communicating the musical individuality of the performer (Sloboda, 2000; Gingras et al., 2008). However, the role of the constraints imposed by the physical properties of an instrument on the performer’s choice of expressive strategies has not been investigated in such detail. One exception was Walker’s dissertation (2004), which showed that expressive strategies were affected both by the choice of instrument and by the performer’s expressive intents. Here, I propose to extend Walker’s research by comparing the range and extent of expressive strategies used in the performance of three keyboard instruments with similar playing technique but vastly different timbral and acoustic properties. Through the analysis of quantitative data gleaned from research on piano (Palmer, 1996; Repp, 1996; Goebl, 2001) and, more recently, organ (Gingras, 2008) and harpsichord (Gingras, 2008, 2010) performance, I show that instrument properties affect the expressive strategies favoured by performers in a multifaceted process. I propose that performance practice tends to establish an implicit hierarchy of expressive strategies, which arises both from the physical potentialities of the instrument and from the perceptual constraints of the auditory system. Moreover, results from perceptual experiments suggest that dominant expressive strategies tend to be generalized across instruments and repertoires, while secondary strategies are more instrument- and repertoire-specific and thus prone to pronounced effects of listener expertise. In conclusion, I propose that while instrumental constraints affect both the compositional style associated with a given instrument and the expressive strategies used by its practitioners, perceptual constraints also impose limits on the potential efficiency of certain expressive strategies, thereby outlining a feedback loop that may constitute a driving force for organologic evolution.