Together but not ‘together’: a radical phenomenology of ensemble performance

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis develops a radical alternative paradigm for thinking about classical music, and especially about the idea of ‘ensemble’. It falls into two parts. The first is a broad theoretical sweep, the five chapters of which introduce successive layers of context, unified by the metaphor of brain hemisphere difference (McGilchrist 2012). Part 1 opens with philosophical debates regarding music’s ontological status, before investigating two important ‘art world’ contexts that pertain to ensemble praxis: the string quartet genre, and the idea of ‘historically informed performance’. The discussion then focuses more closely on the Czech String Quartet, musicians who set down a handful of fascinating – and, to modern ears, provocative – recordings in the late 1920s. The final chapters of Part 1 draw upon this early recorded evidence in two very different ways: one explores key aspects of the phenomenology of string playing, while the other examines the significance of the ‘logic of division’ within empirical studies of ensemble, and indeed musicological inquiry more broadly.

The second part puts this theoretical frame into practice, through a detailed report of an experiment in performance. I draw on my experience as a cellist and string quartet player to explain a process in which my own ensemble colleagues and I engaged directly with the Czech Quartet’s manner of playing ‘together but not ‘together’’. These insights do not represent a descriptive survey, nor are they intended as a ‘last word’ on the Czech Quartet’s musical style. Instead, they give an indication of avenues for thinking about music ‘and’ performance which might be opened up by interrogating the ideological, historical, and epistemological contexts of the idea of ‘good ensemble’.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDaniel Leech-Wilkinson (Supervisor) & Frederick Moehn (Supervisor)

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