Memory and the Musical "Work"

Between Inscription and Performance

Mark Edwards
Supervising team:
Prof. dr. h.c. Ton Koopman (promotor), prof. Frans de Ruiter (promotor), Rudolf Lutz (promotor)
Musician type:
ethics, harpsichord, improvisation, media studies, organ, rhetorical memory
2013 - 2021
17th century music



The principle of Werktreue, or fidelity to the musical work, has long been performers' most important ethical imperative. Yet, the rigid work concept may not be the best way to think about the fluid arts of performance during the 17th century. Edwards proposes instead to approach this music through the lens of rhetorical memory.

Using historical music theory, he explores the flexibility of the musical work through analysis and improvisation: by breaking down a given piece into its component musical patterns and framework, these patterns can be varied and re-deployed within the same framework, creating a variant of the original work. By performing these variant works for a broad public, and in consultation with cultural and philosophical studies of memory and media, he hopes to discover new, more ambiguous boundaries between the work and its performance, and ultimately, a new ethics for the performance of 17th-century music.

Related events

7 January 2021 (16.15)

PhD Defense Mark Edwards

Moving Early Music: Improvisation and the Work-Concept in Seventeenth-Century French Keyboard Performance.

How can historically-informed performers step outside the confines of the work-concept?

At present, historically-informed performance (HIP) functions simultaneously as an established musical tradition and as a method for artistic inquiry and renewal. HIP’s capacity to effect change within artistic practice is, however, constrained by its own doxa. This study therefore asks the question: what kinds of new practices might have once been, and might still become possible without the influence of the work-concept?