Musical Complexity and "Embodied Notation": A Study of the Opus Clavicembalisticum (K. S. Sorabji)


  • Lukas Huisman Music Faculty of the School of Arts Ghent
  • Bruno Gingras Institute of Psychology of the University of Innsbruck
  • Geert Dhondt Music Faculty of the School of Arts Ghent
  • Marc Leman Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music of the Ghent University



Embodied notation, K. S. Sorabji, Opus Clavicembalisticum


Scores of complex, 20th century, solo piano pieces can be difficult to perform and may even include elements that are physically impossible to play. This article investigates the role of music notation in the Opus Clavicembalisticum of Sorabji, which is a rather extreme case in terms of virtuosity and length. To analyze the effect of score notation on learning and performing, 9 pianists were asked to practice music fragments in 3 different score editions, namely the original Urtext edition (a 4-staff score), performance edition (same notes but organized according to an "embodied" performance viewpoint), and study edition (further simplified and with added analytical reading aids). The hypothesis was that the "embodied notation" would have an effect on study time (shorter study time) and errors (fewer errors). Objective features of the study process and performance, such as study time, error ratio and markings on the score (fingerings, hand distribution, synchronization) were compared. Subjective remarks the performers made about the scores were also analyzed. Findings indicate a significant positive influence of the score type on the study time. These results suggest that players draw on ideomotor principles, which include processes based on learned and "embodied" associations between perceived images of the scores and the motor activity that is directly associated with it.




How to Cite

Huisman, L., Gingras, B., Dhondt, G., & Leman, M. (2017). Musical Complexity and "Embodied Notation": A Study of the Opus Clavicembalisticum (K. S. Sorabji). Empirical Musicology Review, 12(1-2), 59–71.