Baermann's Body: Understanding Embodiment in Historically Informed Performance

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details


The Historically Informed Performance of western classical music (HIP) sits at the crossroads of historical research, practical experimentation and professional performance. Expert HIP musicians working in professional ensembles, conservatoires and universities develop rich insights into past musical practices and cultures through daily physical engagement with historical instruments and repertoires. However, the subjective nature of these insights sits uneasily with conventions of musicology, which prefers claims to be grounded in robust textual evidence. As a result, the practical expertise of professional HIP practitioners remains underrepresented in scholarship. This is a stark contrast to fields such as theatre and dance, where practitioners have long been at the heart of academic research, but which are only beginning to grapple with the epistemological challenges of historical practice research, an area where HIP has a long history of critical discourse.

The Baermann’s Body project, led by clarinetist Dr Emily Worthington, will use current theories of embodied knowledge from across the performing arts to expand the emphasis of HIP away from texts such as scores and treatises, to encompass the musician’s body and practice. Embodied knowledge includes both the physical technique of playing an instrument, and sensory and mental processes such as aural perception, musical imagination and style. This knowledge structures everything that a musician does, develops alongside their artistic practice, and is shaped by their cultural context. The embodied knowledge of past musicians is explicitly described in written sources such as treatises, and tacitly encoded in compositions, editions and instrument designs. HIP has always been a form of research into the embodiment of past musicians, and into and through the embodiment of current practitioners. Theorising it as such will help us achieve a more nuanced understanding of how today’s HIP musicians cultivate embodied knowledge by doing and feeling, and how this relates to the practice of their historical counterparts.

C19th wind playing remains particularly poorly understood, because historical texts alone are unable to convey the invisible work that goes on inside wind players’ bodies. Baermann’s Body will use a case study of the 19th century clarinetist Carl Baermann to show how traces of Baermann’s embodied practice encoded in pedagogical materials, editions, compositions instrument designs can guide embodied research into his practice. Baerman’s Body will use musical collaboration, audio-visual documentation and reflective methods to build multi-media online resource tracking the progress of the research, showing the process whereby embodied experimentation yields new insights into historical sources, and historical artefacts help build new embodied knowledge.

The project will advance understanding of 19th century wind playing, making an important contribution to our wider understanding of 19th century music performance and culture, and provide a model for historical practice research in other disciplines. A strategic use of existing social media platforms will be used to engage existing worldwide communities of independent researchers, practitioners, educators, and students with the ongoing embodied HIP research. Peer-reviewed publications will situate this work in a broader theoretical context, addressing crucial questions about the subjectivity and transmissibility of embodied research that are current in music, history, and theatre, dance, and beyond. A series of workshops and events will be used engage with professional practitioners and researchers from a wide range of fields. A training programme and an online toolkit will allow practitioners in HIP and the wider performing arts to adapt the methodology to their own work. By placing embodiment at the core of HIP research and modelling the communication of embodied insights, Baermann’s Body will lay the foundations for mutually beneficial, non-hierarchical relationship between scholarship and professional practice in HIP and beyond.
Short titleBaermann's Body
Effective start/end date16/01/2315/07/25


  • AHRC: £201,077.60