January 30, 2019

How can we express music through visual gesture?

Joel O’Donoghue


As a cellist, I value music’s capacity to communicate beyond traditional modes of performance. This is why I wanted to work with a choreographer to set the Ligeti Solo ’Cello Sonata. I had difficulty communicating my ideas about the music to my collaborators, and so I sought to clarify these ideas. Because visual gesture is common to music, art, and dance, it is a natural starting point for collaboration between musician and choreographer. What I developed to foster collaboration was a watercolour graphic score: 5 pages in space for the first Dialogo movement, and 16 pages in line for the second Capriccio movement. The project Ligetilines culminated in a performance choreographed for two dancers with ’cello. Moving forward with my current project, Indelible Gestures, based on the music of J.S. Bach’s 6th Solo ’Cello Suite, I wish to embed visual gesture even more within the process, and to make it an integral part of the final performance in the form of an on-stage installation. I hope that this visualisation of music may offer new ways of communicating within the choreographic process, as well as provide a new means of communicating classical music to a broader audience.


Ligeti Solo Cello Sonata Graphic Score
Dialogo: Watercolour; 5 18×24” sheets
Cappriccio: Watercolour; 16 18in.x24in. sheets

Choreographic Process Interview with dancers: youtu.be/qt6SQlL3-1E Above is the Ligetilines graphic score synced with one of my favourite recordings of the Ligeti Solo Cello Sonata, by Hungarian cellist Miklós Perényi.

The Dialogo is arranged by the appearances of the main subject and its response, which constitute the melodic material for the movement. The first and second pages are spatially oriented, while the last three pages feature horizontal lines read left to right and down the page.

The Capriccio is read from left to right across sixteen pages, first along the horizontal top line until halfway through the piece, after which the notation continues along the bottom line. This layout of the score foremost emphasises the division of the Capriccio into two larger sections.