PERFORMANCES BY CONCERT PIANISTS in the Western classical tradition are normally highly prepared, yet must sound fresh and spontaneous. We propose that musicians achieve the necessary spontaneity by strategic management of the variability inherent in any action. Musical gestures that make up the artist's interpretation (e.g., crescendos, ritardandos) are attenuated or exaggerated to different degrees in each performance, while movements critical for technique are less varied.We examined 7 highly polished performances of J.S. Bach's Italian Concerto (Presto) by a concert pianist. There were small but consistent differences between performances in 4 of 9 identified musical gestures, each of which occurred in several locations. In contrast, at points where the pianist reported attending to technique during performance, slower tempi and lower dynamic variability suggested that she controlled execution of planned movements more closely. Increased control at technical difficulties permitted more spontaneous variation in the musical gestures important to her interpretation.

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