Although hardly mentioned in English-language music scholarship today, the French musician Marie (Trautmann) Jaëll (1846–1925) was a pioneer of musical embodiment studies. Jaëll’s conception of both performing and listening unites body and mind: she shows musical expression and meaning to be inextricably connected to thought, inner hearing, movement, tension, and touch. Her theory—which is supported by recent research in music theory, pedagogy, and psychology—is the most comprehensive early model of musical embodiment.
Jaëll’s theoretical framework rests on a concept of an elastic, dynamic consciousness. How we think and move around the piano—and how we think and move through “musical space”—greatly affects not just the actual sound produced but also the sound we believe we hear. Particular bodily attitudes, and the thinking that underlies them, encourage particular ways of hearing for both performer and listener. Thoughts and movements nurture an inner music more ideal than either the notes on the score or the real sound made by the instrument.
Despite suffering greatly from the gender bias of her time, Jaëll presents a theory that forces us to accord her a pivotal place in the history of embodiment studies. Her theory demonstrates music to be a dynamic act that we understand through our own bodies and senses.