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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 May 2020
In her 1899 pedagogy manual Touch: Piano Instruction on the Basis of Physiology, the composer and pianist Marie Jaëll (1846–1925) describes pianistic touch as a ‘polyphony of sensations’, a synthesis of vibrations that is both physical and psychical. This article examines Jaëll's recourse to nineteenth-century experimental science, specifically experimental psychology, to develop a theory of pianistic touch. Touch, Jaëll contends, necessitates a pianist's attention to haptic and aural impulses in an elusive, ‘simultaneous and successive’ process that collates the pianist's tangible sensation of the keyboard and the ineffable mental impressions conjured by sound. This braided sense of musical touch can be cultivated in performers and transmitted to listeners. Jaëll makes this assertion using a novel kind of visual evidence: fingerprints. Fingerprinting her students before and after the execution of selected piano études and treating the prints as diagnostic documents, Jaëll posits that isolating and attending to minute variations in touch is akin to attuning to the aesthetic content of a musical work. Jaëll crystallized her methodology in a vibrant collaboration with Charles Féré (1852–1907), a criminologist and one-time student of Jean-Martin Charcot. More broadly, Jaëll's treatise is a striking exponent of the era's ‘graphical method’, pioneered by Étienne-Jules Marey, which sought to supplant scientific rhetoric with ‘objective’ truth, depicted as machine-generated wave forms. The ethos that motivated the creation of such representations, propagated by an array of influential scientists including Ernst Heinrich Weber and Hermann von Helmholtz, underscores a tendency to intertwine physiology and psychology in an enterprise that quantified sensation as a fact of mechanistic causes. Jaëll's emphasis on attention – how thought modifies touch and sound – sets her theory apart from experimental psychology's more determinist premises. In Jaëll's experimental apparatus, fingerprints are not objective; rather, they index the variable haptic and sonic sensations experienced by the pianist. As a nascent theory of embodied cognition, Jaëll's pedagogy bespeaks a fluid relationship between mind and body at the dawn of the twentieth century.
A version of this essay was presented at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, held in San Antonio, Texas, in November 2018. My thanks to those who offered invaluable feedback at the conference. For their helpful comments on earlier versions of the article, I thank Benjamin Steege, Roger Grant, Mariusz Kozak, Carmel Raz, Shaena Weitz and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their insight. I also wish to thank Ellie Hisama, Ivan Raykoff and Emmanuel Reibel. Research for the article benefitted from a Georges Lurcy International Travel Grant awarded by Columbia University. Special thanks to the helpful librarians at the National and University Library of Strasbourg and the University Library of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the University of Rouen.
1 Jaëll, Marie, Le Toucher: Enseignement du piano basé sur la physiologie (Paris: Constallat & Co, 1899), a revision of Le Toucher: Nouveaux principes élémentaires pour l'enseignement du piano en 2 volumes (Paris: Heugel et cie, 1894)Google Scholar. All translations are my own unless indicated otherwise.
3 See, for example, Clementi, Muzio, Gradus ad Parnussum, op. 44 (Paris: Erard, 1817, 1819, 1826)Google Scholar; Czerny, Carl, Hundert Übungsstücke, op. 139 (Vienna: Haslinger, 1827), 110 Leichte und fortschreitende Übungen, als Zugabe zu jeder Clavier-Schule, op. 453 (Paris: Troupenas, 1837)Google Scholar, Die Kunst der Fingerfertigkeit, op. 740 (Paris: Schlesinger, 1844), Nouveau Gradus ad Parnassum, op. 822 (Paris: Richault, 1853, 1854); Hanon, Charles-Louis, Le Pianiste virtuose en 60 exercices calculés pour acquérir l'agilité, l'indépendance, la force et la plus parfaite égalité des doigts ainsi que la souplesse des poignets (Paris, 1873)Google Scholar, among others.
4 Kiener, Hélène, Marie Jaëll, 1846–1925: Problèmes d'esthétique et de pédagogie musicale (Paris: Flammarion, 1952): 22Google Scholar.
5 Launay, Florence and Pasler, Jann, ‘Le Maître and the “Strange Woman”, Marie Jaëll: Two Virtuoso-Composers in Resonance’, in Camille Saint-Saëns and His World, ed. Pasler, Jann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012): 87Google Scholar.
6 Guichard, Catherine, Marie Jaëll: The Magic Touch, Piano Music by Mind Training (New York: Algora, 2004): 23Google Scholar.
7 Klipffel, Thérèse, ‘Biographie’, in Marie Jaëll: Un cerveau de philosophe et des doigts d'artiste, ed. Hurpeau, Laurent (Lyon: Symétrie, 2004): 22Google Scholar.
8 Le Ménéstrel, 13 April 1890, 119.
9 ‘Having thus effectively dissociated, by virtue of the particularly dynamic character of the study, the musical feeling of the performer in action, realized by his fingers on the keyboard, one says: “the mysterious beauty of the art consists in the fact that one's life cannot be taught, it must be possessed within oneself”. On the contrary, it can be taught, but for that, it is not sufficient to learn to read music, to learn to develop memory, to learn to play a piano piece very well; one must, before one is able to truly do one of these things well, learn to think the notes’. Jaëll, Marie, La Musique et la psychophysiologie (Paris: Alcan, 1896): 159Google Scholar.
10 ‘It is with obvious passion that Mme Marie Jaëll takes on problems concerning philosophy, psychology, and the methodology of her art. She has read Helmholtz and Wundt, Spencer, Féré, Binet and many others. It is regrettable only that philosophy is a profession like the pianist's art, and that Mme Jaëll, by often obscure reasoning, tangled up in bold metaphors, belies an insufficiently drawn out practice of her second profession. This is to be regretted, as her reflections on the role of the muscular sense and the tactile sense, on the method of the performing pianist and on the impressions of the listening public, indicate much erudition and experience’. ‘Review of La Musique et la psychophysiologie, by Marie Jaëll’, Revue de métaphysique et de morale 4, no. 2 (1896).
11 Kiener, Marie Jaëll, 1846–1925, 71.
12 Kiener, Marie Jaëll, 1846–1925, 71.
13 ‘At the same time I was a pupil of Franz Liszt's talented pupil and friend Marie Jaëll-Trautmann, an Alsatian by birth. She had already retired from a life of public piano recitals, at which, for a short time, she shone as a star of the first magnitude. She now dedicated herself to the study of the physiological aspects of piano playing. I was the guinea pig on which she tried her experiments, which were made in cooperation with the physiologist Féré, so I participated in them. How much I owe to this gifted woman!’ Schweitzer, Albert, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography, trans. Lemke, A.B. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990): 17Google Scholar.
14 See Benoit-Heu, Marie-Charlette, Apprends à toucher le piano: La méthode Jaëll pour jeunes débutants (Paris: G. Billaudot, 1986)Google Scholar and Benoit, Marie-Charlette, et al. ., L’Éducation artistique de la main, selon l'enseignement de Marie Jaëll, pianiste et pédagogue (Lyon: Symétrie, 2010)Google Scholar.
15 Jackson, Myles W., ‘Physics, Machines and Musical Pedagogy in Nineteenth-Century Germany’, History of Science 42/4 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and ‘Measuring Musical Virtuosity: Physicists, Physiologists, and the Pianist's Touch in the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of the American Liszt Society 61–62 (2010): 13–40; Launay and Pasler, ‘Le Maître and the “Strange Woman”’; Kursell, Julia, ‘Visualizing Piano Playing, 1890–1930’, Grey Room 43 (2011): 66–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Davies, James Q., Romantic Anatomies of Performance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Moseley, Roger, Keys to Play: Music as a Ludic Medium from Apollo to Nintendo (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016)Google Scholar for recent exceptions within the American academy. Jaëll research in France and Germany has been considerably more robust. See, for instance, Hurpeau, Laurent, ed., Marie Jaëll: Un cerveau de philosophe et des doigts d'artiste (Lyon: Symétrie, 2004)Google Scholar; Ingelaere, Marie-Laure, ‘Faire connaître Liszt en son temps: Alfred et Marie Jaëll, “passeurs” oubliés’, Revue d'Alsace 138 (2012): 113–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Irsen, Cora, Marie Jaëll: die charmante Unbekannte (Wiesbaden: Weimarer Verlagsgesellschaft, 2016)Google Scholar.
16 Kursell, ‘Visualizing Piano Playing’, 82.
17 Moseley, Keys to Play, 99.
18 Experimental psychology in the nineteenth century incorporated interrelated strands of knowledge production by no means exclusively defined according to mechanistic logic. Psychophysics and psychophysiology – articulated in the theoretical writings of E.H. Weber, Gustav Theodor Fechner, Hermann von Helmholtz and Wilhelm Wundt – identified the phenomenon of a subject's consciousness as integral to studies in sensation. See Hui, Alexandra, The Psychophysical Ear: Musical Experiments, Experimental Sounds, 1840–1910 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), especially 1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
20 See the introduction to Schmidgen, Henning, The Helmholtz Curves: Tracing Lost Time (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014)Google Scholar. On the kymograph especially, see Hoff, H.E. and Geddes, L.A., ‘Graphic Registration Before Ludwig: The Antecedents of the Kymograph’, Isis 50/1 (1959): 5–21CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. Jonathan Sterne has eloquently demonstrated how these proliferating technologies in many ways culminated in sound inscription and recording devices. See The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), especially 31–51.
21 Brain, Robert Michael, The Pulse of Modernism: Physiological Aesthetics in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015): 16Google Scholar.
22 Marey, Étienne-Jules, La Méthode graphique dans les sciences expérimentales et principalement en physiologie et en médecine (Paris: G. Masson, 1878)Google Scholar. Also Braun, Marta, Picturing Time: The Work of Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992)Google Scholar.
23 Sadoff, Dianne F., Sciences of the Flesh: Representing Body and Subject in Psychoanalysis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998): 96Google Scholar.
24 Rabinbach, Anson, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity (New York: Basic Books, 1990): 92–3Google Scholar.
28 Steege continues, ‘attention was both the necessary condition of any perception at all and the ultimate limit on perceptual accuracy’. Helmholtz and the Modern Listener, 89.
29 Crary, Jonathan, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992): 29Google Scholar.
31 See Clarac, François, Massion, Jean and Smith, Allan M., ‘Duchenne, Charcot and Babinski, Three Neurologists of La Salpêtrière Hospital, and Their Contribution to Concepts of the Central Organization of Motor Synergy’, Journal of Physiology–Paris 103/6 (2009): 361–76CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. Also, most famously, Binet, Alfred and Féré, Charles, Le Magnétisme animal (Paris: Alcan, 1887)Google Scholar.
32 Féré, Charles, Dégénérescence et criminalité: Essai physiologique (Paris: Alcan, 1888)Google Scholar.
33 See Féré, Charles, ‘Les Empreintes des doigts et des orteils’, Journal de l'anatomie et de la physiologie normales et pathologiques de l'homme et des animaux 29 (1893)Google Scholar; ‘Note sur la sensibilité de la pulpe des doigts’, Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances et mémoires de la société de biologie 47 (1895): 657–60; ‘Des empreintes digitales dans l’étude des fonctions de la main’, Comptes rendus des séances et mémoires de la Société de biologie 80 (1896): 1114–17; ‘La Main, la préhension et le toucher’, Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 41 (1896): 621–36; ‘L'influence de l’éducation de la motilité volontaire sur la sensibilité’, Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 44 (1897): 591–604.
34 Mucchielli, Laurent, Histoire de la criminologie française (Paris: Editions L'Harmattan, 1994)Google Scholar.
36 Cole, Suspect Identities, 77. In ‘Les Empreintes des doigts et des orteils’ from 1893, Féré critiques Galton's studies of fingerprints, which fortified the connection between print and identity, but fell short of linking their configuration with particular mental faculties. In Féré's own experience as a disciple of Charcot, fingerprints revealed a wealth of information about a medical subject. Galton, among others, turned to fingerprints as a means of identifying subjects in British colonies, specifically India. Féré's critique of Galton is thus couched in a biologically determinist outlook for psychosis adjacent to the imperialist impulse of Galton's project. See Sengoopta, Chandak, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting Was Born in Colonial India (New York: Macmillan, 2003)Google Scholar.
37 Féré, Charles, Sensation et mouvement: Études expérimentales de psycho-mécanique (Paris: Alcan, 1887): 6–7Google Scholar.
38 Féré, Sensation et mouvement, 15.
39 Féré, Sensation et mouvement, 101. Friedrich Kittler suggests that unconscious writing is an index of the changing definition of the apparatus and methodology of psychophysiological inquiry at the turn of the twentieth century. See Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Translated by Michael Meteer with Chris Cullens (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990): 226–28.
40 Féré, Sensation et mouvement, 103.
41 See Féré, ‘La main, la préhension et le toucher’, and ‘Des empreintes digitales dans l’étude des fonctions de la main’.
42 Angelo Mosso's ergograph, which also appeared in French laboratories in the 1890s, was a contending technology that measured manual exertion. In Nicolas, Serge and Vobořil, Dalibor, ‘Ergographs and Dynamographs: New Devices at the Turn of the Century for the Measurement of Muscular Fatigue and Endurance’, L'Année psychologique 117/3 (2017): 323–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Féré cites Mosso's research in Sensation and Movement; Féré and Jaëll used ergographs in one of their published collaborations, Charles Féré and Marie Jaëll, ‘L'Action physiologique des rythmes et des intervalles musicaux’, Revue Scientifique 25 (1902). More broadly, data including fingerprints and measurements of reaction times in various human subjects at Bicêtre (several of which are labelled with psychophysiological and sociological ‘diagnoses’ such as insanity, melancholy, hysteria and epilepsy) are included in an expansive volume of Féré's research compiled after the physician's death housed at the University Library of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the University of Rouen. While Féré does not describe his methodology per se, these data illustrate the breadth of Féré's inquiry. I am grateful to Denis Bekaert and Béatrice Dauverne for making this volume accessible to me.
43 Féré, ‘La main, la préhension et le toucher’, 623.
44 Féré, ‘Des empreintes digitales dans l’étude des fonctions de la main’, 1116.
45 ‘If the education and training of a motor activity are capable of developing motor activity in general, if, on the other hand, the development of motor activity necessarily results in sensitivity, it is feasible that the most differentiated sensory organs, the sensitivity of which is also capable of being improved by exercise, can also benefit from the improvement of activity in their motor organs. The education of the movements of the limbs can serve to improve the memory of the associations precisely because it multiplies the reference points by improving sensitivity and discrimination’. Féré, ‘L'influence de l’éducation de la motilité volontaire sur la sensibilité’, 604.
46 Couperin, L'Art de toucher le clavecin, 5.
47 Bernarr Rainbow, ‘Johann Bernhard Logier and the Chiroplast Controversy’, The Musical Times 131, no. 1766 (1990): 196. For a summary of critiques of mechanical piano pedagogy, see Laor, Lia, ‘“In Music Nothing Is Worse Than Playing Wrong Notes”: Nineteenth-Century Mechanistic Paradigm of Piano Pedagogy’, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education 38/1 (2016): 5–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
48 A more comprehensive list is given by Davies in Romantic Anatomies of Performance, n. 14, 230.
49 Jaëll quotes liberally from sources across an array of disciplines, from Marey and Alexander Bain to Spencer and Darwin. A complete list of works in Jaëll's library, compiled after her death, is held by the National and University Library of Strasbourg. See ‘Liste des livres qui se trouvaient à l'Avenue de la Muette en 1925 à la mort de Marie Jaëll’, MRS.JAELL 13: Marie Jaëll (1846–1925) Papers, MRS.JAELL, Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg (BNU Strasbourg).
50 Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 4.
51 Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 3.
52 Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 74–8.
53 Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 97.
54 Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 98.
55 Jaëll continues: ‘As in the formation of every living thing the organ pre-exists its function, the aesthetic principles must also pre-exist in the functional organism before the consciousness of the performer can be affected by them. This is the reason that after having created the expressiveness of playing that one can bring about the feeling of the music in each performer that recognizes this expressivity’. Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 98.
56 My thanks to Daniel Bornemann for signalling several illustrative documents in Jaëll's archive.
57 Jaëll sketches her methodology in a preliminary study of musical touch published in 1897. See Jaëll, Marie, Le Mécanisme du toucher (Paris: Armand Colin et cie, 1897)Google Scholar, especially 8–10.
58 Marie Jaëll, Untitled Working Notebooks, 1896–97, MRS.JAELL 357,1: Marie Jaëll (1846–1925) Papers, MRS.JAELL, BNU Strasbourg.
59 Jaëll, Le Mécanisme, 2, 6.
60 Marie Jaëll, Untitled Working Notebooks, 1896–97, MRS.JAELL 357,1: Marie Jaëll (1846–1925) Papers, MRS.JAELL, BNU Strasbourg.
61 See also Jaëll, Le Mécanisme, 12, 54.
62 My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this critical factor overlooked in Jaëll's experimental apparatus.
63 Caland collaborated with German pianist Deppe, Ludwig, transmitting his piano method as Die Deppe'sche Lehre des Klavierspiels (Stuttgart: Ebner, 1897)Google Scholar. Amy Fay, another of Deppe's students, was Jaëll's contemporary and fellow mentee of Franz Liszt. Fay, 's Music-Study in Germany (Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1886)Google Scholar charts a connection between the pianism of Jaëll's Europe with developments being made in the United States and the anglophone world. See McCarthy, S. Margaret W., ‘Amy Fay: The American Years’, American Music 3/1 (1985): 52–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
64 The collection of fingerprint studies from 1898 includes many loose leaves of piano paper, many with fingerprints affixed to them, only some of which are attributed to specific pupils. It is worth noting that when names are indicated, Jaëll does not include age or professional affiliation.
65 Féré, Sensation et mouvement, 88.
66 Féré, Sensation et mouvement, 21.
67 Féré, Sensation et mouvement, 25.
68 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 1. A description of Aristotle's tactile illusion appears in Féré, ‘La main, la préhension et le toucher’, 629. Aristotle's famous illusion is a point of departure for psychology and, notably, phenomenology. Merleau-Ponty describes the sensation of feeling two spheres where there is only one as a ‘disturbance of the body image’. In Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Smith, Colin (London: Routledge, 2002): 238CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Taylor Carman summarizes Merleau-Ponty's point in invoking Aristotle thus: ‘Your perception of objects is structured by your body and by what it senses that it can and cannot do’. In ‘The Body in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty’, Philosophical Topics 27, no. 2 (1999): 219.
69 ‘So the pianist must learn to associate his tactile and auditory sensations as one who moves an object between his fingers must seek to link his tactile and visual sensations. In this association, one also assuredly locates the aesthetic form of an interpreted work as he moves it between his fingers’. Jaëll, Le Toucher, 2.
70 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 1.
71 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 4.
72 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 5.
73 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 5.
74 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 6.
75 ‘The principle of the harmonization of touch lies in localizing the fingers; the slightest deviations in the position of the fingers distorts the executed movements’. Jaëll, Le Toucher, 8.
76 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 8.
77 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 18.
78 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 7.
79 Féré, ‘Note sur la sensibilité de la pulpe des doigts’, 660.
80 It is worth noting that Féré, too, found inspiration in Jaëll: in 1897, the physician revised his article from the previous year, ‘Des empreintes digitales dans l’étude des fonctions de la main’, to admit the possibility that psychomechanics might shed new and scientific light on aspects of ‘professional or artistic training’, citing the ongoing research of his associate Marie Jaëll. Féré, ‘L'influence de l’éducation de la motilité volontaire sur la sensibilité’, 592.
81 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 1.
82 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 1.
83 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 1.
84 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 7.
85 The term ‘map of mediations’, posited by Tresch, John and Dolan, Emily I. in ‘Toward a New Organology: Instruments of Music and Science’, Osiris 28/1 (2013): 291–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar, is a fitting description of how Jaëll configures the hand as but one instrument in the intertwined technological fields of scientific and musical exploration.
86 Jaëll, Le Toucher, 18.
87 Although framed as scientific discourse, Jaëll's pedagogy does interpolate aspects of traditional nineteenth-century piano pedagogy. Across the 1899 revision of Touch, Jaëll refers to finger ‘suppleness’ and ‘elasticity’, which prolong contact between piano key and the most sensitive areas of the fingertip, as ensuing characteristics of increased attention. In addition to focusing the pianist's attention, Jaëll's choice of exercises, most of which are excerpted from virtuoso piano music featuring complicated passagework for the right hand, ostensibly exercises the hands and arms.
88 Jaëll, La musique et la psychophysiologie, 161.
89 Jaëll's theory of touch, which charts a concordance of vibrations among variable visual, sonic and haptic impulses, in many ways foreshadows James J. Gibson's ecological theory of sense perception, specifically Gibson's notion of ‘resonance’ between environment and mind. Gibson writes, ‘the available stimulation surrounding an organism has structure, both simultaneous and successive, and that this structure depends on sources in the outer environment. If the invariants of this structure can be registered by a perceptual system, the constants of neural input will correspond to the constants of stimulus energy, although the one will not copy the other. … Instead of postulating that the brain constructs information from the input of a sensory nerve, we can suppose that the centres of the nervous system, including the brain, resonate to information’. Gibson, , The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), 267Google Scholar. Similarly, culling from Gibson's ecological psychology and phenomenology, De Souza, Jonathan summarizes musical performance as an integration of ‘hand and tool, body and world’, in Music at Hand: Instruments, Bodies, and Cognition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017): 19CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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