Conductors' art could, roughly, be summed up to -- and measured by -- their aptitude of making a score sound, or more precisely, their aptitude of making people render their individual staff sonorous first, then harmonious rhythmically and balance-wise, and thirdly "genuine", "authentic", "true" or whatever word we wish to use to qualify the style and degree of achievement of this orchestral sound. This journey from score to sound is far from simple ("the only clear thing about it is that it is a mystery" says Vladimir Ashkenazy), and the persona of the conductor could be viewed as a metaphor for anything or anybody standing between the source (score) and its related emission (sound).
This leads us to the very heart of our issue, that is, the linguistic and semiotic chains that tie, in Saussurian terms, a signifier to a signified, this signified becoming in turn a new signifier for yet a new signified, and so on ad infinitum. Peirce would rather speak of a sign representing an object, this object becoming a new sign for a new object, provided that a new interpretant would allow this transformation to happen. Indeed, a note on the score stands for an abstract sound, this abstract sound stands for a specific vocal or instrumental gesture producing it (these both stages belong to the
phonetic mechanism, if we are to describe this phenomenon in linguistic terms), and this very gesture may stand for a sentiment, a depiction, or a bodily feeling that the gesture could convey (here we shore musical semantics). Additionally, a sound may
trigger in the listener's imagination another sound (e.g. a piano aiming to sound like a
harp, or strings "con legno" aiming to sound like percussions), where, clearly, one
sound would stand for another. This perceptive chain reminds us, in Nattiez's terms,
of the "poietic" sound, as emitted, versus the "esthesic" sound, as perceived.
Within this mind frame, I aim to analyze the readings that Bernstein and Boulez propose of Mahler's Second Symphony. With video based documents, I shall review 20 excerpts of this symphony in which both conductors appear in the same musical fragments. I shall parallel the textual and the gestural excerpts through six "modalities" (Pouvoir/Savoir/Vouloir/Devoir/Avoir/Etre) and their interconnections, as established by the Finnish semiotician Eero Tarasti. In so doing, I hope to pinpoint, in this particular piece, some of the relationships at play between the musical and the gestural meaning.