Nathan Fleshner

Analysis as Creative Process: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

Artistic processes such as music performance and composition are clearly viewed as generative processes, each resulting in a newly created artistic work. Analytic and scientific processes are often pitted against artistic creativity, seen less as generative, creative processes and more as observational and experiential processes. Noted physicist, David Bohm notes, “the fact that [the scientist’s] work can also be creative is often overlooked.” (Bohm 2004, 3) Much like many scientific processes, music analysis is more often seen as an act of deconstruction, identifying, labelling and locating salient surface details within a given analytic system and against a corpus of other works. This paper reframes analysis as a generative process that mirrors the creative processes of performance and composition, providing it with greater meaning and use than as a simple labelling activity. It posits a creative approach to music analysis that incorporates a psychological perspective, blending scientific observation with artistic creativity, much like that posited by Bohm, who discusses the “disorder” present in the analytic mind when the difficult balance between observation and creative flexibility is lacking in the analytic process. “No really creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings, either in nature or in society, unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be” (Bohm 2004, 23).

In exploring the creative side to music analysis, this paper applies Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic process to music analysis. It explores Freud’s presentation of the analytic process as a dialogue between analyst and patient (Figure 1) and his idea of Konstruction, equating this to the process of music analysis as well as the eventual performance of that analytic interpretation. Freud’s Konstruction involves the analyst listening to the free associations of the patient, reconstructing the details gathered from those free associations into a coherent narrative, offering that narrative back to the patient for either confirmation or negation, and beginning again with new latent content revealed each time. As a particularly well-known but difficult “patient,” Mozart’s Theme from his Piano Sonata, K. 331 is explored as an example of this process of Konstruction. Analyses of K. 331 by Lerdahl and Jackendoff, Forte and Gilbert, and a succession of various stages of analyses by Heinrich Schenker demonstrate a generative process of building an analysis much like that described by Freud. Strengthening the portrayal of music analysis as a creative act, this paper compares Freud’s analytic process to John Sloboda’s cognitive studies of the composition process, providing an even stronger link between the creative processes of analysis, composition, and performance. (Figure 2)

Figure 1. Freud’s diagram of the analytic work from letter to Wilhelm Fleiss

Figure 2. Diagram of typical compositional resources and process. (Sloboda 1985, 118)



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University of Tennessee, USA

PhD, Eastman School of Music, USA, is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is particularly interested in the portrayal of dreams, mental illness, and trauma in music. His other research interests include the application of psychoanalysis to the study of music, Schenkerian theory, and the use of iPad apps for the study of the processes of music analysis and composition. He has presented work on music analysis, psychoanalysis, and the creative process in both at the Second International Conference on Music and Consciousness at Oxford, UK, the Ninth European Music Analysis Conference in Strasbourg, France, and the Society for Music Theory (USA). He authors a monthly column for The Polyphony, the online presence for Durham University’s Institute for the Medical Humanities (UK). The column explores musicians and their music through the lens of mental health and the broader field of medicine.