Composer-specific aspects of musical performance: an evaluation of Clynes’s theory of pulse for performances of Mozart and Beethoven

William Forde Thompson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


This report examines Clynes’s theory of “pulse” for performances of music by Mozart and Beethoven (e.g., Clynes, 1983, 1987). In three experiments that used a total of seven different compositions, an analysis-bysynthesis approach was used to examine the repetitive patterns of timing and loudness thought to be associated with performances of Mozart and Beethoven. Across performances, judgments by trained musicians provided support for some of the basic claims made by Clynes. However, judgments of individual performances were not always consistent with predictions. In Experiment 1, melodies were judged to be more musical if they were played with the pulse than if they were played with an altered version of the pulse or if they were played without expression. In Experiment 2, listeners were asked to judge whether performances of Mozart were “Mozartian” and whether performances of Beethoven were “Beethovenian.” Ratings were highest if the pulse of the composer was implemented, and significantly lower if the pulse of another composer was implemented (e.g., the Mozart pulse in the Beethoven piece) in all or part of each piece. In Experiment 3, a Beethoven piece was played with each of three pulses: Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert. Listeners judged the version with the Beethoven pulse as most Beethovenian, but the version with the Haydn pulse as most “musical.” Although the overall results were encouraging, it is suggested that there are significant difficulties in evaluating Clynes’s theory and that much more research is needed before his ideas can be assessed adequately. The need for clarification of some theoretical issues surrounding the concept of pulse is emphasized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-42
Number of pages28
JournalMusic Perception
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Composer-specific aspects of musical performance: an evaluation of Clynes’s theory of pulse for performances of Mozart and Beethoven'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this