HomeThe many faces of the orchestral conductor

HomeThe many faces of the orchestral conductor

The many faces of the orchestral conductor

Figures du chef d'orchestre

Transposition. Musique et sciences sociales n° 5

N°5 de la revue Transposition. Musique et sciences sociales

*  *  *

Published on Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Depuis son invention au début du XIXe siècle, le chef d’orchestre a fait l’objet d’un grand nombre de discours et d’images. À travers un corpus hétérogène, constitué de traités, d’anecdotes, de films documentaires comme fictionnels, de photographies, de sculptures ou de caricatures, etc., apparaît une figure complexe et controversée, lieu de condensation de projections imaginaires, d’enjeux théoriques et idéologiques. La fascination exercée par cette figure semble d’ailleurs toucher aussi bien les milieux dits « cultivés » que l’imaginaire populaire (à travers les représentations données par Louis de Funès ou Walt Disney). Sa gestique, son charisme personnel et les interrogations sur son influence réelle ont suscité de nombreux commentaires et nourri diverses mythologies. Considérer les gestes du chef d’orchestre invite dans le même temps à les inscrire dans une généalogie qui dépasse les frontières du domaine musical : il s’agit ainsi de comprendre sa gestique au sein d’une histoire embrassant les gestes de commandement ou de suggestion, mais aussi les gestes symboliques de la création et des rituels magiques. 


Call for papers - Transposition. Musique et sciences sociales n° 5

Dossier: The many faces of the orchestral conductor 

Coordination: Malika Combes and Johan Popelard


Since the creation of the orchestral conductor as a defined position, in the beginning of the 19th century, this figure has been fodder for a variety of discourses and images. A complex and controversial character emerges from an analysis of a diverse corpus of treatises, anecdotes, documentary and fictional films, photographs, sculptures, caricatures, etc., in which imaginaries and theoretical and ideological projections lie. The fascination provoked by this figure can be found in “cultivated” milieus as well as in the collective psyche (in narratives by Louis de Funès or Walt Disney, for example). His gestures, his charisma, and discussions about the extent of his real influence have fed numerous scholarly discussions and mythologies.

When taking a closer look at conductor gestures, we are called to inscribe them into a genealogy that goes beyond the limits of the music world. We thus aim to understand these gestures within a larger history, including not only leadership and suggestive gestures, but also symbolic gestures of creation and magical rites. The images that conductors have inspired often showcase the physical aspects of conducting in a heroic or burlesque way. The conductor may represent, in one light, a sublime incarnation, a warlord or demiurge, a holy figure of the Art religion, or, in contrast, a useless and ridiculous puppet tending toward the robotic, or a wildly gesticulating madman.

The conductor has also fed reflection on authority and submission, forms of power and its excesses. Experiments involving orchestras without conductors (for instance Persinfams, 1922-1932) seem to be both a criticism of a domination-based model and the manifestation of a desire for a non-hierarchical counter-model. Along the same lines, is the feminization of this profession also changing this model? That said, we also see that identification with the conductor figure is common in political and economic domains, wherein the conductor represents gentle or dynamic power relations and the ideal of a harmonious work environment. These metaphoric uses are part of a larger context of art vocabulary being taken up by the fields of power and management.

In order to fully understand the complexity of the figure of the conductor, we must undertake an archeology of these discourses, gestures, fictions, and images, and trace and updatethe genealogies and networks of metaphors between the musical and extra-musical domains. It is also important to examine the Western specificity of this figure, in order to see what equivalents may exist in other musical cultures. We thus welcome papers that would shed new light on the figure of the conductor and that apply interdisciplinary approaches, including, but not limited to, the history of music interpretation, the history of musical materials, gesture studies, art history, philosophy, sociology, and political science.

Submission guidelines

Proposals for papers (in French or English), to include a presentation of the research methodology and key findings, should be sent

before October 30th 2013

to the following address: transposition.submission@gmail.com

The deadline for accepted papers is January 30th 2014

Submission guidelines: http://transposition-revue.org/article/protocole-de-redaction?lang=en

Scientific committee

 Christian Accaoui, Esteban Buch, Rémy Campos, Christelle Cazaux-Kowalski, Marc Chemillier, Jacques Cheyronnaud, Paulo F. de Castro, Alessandro Di Profio, Jérôme Dokic, Nicolas Donin, Alexandre Dratwicki, Katharine Ellis, Florence Gétreau, Cécile Grand, Jean Gribenski, Gérôme Guibert, Philippe Gumplowicz, Isabelle His, Martin Kaltenecker, Barbara Kelly, Denis Laborde, Philippe Le Guern, Catherine Massip, Geneviève Mathon, Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Max Noubel, Emmanuelle Olivier, Jann Pasler, Catherine Rudent, Frédéric Saffar, Laure Schnapper, Patrick Taïeb, Jodie Taylor, Patrice Veit, Philippe Vendrix, William Weber et Michael Werner.


  • Wednesday, October 30, 2013


  • musique, chef d'orchestre, sciences sociales, Transpositions, images, représentations


  • Malika Combes
    courriel : transposition [dot] redaction [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Malika Combes
    courriel : transposition [dot] redaction [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The many faces of the orchestral conductor », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, September 04, 2013, https://doi.org/10.58079/o60

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search