Anticipation in Music Performance: Listening to the Inner Song Ahead of Its Realization in Performance

NUIG – IPS -BSP 2021 Conference

« The Future as Present Concern » (1 –  3 September 2021)



As a painter tries to translate his/her vision into a painting and as a writer tries to verbalize the story s/he imagines, so the musician tries to perform what s/he hears “in his/her mind”: the inner song.[1] In music performance: interpretation means playing the inner song as a specific understanding of a piece of music, improvisation means performing the inner song in the moment of hearing it, and composition means writing down the inner song as it is imagined.

Philosophically, the inner song is:[2] (1) a phenomenon—it is given in the phenomenological consciousness—(2) of phantasy—it is neither a phenomenon of perception nor an intuitive positing of past or future as true—(3) teleologically oriented toward the performance which realizes it [3]—it is given as a part of the act of performing—(4) constituted through an intention—chance plays very little role in its constitution—and (5) sonorous but not necessarily linguistic—it is composed of sounds but language might or might not be involved.

The inner song is constituted through a temporal process in which it gets modified, going from a primary phantasy arising in consciousness (possibly involving perception[4]) to a succession of modifications thanks to the perception of its realization [Realisierung] in performance, resulting eventually in a more elaborated and stable representation. Throughout this constitutive process, the anticipation of what is to be performed and therefore the notion of expectation related to the temporal value of the future plays an important role. Indeed, whether I begin playing first and then phantasize an inner song from that performance, or first phantasize an inner song which I end up performing, the performance process is accompanied both by the realization of the phantasy-expectation through the performance and conversely by the modification of the inner song thanks to the reproduction in phantasy of this perception of that realization. In other words, however the inner song arises in consciousness, it is then constituted through the modification of a phantasy-expectation by the breaking in of phantasy-rememberings.

In the present paper, I will describe how the capacity to phantasize a future possible perception of the performance is the driving force of the constitution of the inner song and therefore of the performance.


I am in Heidelberg,[5] sitting in the atelier of my friend, the painter, playing the cello. I do not have any score in front of me. With my eyes closed,[6] I listen both to the inner song and to what I am performing with my cello.[7] I practice Edvard Baghdasaryan’s Nocturne for Cello. I heard this Nocturne for the first time performed by Narek Hakhnazaryan[8] with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra during a Concert on the 2nd of December in 2019. As I loved it, I looked it up on YouTube after the concert,[9] and then learned it by ear. Over a year later, I can still play this entire piece of music by memory.

I start the session by refreshing my memory: I take my phone, open the Internet, and play the piece from Narek Hakhnazaryan’s YouTube Channel. I do not play along with my cello, I just listen. I try to feel it. I try to feel its movement, its dynamics, to hear the notes, to remember how I would perform it. Then I take my cello in my left hand, turn off the music, pose the phone behind my back on the chair, and take the bow in my right hand. I relax my body, pose the bow on the strings, grasp the inner pulse, focus on my inner song, breathe it in, and start playing my cello.

My body marks the inner pulse, moving along with the melody. I love how this melody starts: it is a like a long peaceful breath, calm like a summer night. I play it with my finger pressing closely to the string. The sound needs to be profound but not heavy. I let my whole right arm weigh on the bow. It should be touched delicately and yet give a feeling of presence. The notes alternate between long pulling bowing movements and short detached pushing movements. The melody of the Nocturne grows in my phantasy as I perform it; it resonates through my cello as I phantasize it.

Suddenly, I stop my movement, reopening my eyes: the sound is not the one I want to hear. I listen to my inner song. Now I mark the tempo slapping the finger of my left hand while I sing it out loud to hear it better: “Yataditadiiiiii-ya-tatotatiiiiiiiii’-ti-yataditadiiiiiiiiii-yo-to-tootitataaaaaaaaaa-té…” The notes need to be more linked to one another. The separation between them should be almost unperceivable. I take my bow and try again. No: when the first motif comes back, it needs to be different, more intense, more joyful… I continue.

Now, I stop the movement again. I blank. I do not remember the notes. I have to play the YouTube interpretation of that passage again and over again to get it. I search the notes on my instrument by going back and forth between playing the recording and performing. I look for the best fingerings to perform that specific passage by trying them each on my instrument. After five minutes, I have it in my fingers. I can proceed further.


            In his work on the Phenomenology of Consciousness of Internal Time,[10] Husserl refines and develops his concept of the phantasy, understanding it as a reproductive modification [reproduktive Modifikation].[11] He describes how the phantasy modifies the perception, reproducing it with its full temporal extension (impression, retentions, protentions), and enlivening it for the subject again [wieder].[12] Although this seems to be the same as what is happening in remembering, Husserl distinguishes the reproduction in phantasy from the reproduction in remembering[13] showing how, as opposed to remembering, phantasy does not reproduce a perception apprehended through impression and therefore localizable in the objective time.[14] Instead, it reproduces a possible perception which does not belong to an impression, and therefore might or might not exist.[15] In this reproduction in phantasy, the object, relieved from the existential, impacts consciousness primarily for its aesthetical effect.[16] Freed from perception, the phantasy is in this sense not solely re-productive but also productive.

The inner song is a phantasy object, and in this sense, it reproduces a possible perception. It is the equivalent of the vision for the painter: as the vision of the painter is the phantasy of how the painting should look, so the inner song is the phantasy of how the music performance should sound. Thus, it represents, in phantasy, the possible future perception of the performance. The inner song cannot be described solely as the reproduction of a possible perception in the future though. Indeed, as the phantasy object is part of a performance process, this possibility of a perception gets actualized in the performance and, as the inner song is realized, the musician perceives its actual performance in addition to the phantasy of the possible performance. At this point, two phenomena are given in consciousness: the inner song given in phantasy on the one hand, and the actual song given through the perception of the inner song on the other hand. This perception of the performance, presented in consciousness and retained, gets modified and reproduced in phantasy. As the phantasy reproduces this past perception, it cancels out the existence-value of the phenomenological object. Thus, the phantasy does not re-present the past perception itself—as would be the case in remembering—but it represents a modified past-perception. The object given by the phantasy is now apprehended regardless of its existence-value and has now the status of a past possibility.

This phantasy-remembering which is a modified reproduced past perception is then integrated into the inner song and modifies it. Thus, as soon as there is a musical performance, the constitution of the inner song involves two forms of phantasy: the phantasy reproducing the perception to come on the one hand, and the phantasy reproducing the perception that had been on the other hand. As is the case in phantasy, the phantasy-expectation and the phantasy-remembering are both a reproductive modification of a perception, the perception of the performance. Thanks to that reproduction, the perceptual which is given in consciousness through presentation [Gegenwärtigung] can be given again in consciousness through re-presentation [Vergegenwärtigung]. Thanks to that reproduction, the perception passes into the phantasy, and the process of constitution of the inner song continues. In this particular case, phantasy and perception are two poles of one single structure of reference. Indeed, the perceived performance refers to the phantasized inner song, and the inner song refers to the performance: the phantasy object necessarily refers to a perception of which it is a modification, while the perception of the realization of the inner song in performance always implies the possibility of a modification in fiction.[17]


In the phenomenological consciousness, the two poles of this structure of reference are given separately.[18] Indeed, even if the constitution of the phantasy object involves the perceptual object, the phenomenological consciousness apprehends the actual perceptual song as radically distinct from the phantasized inner song. First, the actual performance is perceived, constituted of sensations in consciousness—tone-sensations, feelings-sensations, etc.—whereas the inner song is phantasized, i.e. constituted through phantasms—tone-data, visual-data, feelings etc.[19] Then, perception presents the object through impression, there is a now of the perception, while there is no impression in phantasy.[20] Consciousness also presents [gegenwärtigen] the real object of the performance as a transcendental object, while it re-presents [vergegenwärtigen] the inner song in phantasy, suspending the belief in its transcendental existence.[21] Finally, even if it is one single subject, one single musician who both perceives and phantasizes, it is the Real-Ich which apprehends the object of perception as part of the real world, while it is a Phantasie-Ich[22] which apprehends the object of phantasy as part of one of the multiple phantasy worlds.[23] During the performance process, consciousness has to perform a switch of attention,[24] going back and forth between the perceptual-object and the phantasy-object, in order to apprehend both of them. When one is the object of attention, the other is relegated to the background—there is no continuity of apprehension between the two.

As I mentioned earlier, the phenomenological consciousness of the practicing musician apprehends two phenomena: the perceived actual song on the one hand, and the inner song reproducing a possible perception of the performance on the other hand. When the phantasy re-presents this possible perception, there is a split of consciousness.[25] Consciousness is split between the reproductive consciousness—the reproduction of the possible perception of the performance—and the reproduced consciousness—the possible perception of that performance. It both apprehends an object which is not present [Darstellt], and the possible perception of it. In this structure, the inner song as an object of phantasy is given, whereas the possible perception of its performance is only co-given. As Husserl explains in Text no.6 of Phantasy, Image-Consciousness, and Memory,[26] this split consciousness goes along with a split ego. The ego is split into an actual ego—re-presenting in phantasy—and a phantasy-ego—perceiving the past or future performance in phantasy. As the musician is not only phantasizing but also perceiving the actual performance, his/her consciousness is therefore split into a Real-Ich perceiving the actual performance, and the split Phantasie-Ich both phantasizing the possible performance and perceiving it in phantasy. In this situation, the phantasy conflicts with the perception, both the actual perception of the performance, and the perception of it in phantasy. In other words, the quasi-perception of the phantasy is incorporated into the phantasized inner song, while being in conflict with it.


Along with this ontological conflict between the perceived and the phantasized, it is the expression of an aesthetical conflict between the actual performance and the performance perceived in phantasy—more particularly the one of the phantasy-expectation—that matters when one performs music. Indeed, when I perform or practice music, I can only improve musically if I am able to hear my actual performance through the lens of what it could be: the perceived needs to be aesthetically in conflict with the expectation in phantasy. In other words, I correct my performance, and therefore make progress, when I am capable of measuring the perception of what I am currently playing—what is being presented in my consciousness in perception—against the perception of the possible performance—what is being re-presented in phantasy. My capacity to notice a discordance between these two types of perception—the actual and the perception in phantasy—and make appropriate changes is what leads me to improve.

Here, the phantasy-expectation is what matters the most. Indeed, the phantasy-expectation is the model [Vorbild] of the perceptual [Abbild]. This model is not rigid. As my performance is modified by what it could be, what it could be in the future is also modified by the performance due to the incorporation of the phantasy-remembering into the inner song. However, this movement of incorporation of the phantasy-remembering into the inner song is also lead by the phantasy-expectation of what the performance could be. As I want to improve my performance, I incorporate the phantasy-remembering into the inner song, so that the phantasy-expectation sounds better. Here, my capacity to constantly improve my vision of the possibility of the performance in imagination and perform it is the driving force of the performance process. As I perform with this vision in the background, I need to be always ahead of myself, already phantasizing what I want to realize. In this sense, my vision is an anticipation.


  After my description of the naïve experience of practicing the cello, I described above how the inner song is constituted in phantasy through the two forms of phantasy: phantasy-remembering and phantasy-expectation. I explained how both are related to perception because they reproduce either a past possible perception, or a future possible perception. I then demonstrated how the consciousness of the musician performing music apprehends two objects: the perceived-object corresponding to the act of listening to the actual performance, and the phantasy-object which is the inner song. I demonstrated how the phantasy-object conflicts with the perceived, both the actual perceived object, and the object perceived in phantasy. Finally, I explained how this ontological conflict corresponds to an aesthetical conflict between what the performance currently is and what the performance could be in the future, which results in an improvement of the performance itself.

In conclusion, I would like to raise two problems which could enrich the discussion: first, is the inner song possibly modified ad infinitum, and therefore the performance possibly improved ad infinitum; and second, what are the aesthetical criteria which shape the judgement on the possible as well as the actual performance?

[1] I took this expression from the book of a French cellist and pedagogue from the Paris Conservatory: GAGNEPAIN, Xavier, Du musicien en général…au violoncelliste en particulier, Paris, Cité de la musique, 2003. I had the chance to discuss my thesis on the inner song with him after my first master’s degree. That became my first interview, and the beginning of a series:

[2] This definition raises the problem of the creation of concepts: what are the boundaries of the concept of inner song, why are they not arbitrary?

This is a problem that Husserl raises in §66 of Ideas 1: “The words used may derive from the common language; they may be ambiguous and their changing senses may be vague. As soon as they ‘coincide’ with the intuitively given in the manner characteristic of an actual expression, they take on a definite sense as their actually present and clear sense, hic et nunc; and starting from there we can fix them scientifically.” HUSSERL, Edmund: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book: General introduction to a pure phenomenology, translated by F. Kersten. The Hage, Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, 1982, pp. 151-2.

The present definition of the inner song corresponds to the current stage of my phenomenological investigation. It is the result of a work at three levels: (1) individual through a self-reflection about my own experience; (2) intersubjective through a consistent dialogue with practicing musicians (interviews are available online here:—indeed, the only defined question that I keep from one interview to the next is the following: “how would you define the inner song”, and from that the discussion goes on—and (3) theoretical, through a close reading of the Husserlian corpus, and more specifically his account of imagination and phantasy.


[3] I am using here a Husserlian term. Husserl speaks about reality distinguishing in German: “das Reales”, and “das Reell.” These terms refer to Husserl’s account of immanence and transcendence in the understanding of reality. Real refers to objects of nature, whereas reel refer to non-intentional objects: “By the real phenomenological content of an act we mean the sum total of its concrete or abstract parts, in other words, the sum total of the partial experiences that really constitute it. To point out and describe such parts is the task of a pure descriptive psychological analysis operating from an empirical, natural-scientific point of view. Such analysis is in all cases concerned to dismember what we inwardly experience as it in itself is, and as it is really (reell) given in experience, without regard either to genetic connections, or to extrinsic meaning and valid application. Purely descriptive psychological analysis of an articulated sound-pattern finds only sounds and abstract parts of unifying forms of sounds, it finds no sound-vibrations or organs of hearing etc.; it also never finds anything that resembles the ideal sense that makes the sound-pattern to be a name, nor the person to whom the name may apply. Our example suffices to make our intention clear. The real (reell) contents of acts are of course only known through descriptive analysis of this kind. That obscurities of intuition or inadequacies of descriptive conception – faults, in short, of method – may lead to much ‘manufacture’ of sensations (to use Volkelt’s phrase) cannot be denied. This, however, only concerns the legitimacy of particular cases of descriptive analysis. It is clear, if anything is clear, that intentional experiences contain distinguishable parts and aspects, and this alone is of importance here.” HUSSERL, Edmund, Logical Investigations, Volume II, Translated by J. N. Findlay from the Second German edition of Logische Untersuchungen, Routledge, London, New York, 1970, V, §16, p. 112


[4] I distinguish the inner song of the interpreter phantasizing from a score, from the inner song of the composer purely phantasizing, from the inner song of the improviser either phantasizing from a perceptual material—I call it interpretative improvisation, or phantasizing purely—I call it compositive improvisation. The distinction between these various beginning comes from the variety of forms of involvement of perception.


[5] In this case, I describe a situation in which the phantasy-expectation is originated in a perception reproduced in phantasy. It is a case of perceptive phantasy as Bernet understands it in BERNET, Rudolf, Conscience et Existence, Paris, PUF (coll. « Epiméthée »), 2004, namely, it is a modification of a perception of which the character of existence had been taken out.


[6] Cf. My conference paper “Grasping the Inner Song through the Method of the Phenomenological Epoché; From the Subjective Experience of the Object to its Eidetic Description” – ICNAP 2021 Conference, Jun the 10th 2021.


[7] Cf. My paper for the Law Chair Foundation workshop: “The Performance Attitude and its Two Phenomena”, July the 10th 2021.


[8] I had the chance to interview the cellist afterward:



[10] I am reading Husserl through the lens of Rudolf Bernet, adjusting his concepts to my own description of the inner song. In particular, I use the two following works: BERNET, Rudolf, La vie du sujet, Recherches sur l’interprétation de Husserl dans la phénoménologie, Paris, P.U.F. (coll. « Épiméthée »), 1994; and Bernet, Rudolf, Conscience et Existence, Paris, PUF (coll. « Epiméthée »), 2004. In my investigation of the inner song as a reproductive phantasy, I am using the Chapter 3-5 of the latter book.


[11] “Perceiving is the consciousness of an object. As consciousness, it is also an impression, something immanently present. To this immanently present something, to the perceiving of an A, corresponds the reproductive modification: re-presentation of the perceiving, perceiving in phantasy or in memory. But such a ‘perception in the phantasy’ is at the same time the phantasy of the perceived object. In perception, an object – let us say a physical thing or physical event – stands before us as present. The perception is not only present itself, therefore; it is also a making-present: in it something present – the physical thing, the event – stands before us. Similarly, a re-presentational modification of perception is also a re-presentation of the perceived object: the object, the physical thing, is phantasied, remembered, expected.” HUSSERL, Edmund:  On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1883-1917) translated by J. B. Brough, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publisher, 1991, §42, p. 94.


[12] Cf. FINETTI, Stéphane, « La transformation de la conception husserlienne de la représentation-de-phantasia à la lumière de la méthode réductive », Phantasia [En ligne], Volume 1 – 2015, URL :


[13] “All impressions, primary contents as well as experiences that are ‘consciousness of…,’ become constituted in original consciousness. For experiences divide into these two fundamental classes of experience: experiences in the one class are acts, are ‘consciousness of…,’ are experiences that ‘refer to something’; experiences in the other class are not. The sensed color does not refer to something; just as little do the content of phantasy – for example, a phantasm red as a red hovering before us (even if unnoticed). But the phantasy-consciousness of red surely does refer to something: all primitive re-representations do. We therefore find impressions that are re-presentations of impressional consciousness: as impressional consciousness is the consciousness of what is immanent, so too impressional re-presentation is the re-presentation of what is immanent”. On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, §42, p. 94.


[14] “The phantasms that present the tones obviously do not remain in consciousness, as if each tone were continued in the re-presentation as a datum persisting in its identity. Otherwise an intuitive representation of time, the representation of a temporal object in the re-presentation, could certainly not come about. The reproduced tone passes. Its phantasm does not remain there as identically the same, incessantly undergoing its apprehension; it is instead modified in an original way and is the ground for the re-presenting consciousness of duration, change, succession, and so on.” On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Inner Time, §19, p. 48.


[15] “Phantasy is not a consciousness that can set forth, as given itself, some objectivity or other, or an essential and possible trait of an objectivity. Not to give the object itself is the very essence of phantasy”, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, §19, p. 47.


[16] In HUSSERL, Edmund, Logical Investigations, Volume Two. Translated by J.N. Findlay. London, GB: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970, V, Husserl already defines the object of imagination as an object whose status of existence is suspended, and which matters primarily for its aesthetical impact on consciousness.


[17] Bernet mentions the hypothesis according to which any perception would be opened to its modification in phantasy, and any phantasy would be based on a perception in Cf. Conscience et Existence, Chapitre III, 1 “Figures de conscience d’un objet inexistant ou absent” p. 83. In the situation that I am describing, this is definitely the case.


[18] Husserl worked abundantly on that separation in the Text no.1 of HUSSERL, Edmund: Phantasy, Image consciousness, and Memory (1898-1925) translated by J. B. Brough. Dordrecht/Boston/London. Springer, 2005, Chapt 4-7, before progressively moderating his understanding, especially through the elaboration of the notion of perceptive phantasy.


[19] I cannot develop that difference here, but Husserl elaborate extensively on that question in the Chapter 9 of the Text no. 1 of Phantasy, Image-Consciousness, and Memory.


[20] Despite the absence of impression, I argue in my dissertation that there is still a now of the phantasy. I call it Ur-Phantäsie. It is the moment of coincidence of a specific moment of the unfolding of the phantasy-object with the beat given by the inner pulse namely, the temporality constituted through the unification of the various rhythms of the body like breath, heartbeat etc.


[21] It does not mean that phantasy negates the position of existence, it merely suspends the judgement concerning the existence of the object and apprehends it primarily for its aesthetical impact—in this sense, it is a neutralized consciousness. The idea according to which the object of imagination influences consciousness primarily aesthetically is already present in the Logical Investigations, V. Cf. Husserl, Edmund, Logical Investigations, Volume II, Translated by J. N. Findlay from the Second German edition of Logische Untersuchungen, Routledge, London, New York, 1970, V, §40 p. 166.


[22] Concerning the distinction between Real-Ich and Phantasie-Ich in Husserl, cf. Conscience et Existence, Partie 1: “Ontologie de l’Objet et Phénoménologie de la Conscience chez Husserl » p. 33 and sq.


[23] Bernet explains how there is one single real world, while there are several possible phantasy-worlds in Conscience et Existence, Chapitre IV, 5: “L’individuation des objets de la phantaisia. Le monde réel et les mondes imaginaires”, p. 137 sq.


[24] I cannot develop a study on the notion of attention here, but I do so in my doctoral thesis.


[25] I develop the following description thanks to the study of FINETTI, Stéphane, « La transformation de la conception husserlienne de la représentation-de-phantasia à la lumière de la méthode réductive », Phantasia [En ligne], Volume 1 – 2015, URL :



[26] Phantasy, Image consciousness, and Memory, p. 297 sq.


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