I'm sure most players are very aware of the ability of music to evoke emotional responses - indeed, for the majority this is really the prime goal of performing. I have always been intrigued by how this achieved and also by what emotions can actually be evoked. This post is solely about the latter (we should certainly have one on the former, 'how', anon.
I just came across a Berkley publication, summarizing an original report from the same institution (published in PNAS in 2020), in which scientists attempted to identify which emotions could be evoked. No doubt this is not exhaustive but it is quite an eye-opener nonetheless. The emotional 'induction' types were:
Feeling pumped up.
I'm going to spend some time in the studio trying to differentiate these and see if I can at least mentally generate each. However, I also thought that this list might serve as a terrific teaching tool to both inform and enliven music students (of whatever type). I do think that it is particularly useful for (fretless) string musicians because of the flexibility of note control that is unique to these instruments.
The review article is at:
[It also contains disclaimers and quite a lot of other interesting info.]
This is a great question and thread, Elise. Sometimes when I go to a concert or recital, I wonder what I'm
The list chimes well with the range of emotions I get when listening to music. Although when I experience annoyance it probably isn't the desired outcome for either the composer or the performer!
Yes, I put up as discussion thread here about music reflecting anger, and got nothing but grief for it. But I certainly would still add outright anger to the list. Ever listen to Beethoven?...or Bartok?
Sanders - if you got outright anger in response I think you won your argument! :D
Steve - do you think you could express exultation so that the listener could differentiate it from joy or triumph? It seems to me that that is a bit subtle and may be contextural (e.g. a tune about a spiritual revelation, not a war or, say, childbirth) rather than expressive (which is what we are referring to here I think).
Ahem! Listen to the emotionality of the Bartok Violin Concerto - in the music, in many of the great performances - Sounds like the expression of anger to me. And if so, what's wrong with that? Anger is an everyday, ordinary emotion, and often an important emotional element of expression in many of the performing arts.
Annoyance at something is part of many musical messages. At an unjust system, or an unfair situation. Conveying either a sense of fight or feeling of hopelessness. Not strictly the realm of Classical of course.
Sander I don't see "anger" on Elise's list but I wonder if that's just because anger is too generic or diffuse. Still, I don't see any other "higher level" entries on the list to capture any of the variants or subcategories or cousins of anger such as frustration, disgust, derision, regret, etc. And I agree with you that some music explores these areas including Bartok and some Beethoven -- not to mention more explicit (even obvious) examples in lieder, ballet, or opera.
@Elise - In attempted compliance with your OP ("that makes a change" you might say), I'm thinking solely about the emotions that can actually be evoked in me (can't speak for anyone else). How a composer or performer goes about doing it is a different question entirely.
I believe that anger is one of the most uncomfortable basic human emotions to feel, to deal with, and to express. The term itself evokes discomfort in most of us. It's easier to talk about "annoyance" and other terms.
I do know what you mean Sander, for example the orchestral outburst about 4 minutes in, but very soon it's back to the serene mood of the opening. Was Bartok subject to violent mood swings?
Thanks for the comment, Steve. No, from what I have read, I don't recall anything about Bartok having violent mood swings. I just think it's imbedded in his musical "voice."
To me, what is so special about pure non-programmatic instrumental music is the fact that there are no words or story at all. Well yes obviously, given the genre... but to use a cliché, somethings a single emotion word cannot really describe passages of music, either because that particular emotion is beyond our human capacity to explain using words, or because a certain event is being conveyed where several emotions might be taking place simultaneously.
James: Yes, I know what you mean. And this passage you're referring to is exceptionally emotional, but slapping a label on it doesn't really "describe" the emotions it generates. And, yes, that's the nature of the art. I just think that there is a mix of emotions in this wonderful art form, but we usually don't include anger as one of them.
Yes, I agree Sander that one can't simply slap a label on such a passage, but not even half a label, or naming one of the many emotions that might be taking place? Perhaps I am not alone then!
James, obviously just immediately listening to that place in the music doesn't work, so I listened from the beginning, then upon entry of that passage, I would describe my emotion as the emotion you feel when somebody takes you by the hand and guides you into a new place where you haven't been yet. That's just my emotion!
James, the entrance prior to that is like a statement full of anger or certainty, like, "here's how it is!", and then after all that energy gets spent with that descending figure it's like, "well, now that I'm settled in here, maybe there's some more nuance, and...actually I'm not sure", so it's like someone suddenly having a little doubt about something they just exclaimed with certainty, and maybe they are ruminating a little on it.
Christian, that was one of the most beautiful things I've read all year..! I also agree with what you say about the audience sensing that sonething is at least being clearly conveyed, I guess that's what I try to base my rehearsal discussion on rather than sharing imagery, talking about how to maximise expression through our physical tools. While I always keep these kinds of elaborate images (whenever I do have them) rather private, it's nice to hear how others see things, especially in a forum like this where we are not trying to explain to one another how this music needs to sound in order to capture the listener's imagination.
Thanks James! Sometimes it can be shocking when I've heard a piece many times and I hear a particular performance where a certain phrase seems to convey a very distinct emotion from what I had in my database, but I'm won over when the emotion can be conveyed clearly and convincingly, even if the conception is different.
Great discussion. Ultimately, I believe, a great work of art will be open to many individual reactions and emotions, both because of the richness of the art form and the fact that we all are, ultimately, individuals with our own unique reactions and inner sensitivities.
The cynic in me wonders how "emotional" the cited passage would have seemed were it not for Pollini's facial expressions, body language, and other visual protestations.
Paul - being a fellow cynic, I definitely believe the performer's physical expressions could play a role in how strongly emotional content can be received. However my question is about which actual emotion is being portrayed rather than quantifying the emotional level of the passage. Or do you think his emoting here has possibly influenced which type of emotion you experienced in this clip?
I wasn't watching the video to come to my conclusion, but for some audience members, that may be a very relevant cue.
Paul, "attack" in the context of violin playing is simply the beginning of a note from the string with audible rosin noise. You put some pressure on the bow, then start the note with an accent. No real violence involved nor intended. It is a "great soloist in a great hall" type of gesture and is being overused by some people.
Who said anything about the goal being to "make the audience angry?" All I have been trying to say is that there is an element of anger in some of the emotions involved in playing and in the qualities of some music. Is that so terrible?
My point was that music may "portray" or "describe" or "mirror" specific emotions but that doesn't mean that these exact emotions are evoked in the listener.
A reporter asked Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry why he was always so stone-faced, dead-panned, on the sidelines. The answer was something like "I can't smile and think at the same time". We should not be so quick to criticize our violin soloists for not physically showing emotion; they have a lot to think about. For the audience, music is a language that speaks directly to the emotions, the lower levels of the brain. They do not have to have any technical training to have a valid experience. For the performer, it is a big gamble to give up rational control and surrender to the emotions. The piece would have to be so solid that it is easy. The conductor can get away with appearing emotional because he won't be playing any wrong notes and most of the time the musicians don't need him. The composer's real world is solitary, trying things on the piano, like working on chess puzzles or a rubics cube. The source of the composer's best ideas is a mystery or miracle. All of the theory and composing textbooks that I have seen do not teach how to compose. They quote what other composers have done and what not to do.
Last year I was playing Ole Bull's Sæterjentens Søndag (The Herd-Girls' Sunday). It's supposedly about a herd girl who is minding the herds on Sunday and therefore can't go to church. It's full of crescendos depicting her spiritual anguish at her inability to attend divine service, and then I suppose the quiet ending might indicate her spiritual recovery as she realises God is in the cows.
The last piece of music that had me shivering with a frisson of something like ecstasy, then punching the air in elation was Ravel's deceptively gentle violin sonata in a performance by Jean-Jacques Kanterow and Jean-Philippe Collard. These two manage to nail the climaxes in the first and second movement in a way that no others I've heard achieve. From the CD I can't tell if the players themselves were visibly moved but they must surely have been emoting internally.
Talking about anger in music.
Sander I really don't think anyone's dumping on you specifically. Your question about anger in music seems perfectly legitimate to me. You (re)introduced the idea in this thread, which seems totally appropriate, but this thread is oriented differently from
Lars, You undoubtedly know all this but other might not, that every Requiem Mass has Dies irae for it is the sequence of the Requiem Mass. The sequence is placed before the proclamation of the Gospel. The Day of Wrath refers to the particular judgement of the person who has died. The best of these pieces are those which work with the meaning of the words. Most Requiem Masses that were written are not intended to be used as the Mass and in fact are not permitted to be as they are intended to be performance works.
I believe there is a way to resolve the dispute about musicians emoting or not while playing. When friends of ours lose a loved one we empathize. This does not mean we feel the loss as deeply as they do.
I bet that if you asked the musician to tell you what was going on for them internally during their performance, they wouldn't be able to recall more than a moment or two when their conscious mind turned on. I don't think those kinds of flow states are associated with much self-monitoring.
@Albrecht. In general I suspect you're right but there have been a number of occasions when I felt playing an executive role in the music revealed its emotional depths to a greater degree than I'd ever have experienced in the audience. I'd specifically cite great choral works such as the St Matthew Passion and Missa Solemnis. Professionals, unfortunately, are expected to maintain a greater degree of detachment. Or is their detachment just because they're over-familiar with the repertoire?
Paul: Thanks for the kind words.
It's taken me a long time to get moving on this thread to communicate with other people.
When it comes to violinists, the one whose stage presence and facial and physical "expressions" that I still find the best of all is Zino Francescatti. Take another look at his video performances.