Edited: September 22, 2022, 10:32 AM · Every now and then there are threads about emotion in music.
The simple answer is, there isn't any emotion in music.
Emotion is what the audience feels and can be stimulated by music. The player can feel it too, but as a sort of active audience member. How do you evoke emotion? Any damn way you like, as long as it works. If you've got it, you've got it. If you haven't, emoting will just make you look stupid.
The only reason I rehash this tired discussion is because I was reminded of these performances by Solomon Burke where occasionally he almost laughs at the preposterousness of his performance, but he still creates mojo: -

Replies (20)

Edited: September 22, 2022, 11:15 AM · That's just silly. You just followed your claim of there being no emotion in music with a bunch of examples of how there is emotion in music.
September 22, 2022, 12:05 PM · The idea, presumably, is that emotion does not exist in the dots on the page, nor in the violin, nor the bow, etc. What's more, the violinist doesn't need any emotion himself or herself, (s)he just needs an arsenal of technical tricks and some knowledge of where and how to deploy their various gimmicks to elicit an emotional response from the audience. And yes, all of that seems quite obvious, at least to me. It helps if you have a sad facial expression, too, when you are playing something sad. What cannot be ruled out is the composer having felt this or that emotion while writing the music; but it is also just as hard to prove as disprove.
September 22, 2022, 12:45 PM · There was a time, 30 to 40 years ago when I performed the Schubert "Ave Maria" in churches a number of times on my cello. I decided to try to play it as a "love song" and look for the audience responses. When the old ladies started to dab their eyes with their hankies, I knew it was working. If I had to play it now, I would play it the same way - such simple "tricks."

Perhaps it was their emotion, but I sort of felt it too.

September 22, 2022, 5:16 PM · Often there are indications in the music that involves emotions and/or feelings and/or moods. Like affettuoso, amore, appassionato, doloroso, furioso, grazioso, mesto, patetico, scherzando, spiritoso and many more.

There is also the term "espressivo" which is very common.

Also when there is no indication musicians play with expression.

Thus there are lots of emotions in music, but you won't know which emotions are awakened in the audience, but it does make a difference that you care.

September 22, 2022, 5:21 PM · Greetings,
I believe there is also a cultural aspect too. Judi Dench tells a story against herself about taking Macbeth on tour in Africa where it was pretty much received as one of the most hilarious comedies to ever hit the continent. Shakespeare would have been delighted I think.
September 22, 2022, 7:02 PM · I guess I simply measure music by the emotion, whatever it evokes. I guess I was lucky and taken to a lot of movies as a young child, and TV was just young and better at that- and I felt a range of emotions, so now I often simply try to recreate some of it when I play. Hollywood often has a special feel, and I like textural music from that.
September 23, 2022, 10:24 AM · Music is a language that speaks directly to the emotional level of our brain. The building blocks of music are not the notes, but rather the intervals, the tonal distance between pairs of notes. Each interval makes a distinct impression. The horizontal intervals gives us the melodic contour, while the vertical intervals start to build the chords. One concept that I retained from the ethnomusicology courses was that music is Not an international language. Western listeners will not comprehend the subtleties of musics from east Asia or the Moslem countries, and they will not be impressed at our music at first contact. Our emotional reaction is a product of three things; the physical sound, the music culture, and the level of education within that culture.
Edited: September 23, 2022, 11:30 AM · There are magic moments when we feel the same emotions as in later feedback from the listeners, but usually we are like actors, expressing feelings in a rehearsed way, and even then folk's reactions can be surprisingly varied.

Different cultures? Imogen Holst (the composer's daughter) relates a charming episode in India where she tried to teach a canon to a group of enthusiastic students. They were shocked when the answering entry was at a different pitch, creating havoc with their fine perception of intervals; transposition was unheard of in a culture of drones rich in harmonics.

September 23, 2022, 12:35 PM · It seems that to some extent we are arguing about semantics here... While it can certainly be argued that "emotion isn't in the music" just like "if a tree falls in the forest" but hopefully we can agree that the intent of music is just that - to elicit emotions in the listener.
September 24, 2022, 5:23 AM · I just listened to the first link to the Solomon Burke performance. That is pure emotion man! He is putting on a show, but he brings all the emotion. You may say "but deep inside at that moment, he is not really feeling the emotion, he is just acting". That may be true, or it may not be true, but it is irrelevant. Anything that is not distinguishable from true emotion is also true emotion. As humans we do not communicate by putting sensors in each other's brains to check scientifically if they are "really" thinking or feeling what we perceive them to do. So, if someone is very convincingly behaving as if they have the emotion, it makes no sense to say they don't really have it, unless we have further info from the person. In that Solomon Burke performance, by the way, he is only laughing as part of the lyrics. The guy says to his wife "everything I'm saying to you tonight is true" and he is trying to depict the woman's sceptical reaction (that's how I interpret the "laughing"). All in all I was really struck by this emotional performance and I thank you for linking it!
September 24, 2022, 9:36 AM · Let's see if I understand this. Music is an art form written to be performed in order to evoke in the listener a reaction. And a major focus of that reaction is emotion. There are some "extra-musical" factors that the performer uses that may also evoke emotions (e.g., the emotions and behavior of the musician). But this does not mean that the composer or the performer "controls" the emotions that are evoked in the audience. It is more of an "offer." In any case, it is certainly a subtle and complex phenomenon.
September 24, 2022, 11:30 AM · With apologies to Tina Turner, what's music but a second-hand emotion?
October 22, 2022, 6:21 AM · I think emotion in music is very important, and sometimes emotion is the key thing for people to enjoy your music, and in this way, they won't focus on your technique/intonation as much. Emotion is really how people will enjoy your playing, it's always okay to smile during your performance. When people don't have emotion in their performances, it actually brings less interest towards audiences, in my opinion.
October 22, 2022, 6:42 AM · And why can music not be performed just to evoke an emotion in the player? I'd say its one of the main reasons I play - and why I love to practice! If the audience happens to enjoy it too, well great!

Perhaps if we marketed classical music THAT way there would be a lot more young people engaged ;)

Or is supposed to be a secret?

October 22, 2022, 8:52 AM · At my first lesson (so many decades ago) that "Music is the language of emotion." For those who disagree, please explain the mathematical formula for calculating the hypotenuse (that is about the least emotional thing I can think of) by playing your violin.

Humans are rife with hormones that elicit and control our emotions. It is possible to perform music without emotion and a lot of children and beginners do exactly that - simply play the notes, communicating zero emotion. Sure the parents applaud but really music goes way beyond the "cute kid" range. There is also my favorite example: "Switched on Bach" programed by Tomita - a curiosity on par with your High School student reading a speech from Shakespeare - deadpan flat which explains why a lot of teenagers hate Shakespeare - at least until the hear somebody perform it with deep emotion.

Of course, if the musician doesn't feel the emotion inside himself it will never come out in the performance (or practice). The musician has to have a feeling about the music in order to communicate to the audience.

Music is the language of emotion, both that of the composer and combined with that of the performer, eliciting an emotional response in the listener.

Edited: October 22, 2022, 9:01 AM · Music is not simply a collection of attractive sounds. Music is an invisible, silent, wordless, inner poetic and emotional voice. It is the blissful emotional language of the human soul.

The violin is the musical instrument that comes closest to the human voice. As a violinist, you get in touch with that emotional voice of the human soul, and you translate that inaudible emotional voice of the music on the page into an audible voice, so that the listener can hear it and feel it. You bring heaven down to earth.

Edited: October 22, 2022, 9:09 AM · I sure can feel the difference between music played with feeling contrasted to music played like a machine. Dynamics and phrasing have a lot to do with it. The human voice in all it's nuances of expression is a key guide to the emotive potential in music. Listen to singing in a language you don't understand, you might actually tap into the feelings more than if hearing the literal meaning. Try watching the TV news with the sound off for the visual version of the emotive power of the subliminal, the non-literal, the gestalt behind technical details.
Edited: October 22, 2022, 1:07 PM · My former violin teacher just sent me this link. David Oistrakh playing Debussy ("A girl with the flaxen hair").
This is how to play with emotion:


Edited: October 22, 2022, 4:47 PM · Gordon, you have reopened an old conflict, but a safe one, so let's enjoy ourselves slugging it out.

My feeling is that in general the audience is king, when it comes to emotion. It is difficult to prove what emotions the composer felt when writing the piece. In programmatic music the composer tries to tell us, but if we haven't read the programme, how close can we get? In any case, how do we know how far we can really be certain of the details that a composer may give us about the emotions felt at the time of composition? An audience will reach a certain degree of collective emotion/response to a given performance, but it may be different in another performance in a different city at a later date,and each individual gets a shot at interpreting the emotion, as a matter of right: that comes with your admission ticket or QR code these days. I have just heard Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto this evening, in a performance that fell a bit flat for me. I felt the soloist should have selected a piano with a brighter sound, and have played it more heroically, less as chamber music. So I don't think the soloist got the full emotion I feel from the score - but perhaps that's the way they see it. I do not, cannot KNOW for certain. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it and I have no quarrel with them but I shall listen to Ashkenazy tomorrow, privately.

I think this applies across the arts in similar ways. For instance, I recall suffering through 'Titanic' in a cinema where everybody else sighed and blubbered for hours, while all I could think was 'This would never have happened on an American ship,' and 'Do we have to float here until the Carpathia hauls us out of the cinema?'

Song, oratorio, opera - that's a whole different kettle of fish, and I don't think we want to lift the lid on that here!

October 23, 2022, 10:26 AM · Sander linked a lovely video of King David performing a Debussy encore with the introduction "this is how to play with emotion." One could just as well have said, "This is how you play with a gentle, supple tone, dynamics and phrasing, rubato, rich vibrato (even well after your bow has left the string), to convey a sense of wistful serenity to Paul Deck at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2022 (and perhaps to others at different times).

Happy Mole Day, by the way.

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