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How do you create the illusion of emotion in your compositions?

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By use of all the musical elements - as to me, music is emotion.

So, I'm talking about intrumentation, texture, tonality, melody, harmony and so on.

I also don't find the emotion wheel you have posted to be the full picture at all. I love the feeling of nostalgia in music, a happiness for times gone by, but a regret that they have passed - but that's not on the diagram.

I can just sit down on the piano and play a gentle 4/4 riff on the chord of A major add 9 (A in the left hand ocatves, right hand ascending, middle B, C sharp, E, A) and I'm feeling all nostalgic. Then I might switch to D major 7and keep the A bass and the mood continues. Now I'm playing Barry Manilow at his own game...

The word "illusion" is --- poor wording. What is being indicated in using the word is that without the presence of a listener the emotional connection couldn't be conjured. I agree that this phenomenon must include such topics as  score preparation, instrumentation, orchestration, monophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic techniques.

This particular emotion wheel isn't meant to be comprehensive: the emotion wheel I used is a standard accepted in academic circles within the field of psychology for "basic" emotions. I, of course, am interested in expressing more "complex" and "difficult" emotions in the "emotional spectrum" as well as those that are considered cliche which aren't listed.

I believe musical writing, reading, performing, and listening has objective components as well as subjective components. I also believe that theoretical rules/guidelines are, more often than less often, evolve from experiments in instinctual expression. I, however, must, as we've both admitted before, state: "GRAMMAR is to POET as THEORY is to COMPOSER".

Music doesn't carry emotional content, it carries the signifiers that we associate with certain emotions. Just like words, the signifiers are entirely subjective and depend on yourself and the society you belong to. As a very (oversimplified) example, the western classical paradigm contains certain keys, scales and modes that can invoke particular moods. If you played Beethoven's 9th to an uncontacted Amazon tribe, they would not get the same feelings or even really understand it, because their musical signs will be different to ours. The OP is right, composer's are not emotionally incontinent - often, the most successful pieces are carefully controlled constructions containing the appropriate signifiers for whatever it is they are expressing.



Jon Corelis said:

  • music has emotional content because I recognize that content when I hear the music, and emotion in art as in dreams is always real (cf. Freud:  the imagery of dreams is illusory but their emotional content is real, e.g. the tiger you dream is frightening you is an illusion, but the fear you feel in that dream is a real fear of something real)

The emotional content you are 'hearing' is as a result of your environment and the associations you have made with those musical constructions.

  • to say that a word other other signifier is entirely subjective and depends on yourself and the society you belong to seems to me self-contradictory

In linguistics, we split words into two parts (generally). We have the word itself (the sound) and it's attached meaning. There is rarely anything inherent about the word which connects it to it's meaning (that's why there are so many completely different languages - any similarities are due to shared roots). It has been long argued that music operates on a similar level - what you hear has an association with a particular meaning, it is not necessarily inherent. Try looking at Bourdieu's 'Le Distinction' (for an anthropological look at how culture and musical taste operate in Western music) and also Foucault "The Order of Things" (for an explanation of how our experience of art is a reflection of ourselves and our society).

  • this seems to be saying that the artistic value of music is created by following conventional rules in a prescribed manner, but if that were true then it would be possible to teach any normally intelligent person to be a great composer

No, that's not what I meant at all. I'm an experimental composer, which means I ignore the orthodox signifiers all together. This often leads my pieces to be 'misunderstood,' because there is no consensus on what content correlates to what idea/emotion/etc.

  • my own experience in listening to music from cultures I have little knowledge of is that often it is immediately appealing, and that if I keep listening to examples I start to understand both emotional and technical things in it, and if fact if at that point I go to scholarly discussions of the music, I find that most of what I've seen in it on my own is real

I didn't say you wouldn't find it appealing, merely that the signifiers are different and therefor more difficult to comprehend on the same level as someone who has been exposed to it constantly within their own cultures (and so that culture has associations with content personal to itself).

Yes thank you, an excellent quote.

Fredrick zinos said:

John..In agreement with what you said and to paraphrase Stravinsky on this general topic "music is black dots on white paper. If you think music has meaning it is because of the emotional baggage you brought to the concert."


Fredrick, there are no rules. I believe Bach was guided only by his sensibilities and by those of his era. As would be true of all composers of all eras. Also, it is perfectly possible to 'achieve the same result' by writing a faux Bach two part invention, with enough practice. 
Fredrick zinos said:

It seems to me that it takes adherence to "the rules" along with very great content to make a masterpiece. Anyone can follow the rules for a faux Bach two part invention, but no one can achieve the same result. 

I think you have misunderstood me.

If I am going to write a convincing Bach style invention I will indeed have a strict set of rules to follow. But those rules are derived from studying what Bach considered acceptable or desirable practices. He himself may not have seen it as following rules, he would have been guided by what he considered to sound good. He wouldn't end a piece on a tonic chord with a flat 7 so if I want to write a Bach-style piece, I'm not going to end on a a 7th. Debussy however, would have no problem ending on such a chord so if I want to write pastiche Debussy, I am 'allowed' to end on a 7th.

Tell me, are there only rules for Bach and his predecessors?  Are there 'rules' for Beethoven, Chopin, Berlioz, Wagner, Scriabin or Messiaen?

Fredrick,
As a schoolboy it was part of our music lessons and exams to write at least a section of a two part invention in the style of Bach.
Not all of my efforts would have deserved an A+ admittedly, but with much practice and study it is possible to write a very convincing Bach style invention. In the same way that an art forger can paint a Rembrandt provided he knows exactly what Rembrandt did to make his paintings look the way they do. And as long as he knew enough about the type of subject likely to be painted.
The question is. Who is it that needs convincing? Even scholars have been fooled many times.
I would say that in the 3rd Symphony, LvB did not "break almost entirely from the past" at all. Although I hold it to be one of the greatest of all symphonies, I do not consider it revolutionary but rather LvB took existing forms and extended them in a way that hadn't been done, at least not on such a scale. It is evolutionary.  

There are and never have been 'rules' for writing a sonata movement either. Not from the perspective of the composer at the time, I believe. The thing about sonata form is that it is endlessly adaptable to any musical language because it is not a set of rules so much as dramatic way of organizing material.

What strikes me about the 3rd is that which strikes me about Beethoven in general. His themes and how he works them. His bottomless well of invention and his vision.



Fredrick zinos said:

Michael that is not going to work. Your central thesis is that "there are no rules." have you changed your mind, or are you merely parsing the words so as to move away from that position without appearing to do so.  you can not write a "convincing bach style invention": because even if you admit that there are strict rules to follow you can not produce the subject material necessary to the task.

 

The point, once again is that the rules are easy to understand and follow, but you won't get a "convincing" result.

regarding "rules" for other composers, study the revolutionary shocking in its day Beethoven #3 that breaks almost totally with the past and note how meticulously LVB follows and applies mucholder sonata allegro form. When you really understand what is in incorporated in that form, the Beethoven becomes even more of a miracle.

You know all of this. I am not telling you anything new.

Michael Tauben said:

I think you have misunderstood me.

If I am going to write a convincing Bach style invention I will indeed have a strict set of rules to follow. But those rules are derived from studying what Bach considered acceptable or desirable practices. He himself may not have seen it as following rules, he would have been guided by what he considered to sound good. He wouldn't end a piece on a tonic chord with a flat 7 so if I want to write a Bach-style piece, I'm not going to end on a a 7th. Debussy however, would have no problem ending on such a chord so if I want to write pastiche Debussy, I am 'allowed' to end on a 7th.

Tell me, are there only rules for Bach and his predecessors?  Are there 'rules' for Beethoven, Chopin, Berlioz, Wagner, Scriabin or Messiaen?

  • Definition of Rules: "One of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere".
  • Definition of Guidelines: "A general rule, principle, or piece of advice".

The rules in music concern themselves with the objective science of acoustics and the objective aspects of psychoacoustics. The guidelines of music concern themselves with aesthetics of individuals.

Had Fux used Gesualdo over Palestrina in his Gradus ad Parnassum, we'd be writing interesting counterpoint. Since he used Palestrina as a model and other models exist, then we're speaking of guidelines not rules. Cope's work in Experiments in Music Intelligence deals with musical guidelines not rules:

  • If the program is given the musical input of Palestrina, then its output will reflect the music of Palestrina.
  • If the program is given the musical input of Gesualdo, then its output won't reflect the music of Palestrina.
  • If the program is given the musical input of Fux, Palestrina, and Gesualdo, then its output is the product of the aforementioned.

Achille-Claude Debussy: "Every sound perceived by the acute ear in the rhythm of the world about us can be represented musically. Some people wish above all to conform to the rules, I wish only to render what I can hear".

I'm inclined to agree that in music, in general, we should render what we can hear on all levels and not what we're told we can and can't do by academics. Some people do follow guidelines as rules and rules as rules, but how sad and pathetic this is that they can't even try to be their own person. It's good to look at what you've done and what you're doing and say: "I just love that or I just hate that or I don't know about that" --- "I'm going to take in what's inside me and what's outside of me and use it to grow as a musician".

Are rules and guidelines a part of our external universe? Yes. Must we allow them to govern all? No. Write music from within, be influenced from outside, and never allow the outside to dictate what you should and shouldn't think and feel.

Hi Gordon,

had Fux used Gesualdo over Palestrina we would have followed the lead of a 'chromaticising murderer' over that of a modally puritanical Counter-Reformationist. Hey, at least Palestrina and Gesualdo both created great music, except that on one recording I have of Gesualdo the bastards sing with pronounced vibrato - and I would like to murder them. Not that I am puritanical, it just sounds wrong, bad.

Amazing that Debussy was one of the most revolutionary of composers, and is one of the most admired, listened to. And yet so few later composers can write convincingly in that technical/aesthetic vein, try as they will. He had such a strong and individual lyrical impulse, neither dictated to by human vocal conditioning nor by instrumental conditioning. Rather, like you say, his melodies spring from delicate impressionistic impulses - and the whole world has been enthralled ever since. 

Do you think that, if Gesualdo had been able to fully control his chromatic impulses, he may not have murdered his wife?

Mark.

Perhaps.

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