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Thread: Emotional state and keys

  1. #16
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    As other people have already answered the OP better than I could, I'd just like to add that tempo is an important factor. I've heard songs at fast tempos that are cheery and somewhat melancholy, but if were played at half speed would be much more sad and serious.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zellibrung View Post
    As other people have already answered the OP better than I could, I'd just like to add that tempo is an important factor. I've heard songs at fast tempos that are cheery and somewhat melancholy, but if were played at half speed would be much more sad and serious.
    Good point. The tunings of period instruments vs. modern may also complicate things a bit, as the modern tunings are half a tone lower I recall. When I compare a recording of a mass between modern and HiP, The HIP sounds less grave side by side.

    Another trick I hear done is a piece of music may go through a transposition of a theme from minor to major, and sounds triumphant like Dvorak's Cello Cincerto first movement. I doubt exactly which major key is that important. Also as in some pop songs also transpose later to a higher key which gives a feeling of being taken to the stratosphere, like Dion's My Heart Will Go On, or Mackenzie's San Francisco (Be sure to wear Flowers).
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Jun-10-2017 at 19:09.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    As long as it doesn't modulate, Just tuning sounds great! Try it on drones, ostinatos, burgers, and more!

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  7. #19
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    I don't believe there is any difference between one major key and another (or one minor key and another) in terms of emotion these days as we generally use equal temperament. The ratios between the different notes is EXACTLY the same regardless of the key when using equal temperament, so there is no basis I can see in attributing different emotions to different keys, other than the overall effect higher pitches on emotion (just as we attribute higher pitch to an animated state vs. lower pitch for a subdued one). I think choice of a key today has more to do with practical issues like instrument ranges, say when working in an ensemble.

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    Hi yes,
    There is a great book by Rita Steblin "A History of Key Characteristics in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries" you may want to check out. Also, not only that but do note that the tuning and temperament of the instrument is also responsible for the "affect"/emotional key characteristic.

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  10. #21
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    I don't have access to this book, but did find a detailed review by Karol Berger in "Music & Letters," vol. 66, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 388-391 (I got it from my school library, I don't believe it's freely available). Per the review, Rita Steblin's emphasis is on the affect of key for the whole composition, which according to the reviewer is much less important than that of alternating keys within, as through modulation. The point was that it's the contrasting effect that's significant, not the key itself.

    I also found a good Master's thesis on this subject by Maho A. Ishiguro from UMass that discusses this topic well and references Rita Steblin's work extensively, and it also questions the affect of a key and its role in emotion.

    Both the review and the thesis essentially conclude that any attribution of emotion to keys for a composition are personal interpretations and suggested explanations, such as the "sharp-flat" principle (where more sharps in a key are supposed to be brighter and flats darker in emotion), open-stopped string effect (keys like A on violin use a lot of violion's open strings, so is supposed to be brighter when played on a violin), etc., is unreliable and questionable.

    Here's the final para in Ishiguro's thesis conclusion:

    Finally by the mid-twentieth century, no acoustical discoveries had been done to
    support the argument that keys themselves possessed unique characteristics. From studies
    on human minds and psychology, the phenomena of affective properties of keys are
    results of personal interpretations. Discussions of the idea of key characteristics no
    longer searched for the proof of the validity of the phenomenon. Instead, it was up to
    individuals whether to take the idea as a meaningful and intellectual one or foolish one.
    As the number of articles on the topic became more scarce after the 1950’s, the rare
    findings speak on the topic as one of the historical aspects of musical art, instead of
    continuously used musical elements for successful compositions and a living tradition.
    Last edited by Sekhar; Sep-02-2017 at 18:25.

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    Senior Member JeffD's Avatar
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    Its wonderfully complicated isn't it.

    If music and meaning corresponded exactly it would be more like reading an essay than listening to music.
    How did I become a senior member? I only recently figured out where the restrooms are.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Its wonderfully complicated isn't it.

    If music and meaning corresponded exactly it would be more like reading an essay than listening to music.
    I'm not sure if words and meaning always correspond either*, but that's probably a topic for a different thread!

    *My love of Derrida is showing through here...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettina View Post
    I'm not sure if words and meaning always correspond either*, but that's probably a topic for a different thread!

    *My love of Derrida is showing through here...
    I have a lot to say about that. Not here.

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    To people with perfect pitch, it might matter a lot, but not to the rest of us.

    But...

    Instruments have ranges within which they can play where they have different tones. For instance, violins, which are the workhorses of any orchestra, have a pitch range where they start to become shrill. Which can be a good effect, depending on the composer's intention. Mahler exploited that shrillness beautifully, for instance. So a melody that might sound warm and beautiful in one key can be weird or uncomfortable in one just a couple of pitches away.

    Like, listen to some of this. I don't know if we can embed youtubes here, but it's Mozart Quintet in B Flat, K174. Listen to any part of it, and listen to the high violin pitch, and how weird it is.

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LpQ8zyVJe7I" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    or https://youtu.be/LpQ8zyVJe7I

    Maybe you hear it differently, but to me, it sounds wrong. Maybe Mozart wrote it originally in a different key and transcribed it for a different key for some urgent reason. Maybe he composed it for piano and transcribed it from that? I don't know. But he wasn't a kid anymore by the time of K.174, and that quintest sounds just as odd when played by other ensembles.

    This is a case where choice of key obviously matters a great deal.

    I won't embed it, but I could point to his A Major Piano Concerto, a very beautiful work. Close to B flat, but totally different effect from the strings. The choice of A Major dictates the range within which the violins can achieve their effects. It SOUNDS like A Major to me, and I don't have perfect pitch. That opening theme in the strings sounds the way it does specifically because it's in A. I can't do it here, but transcribe it to F major, either up or down, and it just wouldn't have the same perfect effect.

    Boring trivia... There was a Doctor Who episode years ago where Tom Baker, as The Doctor, casually whistled the opening theme of the A concerto and did a great job of it. It's not easy! Try it yourself.

    Somebody tell me how to embed youtubes here?

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