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Thread: Language, Music and Emotion

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Default Language, Music and Emotion

    Purely instrumental music - classical and otherwise - has been described as the language of the emotions. The phrase is acceptable only because there is no better way to describe that aspect 'in 500 words or less'. The base (strong) emotions - e.g. rage, lust, euphoria - operate below the ratiocinating parts of the brain, and thus defy sensible description. The 'higher' emotions - e.g. sadness including grief, less-than-euphoric joy, disgust - are a blend of mental processes both rational and sub-rational, and so are not fully describable via language.

    The finale of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony is hardly equivocal in emotional content, and there is general agreement that the title 'Pathetique' is apt. Describing in words the emotional effect of that music is not so simple. In fact, no collection of words can do the job adequately.

    Most music isn't as 'single minded' as the finale of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony. The emotional content is more ambiguous, more open to different emotional reactions, both in different people and in the same person at different times. The exact nature of the stirrings I feel when listening to Rachmaninoff perform his 3rd concerto are really not likely to match yours very closely.

    This ambiguity, when combined with the essential inadequacy of language, is not even limited to purely instrumental music. Some poetry generates emotion in me, in some cases not even close to being describable. The following poem is a prime example. It is freely available on the Web, as is apparently all of Mr. Lindsay’s poetry, so I must assume that it is either out of copyright or copyright has been waived.

    The Flower-Fed Buffaloes

    The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
    In the days of long ago,
    Ranged where the locomotives sing
    And the prairie flowers lie low:-
    The tossing, blooming perfumed grass
    Is swept away by the wheat,
    Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
    In the spring that still is sweet.
    But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
    Left us long ago.
    They gore no more, they bellow no more;
    They trundle around the hills no more:
    With the Blackfeet, lying low,
    With the Pawnees, lying low,
    Lying low.

    -Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)


    This poem generates a mild ache in the center of my body, every time I read it. But... I am an American, and familiar with the history of the American Great Plains. Lacking that foreknowledge, the words may seem close to nonsensical. Pure music has a ‘magic’ that poetry does not have: it can communicate emotion without language, and thereby crosses barriers.

    Here’s to music.

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    Good, an interesting topic discussing music and actually offering some thoughts and ideas. Emotions obviously play a large role within music, the sound waves definitely have some effect on us. Many new listeners to music now seem to want music that just fits into a small emotional area, like they are going shopping and they want to eat something sweet for example. Classical music of course can vary in it's attitude through a piece with the different movements reflecting different feelings. Even within a single movement there can be changes. This can be the case with popular music too, particularly over an album. But the main point of the shifting emotional focus is that I think it engages the listener to interact than just be a lazy receiver of the sound. In that way it engages us on an intellectual level as well, as it shifts our feelings from one moment to another. So it doesn't just cater to what we feel in the moment it changes those feelings as well. But on the poetry comparison I do think there can be more abstract poetry which appeals on a more universal level.
    Last edited by starry; Feb-15-2011 at 09:07.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by starry View Post
    [,,,]In that way it engages us on an intellectual level as well, as it shifts our feelings from one moment to another. So it doesn't just cater to what we feel in the moment it changes those feelings as well. But on the poetry comparison I do think there can be more abstract poetry which appeals on a more universal level.
    I see nothing to disagree with here (and I tried). Just a couple dull points:

    If the (instrumental) music engages you on an intellectual level, you have slipped into language, i.e. begun to make a 'program'. My experience with that experience is that, the next time you hear the music, you remember the program and lose close focus on the music. It is less likely to grab you.

    I think you are also right about abstract poetry (if you mean by that poetry that doesn't involve material things). The caveat I wish to make here is that, if the poem is in any language but English, it will have no effect on me, emotional or otherwise; which has a deleterious effect on its universality.

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    Default Interesting indeed - Beaudelaire - Alban Berg

    You are American you said...I am not...

    What am I?

    I was born in Argentina, British father, French mother..

    I am extremely touched when I Listen to Der Wein...But even more in the French original version by the poet Charles Beaudelaire.

    Nothing is available on Youtube!

    I also understand the words in French (French is my second mother tongue) and I enjoy that so much...Is from "Les Fleurs du mal"

    Le Vin des amants


    Aujourd'hui l'espace est splendide!
    Sans mors, sans éperons, sans bride,
    Partons à cheval sur le vin
    Pour un ciel féerique et divin!


    Comme deux anges que torture
    Une implacable calenture
    Dans le bleu cristal du matin
    Suivons le mirage lointain!


    Mollement balancés sur l'aile
    Du tourbillon intelligent,
    Dans un délire parallèle,


    Ma soeur, côte à côte nageant,
    Nous fuirons sans repos ni trêves
    Vers le paradis de mes rêves!


    — Charles Baudelaire



    The Wine of Lovers


    Today space is magnificent!
    Without bridle or bit or spurs
    Let us ride away on wine
    To a divine, fairy-like heaven!


    Like two angels who are tortured
    By a relentless delirium,
    Let us follow the far mirage
    Through the crystal blue of the morning!


    Gently balanced upon the wings
    Of the intelligent whirlwind,
    In a similar ecstasy,


    My sister, floating side by side,
    We'll flee without ever stopping
    To the paradise of my dreams!


    — William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)




    The Wine of Lovers

    Oh, what a splendour fills all space!
    Without bit, spur, or rein to race,
    Let's gallop on the steeds of wine
    To heavens magic and divine!


    Now like two angels off the track,
    Whom wild relentless fevers rack,
    On through the morning's crystal blue
    The swift mirages we'll pursue.


    Now softly poised upon the wings
    That a sagacious cyclone brings,
    In parallel delirium twinned,


    While side by side we surf the wind,
    We'll never cease from such extremes,
    To seek the Eden of our dreams!


    =============================
    Le Vin du solitaire


    Le regard singulier d'une femme galante
    Qui se glisse vers nous comme le rayon blanc
    Que la lune onduleuse envoie au lac tremblant,
    Quand elle y veut baigner sa beauté nonchalante;


    Le dernier sac d'écus dans les doigts d'un joueur;
    Un baiser libertin de la maigre Adeline;
    Les sons d'une musique énervante et câline,
    Semblable au cri lointain de l'humaine douleur,


    Tout cela ne vaut pas, ô bouteille profonde,
    Les baumes pénétrants que ta panse féconde
    Garde au coeur altéré du poète pieux;


    Tu lui verses l'espoir, la jeunesse et la vie,
    — Et l'orgueil, ce trésor de toute gueuserie,
    Qui nous rend triomphants et semblables aux Dieux!


    — Charles Baudelaire



    The Wine of the Solitary


    The strange look of a lady of pleasure
    Turned slyly toward us like the white beam
    Which the undulous moon casts on the trembling lake
    When she wishes to bathe her nonchalant beauty;


    The last bag of crowns between a gambler's fingers;
    A lustful kiss from slender Adeline;
    The sound of music, tormenting and caressing,
    Resembling the distant cry of a man in pain,


    All that is not worth, O deep, deep bottle,
    The penetrating balm that your fruitful belly
    Holds for the thirsty heart of the pious poet;


    You pour out for him hope, and youth, and life
    — And pride, the treasure of all beggary,
    Which makes us triumphant and equal to the gods!


    — William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)




    The Wine of the Solitary Man

    The love-glance of a courtesan that swims
    With undulating ray like that the moon
    Sends to the waiting, tremulous lagoon
    Where she's about to lave her languid limbs:


    The last few florins in a gambler's fingers:
    The lustful kiss of slender Adeline:
    A haunting tune that wheedles and malingers,
    Wherein all human anguish seems to pine:


    All these aren't worth, O bottle kind and deep,
    The penetrating balms that swell your paunch
    The pious poet's wounded heart to staunch.


    You pour him hope, youth, life, and healing sleep —
    And pride, all Beggary's diadem and treasure,
    By which our triumphs with the Gods' we measure.


    — Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)




    Le Vin du solitaire


    the wildering glances of a harlot fair
    seen gliding toward us like the silver wake
    of undulant moonlight on the quivering lake
    when Phoebe bathes her languorous beauty there;


    the last gold coins a gambler's fingers hold;
    the wanton kiss of love-worn Adeline,
    the wheedling songs that leave the will supine
    — like far-off cries of sorrow unconsoled —


    all these, o bottle deep, were never worth
    the pungent balsams in thy fertile girth
    stored for the pious poet's thirsty heart;


    thou pourest hope and youth and strength anew,
    — and pride, this treasure of the beggar-crew,
    that lifts us like triumphant gods, apart!


    ==================================

    Le Vin de l'assassin


    Ma femme est morte, je suis libre!
    Je puis donc boire tout mon soûl.
    Lorsque je rentrais sans un sou,
    Ses cris me déchiraient la fibre.


    Autant qu'un roi je suis heureux;
    L'air est pur, le ciel admirable...
    Nous avions un été semblable
    Lorsque j'en devins amoureux!


    L'horrible soif qui me déchire
    Aurait besoin pour s'assouvir
    D'autant de vin qu'en peut tenir
    Son tombeau; — ce n'est pas peu dire:


    Je l'ai jetée au fond d'un puits,
    Et j'ai même poussé sur elle
    Tous les pavés de la margelle.
    — Je l'oublierai si je le puis!


    Au nom des serments de tendresse,
    Dont rien ne peut nous délier,
    Et pour nous réconcilier
    Comme au beau temps de notre ivresse,


    J'implorai d'elle un rendez-vous,
    Le soir, sur une route obscure.
    Elle y vint — folle créature!
    Nous sommes tous plus ou moins fous!


    Elle était encore jolie,
    Quoique bien fatiguée! et moi,
    Je l'aimais trop! voilà pourquoi
    Je lui dis: Sors de cette vie!


    Nul ne peut me comprendre. Un seul
    Parmi ces ivrognes stupides
    Songea-t-il dans ses nuits morbides
    À faire du vin un linceul?


    Cette crapule invulnérable
    Comme les machines de fer
    Jamais, ni l'été ni l'hiver,
    N'a connu l'amour véritable,


    Avec ses noirs enchantements,
    Son cortège infernal d'alarmes,
    Ses fioles de poison, ses larmes,
    Ses bruits de chaîne et d'ossements!


    — Me voilà libre et solitaire!
    Je serai ce soir ivre mort;
    Alors, sans peur et sans remords,
    Je me coucherai sur la terre,


    Et je dormirai comme un chien!
    Le chariot aux lourdes roues
    Chargé de pierres et de boues,
    Le wagon enragé peut bien


    Ecraser ma tête coupable
    Ou me couper par le milieu,
    Je m'en moque comme de Dieu,
    Du Diable ou de la Sainte Table!


    — Charles Baudelaire



    The Murderer's Wine


    My wife is dead and I am free!
    Now I can drink my fill;
    When I'd come home without a sou,
    Her screaming would drive me crazy.


    I am as happy as a king;
    The air is pure, the sky superb...
    We had a summer like this
    When I fell in love with her!


    To satisfy the awful thirst
    That tortures me, I'd have to drink
    All the wine it would take to fill
    Her grave — that is not a little:


    I threw her down a well,
    And what is more, I dropped on her
    All the stones of the well's rim.
    I will forget her if I can!


    In the name of love's vows,
    From which nothing can release us,
    And to become the friends we were
    When we first knew passion's rapture,


    I begged of her a rendezvous
    At night, on a deserted road.
    She came there! — mad creature!
    We're all more or less mad!


    She was still attractive,
    Although very tired! and I,
    I loved her too much! that is why
    I said to her: Depart this life!


    None can understand me. Did one
    Among all those stupid drunkards
    Ever dream in his morbid nights
    Of making a shroud of wine?


    That dissolute crowd, unfeeling
    As an iron machine,
    Never, nor summer, nor winter,
    Has known what true love is,


    With its black enchantments,
    Its hellish cortege of alarms,
    Its phials of poison, and its tears,
    Its noise of chains and dead men's bones!


    — Here I am free and all alone!
    I'll get blind drunk tonight;
    Then without fear, without remorse,
    I'll lie down on the ground


    And I'll sleep like a dog!
    The dump-cart with its heavy wheels
    Loaded with mud and rocks,
    The careening wagon may well


    Crush in my guilty head
    Or cut my body in two;
    I laugh at God, at the Devil,
    And at the Holy Table as well!


    — William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)




    The Wine of the Murderer

    My wife is dead. I'm free. From hence
    I'll drink my fill, and that's the truth!
    Each time I came back with no pence,
    Her screechings drilled me like a tooth.


    Now I'm as happy as a king...
    Air pure, a cloudless sky above.
    I can remember such a thing
    The summer that we fell in love.


    To quench the thirst that tears my throat
    It would require the vats to flow
    Enough to set her tomb afloat —
    And that's no thimbleful, oh no!


    I threw her in a well to drown,
    With the walled rocks that round it stood,
    To keep her there, and hold her down —
    I would forget her if I could!


    Pleading our early tender vows,
    Which naught could break for evermore,
    To reconcile us, spouse to spouse,
    In the same raptures as before —


    I begged of her a rendezvous
    One evening in a gloomy lane.
    She came — a crazy thing to do!
    We all are more-or-less insane!


    She still was quite attractive, though
    A little tired and ill: and I
    Still loved her more than ever: so
    I said, "Get out of life, and die!"


    None understand me. Could a single
    "Drunk" of the stupid sort design,
    On morbid nights, by his own ingle,
    To make a winding sheet of wine?


    Of dense invulnerable stuff,
    Like engines built to shunt or shove,
    They've never known, through smooth or rough,
    The veritable power of love,


    its black enchantments, fiery trials,
    Processions of infernal pains,
    Its burning tears, its poison phials,
    Its rattling bones, and jingling chains.


    Now I am free and all alone.
    Tonight I'll get dead-drunk, of course.
    My head I'll pillow on a stone
    Without repentance or remorse.


    And there I'll sleep like any dog.
    The lumbering cart with massive wheels
    Piled up with stones, or peat, or bog,
    Or hurtling wagon, as it reels


    May crush my skull in, like a clod,
    Or halve me at the crossing-level.
    I'd care as little as for God,
    The Ten Commandments, or the Devil.


    — Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)




    The Drunkard


    My wife is dead, and I am free!
    Now I can drink both night and day.
    When I came home without my pay
    Her crying upset me horribly.


    I am as happy as a king.
    The air is soft. The sky is clear.
    Ah, what a lovely spring, this year!
    I courted her in such a spring.


    Now I can drink to drown my care
    As much wine as her tomb would hold —
    The tomb where she lies pale and cold.
    And that will be no small affair,


    For I have thrown her, body and limb,
    In an old well; I even threw
    All the loose stones around the brim
    On top of her. Good riddance, too!


    I asked her in the name of Christ,
    To whom our marriage vows were told,
    To be my sweetheart as of old —
    To come to a forsaken tryst


    We had when we were young and gay,
    That everything might be the same:
    And she, the foolish creature, came!
    We all have our weak moments, eh?


    She was attractive still, all right,
    Though faded. I still loved her — more
    Than there was rhyme or reason for.
    I had to end it, come what might!


    Nobody understands me. What's
    The use of wasting my good breath
    Explaining to these stupid sots
    The mysteries of love and death?


    They take their women by routine,
    These louts — the way they eat and drink.
    Which one has ever stopped to think
    What the word love might really mean?


    Love, with its softness in your reins,
    With all its nightmares, all its fears,
    Its cups of poison mixed with tears,
    Its rattling skeletons and chains.


    — Well, here I am, alone and free!
    Tonight I will be drunk for fair,
    And I will lay me down, I swear,
    Upon the highroad happily,


    And sleep like an old dog, be sure,
    Right where the heavy trucks go by,
    Loaded with gravel and manure.
    The wheel can smear my brains out — ay,


    Or it can break me like a clod
    In two, or it can mash me flat.
    I care about as much for that
    As for the long white beard of God!


    ===========================================
    If you have time and love poetry as I do, read it!

    Enjoy!

    Martin
    Life is a comedy

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    I think you are also right about abstract poetry (if you mean by that poetry that doesn't involve material things). The caveat I wish to make here is that, if the poem is in any language but English, it will have no effect on me, emotional or otherwise; which has a deleterious effect on its universality.

    Translations can sometimes work ok with poetry. Maybe lyric poetry which depends more on the sound of the words can be harder to change into another language. But that which is more about ideas and metaphors can probably be translated easier. I like twentieth century poetry in particular and that is often more abstract.

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    Junior Member Theophrastus's Avatar
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    Interesting article, but I wonder about the exclusive focus on emotion in this thread. I don't think you can really exclude the intellect - and just the fact that we discuss and analyze pieces of music and other works of art demonstrates this. Have you never gone back to a work that you previously disliked and listened/saw/read it with renewed interest after hearing someone analyze it? Intellect and emotion are linked and I think they come together in the greatest experiences of art.

    On the subject of poetic language, the rhythm is incredibly important, certainly in English poetry and I presume in other languages too. Listen to this: "age cannot whither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety"; or perhaps a better example, because the rhythm is so obvious, is the opening of Paradise Lost:
    OF MAN’S first disobedience, and the fruit
    Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
    Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
    With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
    Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, 5
    Sing, Heavenly Muse ...

    Read it aloud. Listen to it. Without the metrical patterning, the rhythm, it would be nothing.

    For me the best poetic language functions like a pebble dropped into a pond. The ripples spread out further and further. Take the line from Yeats' Second Coming: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold" - perhaps the most prophetic line in 20th C poetry. I first read that poem over twenty years ago, and it still comes back, inexhaustibly, and it still speaks of truths that can't be stated in any other way.
    Nothing happened again.

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    Let's also not forget the use of literary devices and figurative language in poetry. Metaphors and such also have an emotional impact by creating associations we wouldn't normally think of, but sometimes require intellect to decode if they're less than obvious. The closest thing we have to that in music is the juxtaposition of a familiar theme with another theme right after a prominent reference point. Other literary devices such as consonance/assonance and parallel structure have a more direct emotional impact because they're immediately processed by the part of the brain that deals with language. They're somewhat analogous to using motives in music.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Theophrastus View Post
    Interesting article, but I wonder about the exclusive focus on emotion in this thread. I don't think you can really exclude the intellect - and just the fact that we discuss and analyze pieces of music and other works of art demonstrates this. Have you never gone back to a work that you previously disliked and listened/saw/read it with renewed interest after hearing someone analyze it? Intellect and emotion are linked and I think they come together in the greatest experiences of art.
    [...]
    Nice exposition, Theophrastus, including the material I snipped (because I want to address this part).

    The focus is on emotion (including frissons) because that's all music can express. Analysis and music theory may manage to direct the listener's attention to music elements that alter his 'understanding' of the music, but that understanding is emotional. Mind you, I specifically exclude program music from this consideration - except when the listener is unaware of the program. I should also have excluded cannonfire and other 'expressive' but non-musical intrusions, but that exclusion seemed obvious to me.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kopachris View Post
    Let's also not forget the use of literary devices and figurative language in poetry. Metaphors and such also have an emotional impact by creating associations we wouldn't normally think of, but sometimes require intellect to decode if they're less than obvious. The closest thing we have to that in music is the juxtaposition of a familiar theme with another theme right after a prominent reference point. Other literary devices such as consonance/assonance and parallel structure have a more direct emotional impact because they're immediately processed by the part of the brain that deals with language. They're somewhat analogous to using motives in music.
    Hey, that's good stuff, Kopachris. Have there been any expositions-for-the-layman regarding emotion-generating parallels between music and poetry? If not, and you have the spare time... I think the moderators would welcome an article; I know I would.
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    Hmm... I might take you up on that offer, Hilltroll72.

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