View Poll Results: Is the Emotional Paradigm of Common Practice Music and Modern Music Different?

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  • Not so different

    7 24.14%
  • Yes different, and modern music's is stronger

    3 10.34%
  • Yes different, and modern music's is weaker

    2 6.90%
  • Yes different, although neither older nor modern is stronger/weaker

    17 58.62%
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Thread: Differences in Emotional Content in Common Practice Music and 20th/21st Century Music

  1. #1
    Senior Member SeptimalTritone's Avatar
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    Default Differences in Emotional Content in Common Practice Music and 20th/21st Century Music

    On TalkClassical, we've talked a lot about the technical differences between common practice music and modern music, especially the differences between late romantic era music and Schoenberg (i.e. in what sense is Schoenberg tonal or atonal, or in what sense is Schoenberg a continuation of tradition and in what sense is he a break from tradition). This has been a difficult topic with currently no consensus. In fact, I believe we will only be able to settle this one by going through in exhaustive detail one of Schoenberg's pieces bar by bar and pointing out every harmony and its effect on the listener... and even then it might just end up that some of us would find those harmonies convincing and effective and others would find them unconvincing and ineffective.

    In this thread, I wanted to talk instead about something more subjective: the emotional content of post common practice music. While this is a hugely broad topic, because Boulez is nothing like Cage, who is nothing like Bartok, who is nothing like Lachenmann, who is nothing like Messiaen, who is nothing like Barrett etc etc etc (I'm not going to name drop anymore for the sake of showing off)... it does seem to me that there is an overall difference in the emotional/poetic/expressive vision of old and modern music.

    I know emotions are subjective, but perhaps in this thread we can share our subjective feelings. Stating subjective emotions is usually frowned upon on TalkClassical precisely because they are subjective, but it may be helpful to do this to increase our understanding of modern music, because music combines both the objective and the subjective.

    Common practice music contains huge emotional power. Mozart's Requiem expresses reverence and even fear of God while maintaining a warm human compassion, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde expresses a painful longing that wants to be fulfilled at any cost, even one's own physical destruction, Mahler's 7th symphony expresses huge enthusiasm and positivity sprinkled with a tinge of doubt and mocking cynicism, Brahms's 1st symphony expresses the exhaustion of undergoing a huge ordeal, and Chopin's ballades express a singing pleading on a melancholic canvas.

    But what about Boulez's Derive 2 or Sur Incises? I can't think of any sort of "story" for these pieces. Or Ferneyhough's Sonatas for String Quartet? Or Parmegiani's De Natura Sonorum? Or Feldman's Crippled Symmetry? Or Cage's Imaginary Landscapes? I can't think of any sort of identifiable emotions, or identifiable story. Yet I love all of these pieces, and they might even take me to a higher state of mental intensity as well as provide a more intricate beauty (in particular Derive 2 and Crippled Symmetry).

    Boulez has said "The aim of music is not to express feelings but to express music." Is it the case then, that modern music is more about "beyond-emotion" than "emotion"? Has modern music transcended the "heroic longing for a higher spirituality" that seems to infuse the greatest of the common practice era works? Was this decision inspired by the increasing chromaticism of the musical techniques and the later incorporation of electronic music, or was this decision inspired by more philosophical/artistic/poetic/cultural goals?

    And finally, the ultimate question: will we ever be able to go back to a "heroic longing for a higher spirituality" or a more "heart on sleeve" kind of music, especially in the realm of the avant garde that uses the state of the art electronics and instrumental extended techniques? I'm not talking about going back to common practice tonality of course, but the more "warm, heart on sleeve, prayerful" poetic style. I have a feeling this would be like retreating to a more archaic cultural sensibility in an increasingly secular world. Or perhaps it would be a more limiting use of our sonic instrumental tools and compositional techniques.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    I think we may feel a different kind of emotion from the more contemporary forms only because many of the traditional emotional cues are gone, replaced by something else. But these cues are in place largely by consensus to begin with. Non-common practice music still has swelling crescendos, quickening or slowing of pace, sudden jabs, varying degrees of complexity in texture. There seems plenty to elicit emotion, just no traditional consensus yet.

    Actually, I find Derive 2 and Sur Incises quite animated or even agitated at times. At other times they can be like time suspended, a marble balanced atop a hill (potential energy) then suddenly tumbling down (kinetic energy). So there can easily be a program attached too.

    We the listeners may be the ones to bring the emotion to both worlds. So option 4 on the poll for me.

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    Yes, different and modern music is weaker was what voted.

    Compare say Beethoven. He wanted to portray the heroic ideal and he did so (astoundingly so) with the symphonies #3, #5 and several other instrumental pieces. These pieces are intuitive to almost any listener: the grand finale of symphony #5 etc. captures that heroic ideal. However, I think Schoenberg would have been severely incapacitated if he wanted to portray similarly with atonal structures, if not outright impossible. There is just no harmonic structure for atonal music to capture that level of heroic intensity.

    Compare say Vivaldi. The ever popular Four Seasons concerto, where the first opening movement just invites a feeling of Spring. Again, it is intuitive and musically obvious that Spring is welcomed by the opening few bars for violins alone. And I think Schoenberg would again be severely incapacitated with atonal harmonics if he wanted to portray Spring.

    Boulez may well say that music is not to express feelings. That is a modernism view. That is fine. But it is obviously a narrow view of western classical music in contrast to Beethoven's heroic example and Vivaldi's Spring examples I used. All pretty pure and simple.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I believe contemporary music expresses different sensibilities than Romantic music, which expresses different sensibilities than Renaissance music, which expresses different sensibilities than the classical music of India, which expresses different sensibilities...

    The difficulty is in knowing how much of what we feel a certain kind of music expresses has to do with accepted conventions, versus how much has to do with intrinsic correspondences of musical forms with particular internal functions and states of the human organism. My general view is that such correspondences exist, but in practice are modified by convention. This would mean that common practice tonal music does indeed have expressive potentialities that post-common practice music lacks, and that post-common practice music can express things that common practice music cannot - but that there are overlaps of potential expressive function which convention may obscure.

    That said, my intuition is that the differences are huge nonetheless. The complexity of human subjective experience is so enormous, and music's capacity to suggest the subtleties of our experience it so astonishing, that I have to feel sure that music which sounds new is plugging into new places in our brains, regardless of our conventions and associations. "Common practice" covers a vast and varied musical territory over centuries of changes in human society and thought, and the differences in meaning and expression we perceive even within its bounds are huge. Doesn't it stand to reason that going outside common practice to seek out new ways of organizing sound in our time would open up many new vistas - and just as decisively close off others?

    You've opened up many questions, so I'll stop with that and consider some of the others. Thanks for a difficult and fascinating inquiry! (P.S. I'm glad you're the one asking these questions and not me. I'm in enough trouble already. )

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    Senior Member GreenMamba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    Compare say Vivaldi. The ever popular Four Seasons concerto, where the first opening movement just invites a feeling of Spring. Again, it is intuitive and musically obvious that Spring is welcomed by the opening few bars for violins alone.
    I don't think it's at all obvious that or intuitive that the music represents Spring, but for the fact that it's named Spring. Over time, some people eventually start to think Spring sounds a certain way because Vivaldi said so. He's not representing the sound of Spring, he's defining it.

    Furthermore, the OP uses Mozart's Requiem and Wagner's Tristan as examples...but they both have words to guide us along.

    In other instances, people are often leaning upon what has previously been written about a work to influence their perceptions. That has a powerful effect (just think of all those who hear Moonlight in Beethoven's sonata no. 14).

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    Don't you think that the music Schoenberg wrote for Moses is as heroic as anything in Beethoven? A good example of music which is as spring like as anything by Vivaldi is Babbitt's All Set.

    I would say that Schoenberg's music is stronger at showing humane emotions than 19th century music, the string trio is an example of music so emotional it's hard to hear, it's like having someone disturbed emote in your living room.

    19th century music was too constrained to be expressive of anything but the simplest things - in Beethoven for example, it's one simple emotion at a time, like a cartoon strip, 19th century musics are like emotional caricatures, emotionally superficial.

    Earlier music was good at showing more humane emotions, because counterpoint can make the emotional texture rich. A good example to take is the opening Kyrie of the B minor mass, Harnoncourt's second recording is particularly interesting emotionally.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-10-2015 at 07:52.

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    Senior Member SeptimalTritone's Avatar
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    ^ Yeah, I agree that Schoenberg is hugely emotional. The string trio and 3rd string quartet make me want to ****** my pants with the way it sings/talks to you (somehow it's more expressive than both singing and talking, if you know what I mean).

    Later on, however, particularly post-1950, I just have this strong feeling that something different happened. Maybe we evolved from emotional caricatures and mere representations to a more visceral emotional feeling. But, the difficulty in articulating what those exact feelings are make me feel like modern music (or at least certain avant-garde music) is somehow "post-emotional". Like I couldn't tell you in words what emotion is evoked in any of Sciarrino's Sui poemi concentrici yet it's extremely visceral and engaging, almost taking me to a different planet.

    It's almost as if, contrary to popular belief, that modern music is more about feeling and less about intellect. It's more about "here is this world" rather than "OMG let's get from point A to point B". Not to say that modern music doesn't change in time, for Sciarrino's Sui poemi concentrici or Boulez's Derive 2 are constantly changing in sonic texture and have different parts and sections, but... there seems to be less of a "story". And this goes for instrumental music (you're right GM I should have left the Mozart Reqiuem and Tristan to a separate discussion because they have words).

    Or maybe I'm just completely off base here. I'm hearing a sort of longing pleading in the Sciarrino as I type this... hmm...

    I'm not sure at the moment which is why I need you guys to convince me. It could be that modern music just has a different sound/structure/technique/style and that gives rise to different music no more than baroque differs from classical etc.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeptimalTritone View Post
    Common practice music contains huge emotional power. Mozart's Requiem expresses reverence and even fear of God while maintaining a warm human compassion, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde expresses a painful longing that wants to be fulfilled at any cost, even one's own physical destruction, Mahler's 7th symphony expresses huge enthusiasm and positivity sprinkled with a tinge of doubt and mocking cynicism, Brahms's 1st symphony expresses the exhaustion of undergoing a huge ordeal, and Chopin's ballades express a singing pleading on a melancholic canvas.

    But what about Boulez's Derive 2 or Sur Incises? I can't think of any sort of "story" for these pieces. Or Ferneyhough's Sonatas for String Quartet? Or Parmegiani's De Natura Sonorum? Or Feldman's Crippled Symmetry? Or Cage's Imaginary Landscapes? I can't think of any sort of identifiable emotions, or identifiable story. Yet I love all of these pieces, and they might even take me to a higher state of mental intensity as well as provide a more intricate beauty (in particular Derive 2 and Crippled Symmetry).

    Boulez has said "The aim of music is not to express feelings but to express music." Is it the case then, that modern music is more about "beyond-emotion" than "emotion"? Has modern music transcended the "heroic longing for a higher spirituality" that seems to infuse the greatest of the common practice era works? Was this decision inspired by the increasing chromaticism of the musical techniques and the later incorporation of electronic music, or was this decision inspired by more philosophical/artistic/poetic/cultural goals?
    I've selected out this part of your OP to inquire into "emotional expression" in music, and what you appear to be calling "emotional paradigms." You've offered some descriptions of the emotional qualities you perceive in some common practice works, descriptions which I find apt and which I think many other people would more or less agree with. What I notice is that all these works were written within roughly a century of each other, and that that century is the one we call "Romantic." It was a time when the ability of music to suggest poetic or literary ideas, images, and more or less identifiable emotions was valued and cultivated, more than at any other time in history.

    The idea that music can express, or evoke, distinct emotions was not new in the Romantic period. That music has some power of this kind has, I think, been almost universally recognized. But it hasn't always been central to the aesthetics of music, and that's true of much of the common practice period outside of that specific era. This causes me to wonder whether it makes sense - or to ask what kind of sense it makes - to speak of a "common practice emotional paradigm" which we can use to understand common practice music as such, in opposition to a "modern music emotional paradigm" of similar comprehensiveness. In describing certain post-common practice works, in contrast to the common practice ones you mentioned, you say you can't identify a specific emotional content or "story." To this I would respond: What specific emotional content or story would you attribute to a concerto of Corelli? Or a keyboard suite or organ fugue of Bach? Or his Musical Offering? Or a rondo of Mozart? Or an aria from a Mozart opera, divorced from its words and its situation in the story? Or even, in the Romantic period itself, a waltz of Johann Strauss, or the final movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto?

    It seems obvious to me that the absence of a definite, identifiable emotional quality is nothing new in music. Certainly the sounds - the harmonies or other sounds - in modern music may be new, even extremely new, and they're bound to evoke the question: what is this music saying to me? But I suspect it's only the fact that we're so used to the common-practice sound of it that that same question doesn't arise as we listen to The Well-Tempered Keyboard. This is what I take to be implied by Boulez's statement that "the aim of music is not to express feelings but to express music," and in Stravinsky's similar statement "music expresses itself." I do think these statements speak for a limited aesthetic viewpoint (a strain of modernism, as ArtMusic points out) and speak mainly for their authors. But if they're taken to mean that music need not concern itself with trying to express definite emotions, they are certainly correct. And then we have to ask: if a work of common practice music isn't expressing "emotions," what is it expressing? And is "expressing" even the right word for what we hear in it? And how is what we hear in it different from what we hear in post-common practice music?

    Maybe you don't intend to define your paradigms this precisely and I'm barking up the wrong tree here. Perhaps the question (or one of the questions) to ask is: are there emotional qualities which common practice tonal music can convey that music not composed in a common practice tonal language cannot? I think so. I do also think that non-common practice music - not only modern Western music but world music of various kinds - can convey things that common practice music can't. But it's my personal intuition that the evolution of music into a language which composers could invest with the almost unbelievable emotional variety, specificity, and intensity of a Wagner or a Mahler could probably have occurred only in a common practice tonal context. The aesthetic aims of an era and the vocabulary it develops to express them are likely to be well-matched.

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    Some pieces of quite recent which seem very richly expressive to me are Nono's Prometeo and Holliger's Scardanelli Zyklus and George Flynn's Trinity and American Summer and Kurtag's Kafka Fragments. It might help to focus attention on one of these.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-10-2015 at 08:51.

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    Well then this discussion comes back to personal taste and understanding of the music, as usual. At the very extremities of avant-garde, I could compose a soundscape piece based on sounds and describe as "emotional portrait of urban landscape in populous city" and the same effect would be recognized by some listeners. Other may not. That's all there is to it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SeptimalTritone View Post
    Or maybe I'm just completely off base here.
    This is the option I would have chosen on the poll, if it had been offered.

    In literary criticism, this is called the pathetic fallacy. It's an attempt to locate things inside which are only found in actual fact on the outside. Or on the inside of something else.

    I don't think it's quite as complex as it's made out to be. I think it's complicated but not complex. We are all of us humans, which means emotional. Why does that part always get left out?

    You want to talk about music? Fine, talk about music. But this topic is complicated by the constant shifting back and forth between talking about music and talking about perceptions of music--without identifying that that's what one is doing. Talking about two different and distinct things back and forth as if one were only talking about one thing, ever, is bound to be muddlesome.

    When you said, in your original post, after naming a couple of pieces, that you couldn't "think of any sort of 'story' for these pieces," I thought "Well thank God for that."

    And my first thought at reading the subject line--Is the Emotional Paradigm of Common Practice Music and Modern Music Different?--was, well first you're going to have to establish that there's an emotional paradigm of either.

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    Senior Member Richannes Wrahms's Avatar
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    Isn't the same Debussian ecstasy (from Fêtes to the extreme cases of Feux d'artifice and Jeux) what fuels so many works such as Stravisnky's Petroushka, all of Boulez' SACHER based works, Ligeti's Chamber Concerto?

    Isn't the contemplative mood of Webern's Pieces for Orchestra and Ligeti's Double Concerto the same that permeates the quiet parts in Wagner operas (in Siegfried for example), Mahler's song cycles, Debussy's Nuages and much of Pelléas et Mélisande which is intern the ghost behind all of Messiaen's orchestral meditations and specially Saint François?

    All the forcefulness the same forcefullness Beethoven toyed with?

    I think modern composers (at least) just explore and expand or restrict the posibilities of their writing that, intendedly or not, evokes different aspects of the same core emotional states.

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    Quote Originally Posted by some guy View Post
    This is the option I would have chosen on the poll, if it had been offered.

    In literary criticism, this is called the pathetic fallacy. It's an attempt to locate things inside which are only found in actual fact on the outside. Or on the inside of something else.

    I don't think it's quite as complex as it's made out to be. I think it's complicated but not complex. We are all of us humans, which means emotional. Why does that part always get left out?

    You want to talk about music? Fine, talk about music. But this topic is complicated by the constant shifting back and forth between talking about music and talking about perceptions of music--without identifying that that's what one is doing. Talking about two different and distinct things back and forth as if one were only talking about one thing, ever, is bound to be muddlesome.

    When you said, in your original post, after naming a couple of pieces, that you couldn't "think of any sort of 'story' for these pieces," I thought "Well thank God for that."

    And my first thought at reading the subject line--Is the Emotional Paradigm of Common Practice Music and Modern Music Different?--was, well first you're going to have to establish that there's an emotional paradigm of either.

    I think this fallacy can be avoided, and there's a way of understanding the affective aspect of music.

    The idea is that we experience the music with more or less similar emotional responses, by virtue of our shared humanity. And one way of composing is to engineer these responses to say something about our humanity. That's what I think , for example, Froberger was doing in the Death Music, and what Flynn was doing in Wound.

    It's just like with secondary properties. Clearly "redness" isn't in the object - but the object has the power to produce a sensation of redness for normal viewers in certain contexts. The same with whatever techniques Babbitt uses to evoke joyfulness and freshness in All Set.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    Well then this discussion comes back to personal taste and understanding of the music, as usual. At the very extremities of avant-garde, I could compose a soundscape piece based on sounds and describe as "emotional portrait of urban landscape in populous city" and the same effect would be recognized by some listeners. Other may not.
    Correct

    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    That's all there is to it.
    Incorrect

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    The idea is that we experience the music with more or less similar emotional responses, by virtue of our shared humanity.
    How do you account for the vast divergences in responses, then? Whatever we (whoever "we" are) share, we also differ. Just look at any Schoenberg thread. Some hear chaos and darkness and noise. Some hear order and lightness and melody. So no, our shared humanity doesn't take us very far into how we experience music. For that, you need to factor in experience and intelligence and just plain taste.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    It's just like with secondary properties. Clearly "redness" isn't in the object - but the object has the power to produce a sensation of redness for normal viewers in certain contexts. The same with whatever techniques Babbitt uses to evoke joyfulness and freshness in All Set.
    Yes, everyone with similar vision will see colors similarly, though even there. Didn't you see that thing recently where someone asked about some blue dress someone was wearing and someone else said it was gold? Quickly there were two camps, the blue/black camp and the gold/white camp. The identical dress. Anyway, let's go ahead and grant for the moment that everyone with normal vision is going to see red pretty much the same. But that's nothing to do with emotions. Seeing the color red as red is not the same as everyone hearing All Set as joyful and fresh.

    Seeing red in common is the same as hearing the pitch F in common. How you respond to that F, and particularly how you respond to it in its context of other pitches, like F#, perhaps, is a quite different matter.

    Everyone who hears an F in All Set will agree that it's an F--even if you don't know that "F" is what it is. If someone plays another F, you'll recognize that that's the same pitch as the F in All Set. But that's it. Our shared humanity will not enter into any other responses to that piece. Our individual experiences, our biasses, our prejudices, our varying degrees of musical intelligence, our tastes in music--those things will have far greater bearing on how we respond emotionally to All Set than our shared humanity.

    What "our shared humanity" will get you is that we will all of us respond emotionally to music, not that we will all feel the same emotions from each piece. But then, we will all of us respond emotionally to kittens and pansies and sunsets, too. But not all the same emotions even there.

    [By the way, to save you the tedium of Googling, most people see it as white and gold. The dress manufacturer confirms that it is indeed black and blue.]
    Last edited by some guy; Aug-10-2015 at 13:10.

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