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Music and Sentiment

Music and Sentiment

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Music and Sentiment
    Book Description:

    How does a work of music stir the senses, creating feelings of joy, sadness, elation, or nostalgia? Though sentiment and emotion play a vital role in the composition, performance, and appreciation of music, rarely have these elements been fully observed. In this succinct and penetrating book, Charles Rosen draws upon more than a half century as a performer and critic to reveal how composers from Bach to Berg have used sound to represent and communicate emotion in mystifyingly beautiful ways.

    Through a range of musical examples, Rosen details the array of stylistic devices and techniques used to represent or convey sentiment. This is not, however, a listener's guide to any "correct" response to a particular piece. Instead, Rosen provides the tools and terms with which to appreciate this central aspect of musical aesthetics, and indeed explores the phenomenon of contradictory sentiments embodied in a single motif or melody. Taking examples from Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, and Liszt, he traces the use of radically changing intensities in the Romantic works of the nineteenth century and devotes an entire chapter to the key of C minor. He identifies a "unity of sentiment" in Baroque music and goes on to contrast it with the "obsessive sentiments" of later composers including Puccini, Strauss, and Stravinsky. A profound and moving work,Music and Sentimentis an invitation to a greater appreciation of the crafts of composition and performance.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16837-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    In Shakespeare’sThe Merchant of Venice, act V, scene 1, we find this exchange between the two young lovers:

    Jessica I am never merry when I hear sweet music

    Lorenzo The reason is, your spirits are attentive

    The opening of the finale of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto provides a splendid example of the kind of theme that is the inspiration for this book. A completely unified theme that hangs together beautifully, it nevertheless portrays vividly a series of contrasting sentiments in a succession that amounts to a small narrative:

    This is not always perfectly realized in performance, due to an error...

  5. I Fixing the Meaning of Complex Signs
    (pp. 5-36)

    Dealing with the representation of sentiment in music, I shall not often attempt to put a name to the sentiment, so readers who expect to find out what they are supposed to feel when they listen to a given piece of music will be inevitably disappointed. Happily, however, it is mostly quite obvious. That is: some music is sad and some is jolly. Sometimes it is ferocious or funereal and sometimes tender – and there is little difficulty in deciding what sentiment is being represented (but somewhat later we shall discuss the rare occasion and the odd reason for a...

  6. II Pre-Classical Sentiment
    (pp. 37-48)

    Every student (or at least every graduate student in musicology) knows that the aesthetic of the Unity of Sentiment governed the music of the early eighteenth century, and even continued to exert its influence with a few important figures as late as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach towards the end of the century. Like most generalizations about the history of music, however, this one needs a few cavils or nuances. There is at least one kind of piece where the Unity of Sentiment had no sway in what is called the High Baroque, that is the period from 1680 to 1750....

  7. III Contradictory Sentiments
    (pp. 49-71)

    From 1770, dramatic articulation became essential to musical style. The chief influence was clearly operatic, since Italian opera was the most prestigious genre. It is interesting, however, that pure instrumental music, which eventually sought to capture some of the prestige of opera, was at first much more innovative in finding new ways to articulate musical form than opera, which remained relatively conservative for a long time – it was also more difficult to flout accepted usage in a form that was so expensive to produce. The most striking examples of dramatic articulation are found first in the symphony and the...

  8. IV The C Minor Style
    (pp. 72-86)

    I do not want to imply any profound or symbolic meaning to the key of C in the late eighteenth century. But C is basic for technical reasons, both because it is made up of all the white keys on the keyboard, notated without sharps or flats, and the lowest note on the cello is C, and therefore a possible open-string sonority for a lot of string writing. D is equally basic because of the way the major string instruments were tuned (that is why so many operas and symphonies of the time are in D major). C minor is...

  9. V Beethoven’s Expansion
    (pp. 87-99)

    It is evident that the rendition of sentiment in Beethoven’s work has a greater range and is on a more heroic scale than was found in music before him. Paradoxically, however, although this aspect of his compositional practice becomes more inventive and original as his career progresses, he also draws closer in some ways to the stylistic principles and procedures of his great predecessors. Restricting ourselves largely to the subject we have taken, the use of basic material with built-in affective variety or even an articulated opposition, we find that Beethoven comes back to the technique of dramatic opposition followed...

  10. VI Romantic Intensity
    (pp. 100-115)

    After Beethoven’s death, themes with an interior opposition of sentiment almost cease to exist. The return to something like the late Baroque unity of sentiment was not simply a modish fashion but came from a profound change in sensibility. Just as Romantic poets wanted to realize, not the underlying logic of experience, but its continuity – not a series of independent events, but the metamorphosis of one state of sensibility into another – so the precise and dramatic articulation of late eighteenth-century musical style, with each important structural point marked by emphatic changes of texture, half or full cadences, and...

  11. VII Obsessions
    (pp. 116-142)

    Initial material of contrasting character has largely disappeared by the latter half of the nineteenth century, and opening themes with astonishing surges of intensity become rare as well. Most composers, from Verdi to Tchaikovsky and Brahms, are principally concerned with inventing material that evenly sustains a significant level of interest and excitement. There are often effective increases of urgency as their themes develop, but rarely the initial sudden, dramatic and even exaggerated surges of intensity that we find in the composers of the 1830s and ’40s.

    It was, however, a goal of Brahms’s career to revive and master the techniques...

  12. Index
    (pp. 143-146)