Karl, then, Deryk, then Rick:
>>> Yet why do we see a minor key as being potentially sad
>>> versus a major key being happy.
>> This is exceedingly culture-specific and I think this is where any
>> attempt to 'standardise' a 'language of music' falls to the ground.
>Case in point: Hearing to 'Taps' today reminded me that I find it to be
>about the saddest bit of music I can think of. And it is entirely a C
>Nevertheless, I do think there is something that transcends culture when
>it comes to emotions in music, even if some influences are cultural. I
>don't believe, for example, that this major/minor effect is coincidental.
Let's put aside other cultures for a moment. Within our own musical
culture there are many musical devices besides choice of mode that
determine whether music is experienced as happy or sad. Tempo, dynamics,
phrasing, melodic contours... And then there is the question of what
the performer can do to use the basic musical material for radically
unintended effects (one example: I used to vex my music teachers by
"swinging" Chopin. Whether Chopin *really* swings is a pretty silly
question though, isn't it?).
The fact that the major/minor distinction doesn't map to the happy/sad
distinction in our own musical culture doesn't count for or against the
thesis that there are "intrinsic" musical factors and "extrinsic" cultural
factors, since the expressive qualities of our own music are influenced
by so many factors that we can't assert the "major equals happy" thesis
even in our own case. And we can't get any culture vs. nature, extrinsic
vs. intrinsic stuff off the ground until we have some hypothesis
concerning what could count as natural/ intrinsic to music.
What the Taps example suggests to me is that even beginning to get
a sense of what one putative intrinsic musical factor in one specific
culture would be is harder then it looks. In the absence of any candidate
for a purely musical factor we don't decide that music having the
expressive qualities that is does is all a matter of "culture" (a
rather vague term in itself). Instead the question sort of evaporates.
Perhaps the concepts are too imprecise to ask the question profitably.