[Smt-talk] Pieces contrary to the minor/major = sad/non-sad stereotype

Eric Knechtges eric.t.knechtges at gmail.com
Fri Oct 2 08:58:54 PDT 2009

It seems like our perception has just as much to do (if not more) with
tempo and other less pitch-related issues as it does with the mode.
I'm waiting for someone to come up with a major mode example in a FAST
tempo that someone would see as "sad", or something minor in a slow
tempo that people would see as happy.

I'm certainly hoping that there's not the implication here that all
music fits neatly into one of these two boxes.  In this vein, I had a
tuba teacher in undergrad who semi-joked with me once that all songs
were either "love songs" or "pirate songs".  Certainly, music is
capable of an infinite, nuanced, multifaceted and personal range of
emotion, which I would imagine/hope is what attracted most of us to it
in the first place!

And once again, as has been point out, this whole subjective
discussion is from the awfully ethnocentric point of view of the
Western classical tradition.  The "majorness" or "minorness" of the
third, and indeed even the tempo of music, means entirely different
things in Indonesian gamelan music, Indian classical music, Arabic
traditional music, etc.

However, since the original author of the question probably wasn't
looking for all of this commentary, I'll offer up the Adagietto from
Mahler's 5th Symphony as another example of something that I hear as
"sad" that is mostly in F major (aside from a digression in the
middle)... and I'll offer up Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the
Bumblebee" as something in minor that certainly doesn't sound sad.

Eric Knechtges
Assistant Professor, Coordinator of Theory/Aural Skills/Composition,
Northern Kentucky University

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