[Smt-talk] Beethoven's Sonatas

James Harley jharley at uoguelph.ca
Thu Feb 23 20:05:09 PST 2012

I wholeheartedly agree with Jonathan on this. Emotional reactions as expressed in words, especially single terms like "sad," "triumphant," etc, seem on a totally different level than the music itself. 


James Harley, D.Mus.
Associate Professor, Music
School of Fine Art and Music
MacKinnon 214
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON--N1G 2W1 (Canada)
tel: 519-824-4120 x52989
email: jharley at uoguelph.ca
URL: www.uoguelph.ca/sofam/
URL: www.artmusicpromotion.org/

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jonathan Dunsby" <jdunsby at esm.rochester.edu>
To: "smt-talk" <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>
Sent: Thursday, February 23, 2012 10:08:41 PM
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Beethoven's Sonatas

I wish I truly knew what you mean by 'emotion.' Human feelings seem to be incredibly complex. How do you know you're even asking meaningful questions about what happens when people need music? 

Pinning a word to an abstracted musical object seems, well, doubly, utterly weird, although music-cognition people do it all the time. I personally think they are fantasizing, but there we are. 

You carry on. Who knows what you may discover? 

You might find Naomi Cumming's The Sonic Self interesting, in its warnings about mentalist preconceptions? 


Jonathan Dunsby 
Chair, Music Theory Department 
Professor of Music Theory 
Eastman School of Music 


From: Joshua Albrecht 
Sent: Thu 2/23/2012 11:46 
To: smt-talk 
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Beethoven's Sonatas 

Dear list, 

Perhaps I should post some clarification. A number of you have responded to my question about the emotional expression of excerpts from the Beethoven sonatas with concern about the subjective nature of any response you could give, paired with some suggestion for approaching the question from within a given theoretical framework. In actuality, I am interested in your subjective experience of Beethoven, because what I'm really curious about is how to look at subjective experience more objectively. What I'm really after is a set of excerpts that have the potential to be strongly evocative of different emotions for a range of listeners. The research indicates that despite the individual differences between listeners in how they approach an excerpt, there is quite a lot of agreement about the emotional expression perceived in a given excerpt. In order to study this more in depth, I'd like to get a number of excerpts from a limited repertoire (in this case Beethoven sonatas) that cover a broad range of emotions. 

One way of doing that would be to randomly sample excerpts from all of Beethoven's piano sonatas. The downside to this approach is that I may not get a lot of variety in the emotions expressed. In other words, many of the excerpts could express the same emotions (or worse, not be particularly expressive at all). Another approach (the one I'm using) is to ask a panel of experts about what excerpts are particularly evocative of various emotions. Getting a pool of excerpts would allow me to actually test any number of theories about how musical structures contribute to emotional expression in Beethoven's sonatas. 

Thanks again for your thoughts! 

Joshua Albrecht 
School of Music 
Ohio State University 

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