29/06/2015 00:00

Heart and Brain: What do we expect from music?

Today I am going to speak about our expectations from the classical music. In my previous blog about the price of the concerts I said that when we go to a concert, we expect emotional responses from the music performance. Music has a power of making us sad or joyful. The best moments in the concerts are the moments of strong emotions with the chills running down our spines.. But what is it exactly? And why do we not get it all the time?
I read a book Sweet Anticipation by David Huron and he gives interesting facts: For example, he says that these reactions of physiological arousal goose flesh, chills or frisson are caused by short musical passages. Usually it happens when our musical expectations are violated, another tonality appears, abrupt modulations, different rhythmus, or the passage is getting louder. Loudness is known to increase physiological arousal. I experienced this myself by listening to Pictures of Exhibitions played by Denis Matsuev the last piece “ The Great Gate of Kiev” – he was playing with such a fortissimo that I thought Grand Piano would not survive it but the bells of Orthodox Church need this sound but the result was fantastic. David Huron observed though that goose flesh phenomenon is influenced by temperature and will be less when it is warm or hot in the room. So the concert halls with lots of air conditioning might well enhance the emotional experiences. Psychologists compare listening to loud symphonies with roller coaster riding, bungi jumping or eating chili peppers.
I would like to find out if listening to the familiar music can increase the emotional experience? Even Aristotle wondered why the familiar music sounds better than unfamiliar music. There were experiments that showed that the more listeners hear a piece of music, the more they like it. Up to the point where the listeners get bored. But this point is very individual. Now I will go back to David Huron and quote him: more than 99% of all listening experiences involve listening to musical passages that the listener has heard before. People would re-read favorite novels or watch favorite films for a second or third time, but how often did you listen to your favorite song? Hundred times, right? A person listening to the pop radio during 3 hrs a day will hear over 330 songs a week, of which 8 or 10 will be unfamiliar works. It is perhaps a little bit like the leading online shop for parfumes in Germany. They asked the founder how can it be that one can sell parfums through internet, the consumers can not smell the parfums. And the answer of the founder was very simple: It is not about new parfums, 80 % of the consumers always buy products that they already know. Same situation with classical music! Apparently, even for people with large record collections, it is estimated that people would be listening to 5 cds 90% of the time. Everybody who planned concerts knows that playing well known pieces will bring more audience or playing really well the well-known piece at the competition brings the first prize. Novelty in music is very hard to sell. On the other hand, the music commentators prefer innovations in their reports: they are searching for unusual, new interpretation, first use of the technique and so on..
So the conclusion would be to play the same pieces but a new way? But what does it mean new and how does it relate to beauty? We will discover it in my next video blog. Visit us at www.movingclassics.tv for more interesting discussions. If you like my video blogs, please share it with your friends and give me likes in facebook, linkedin and pinterest. Thank you and good bye.

  1. #1
    Marlena · Reply


    I really appreciate you doing these video blogs; I find that this is a very interesting topic. I’d love to discuss it with you privately, perhaps over email. I myself am a classical pianist, and I have had a lot of experience with how the magic behind the music goes in cycles, since I always strive for the best artistry in my playing.

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