theory

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Summarize main points of author’s argument In ‘Emotion and Meaning in Music’, Leonard Meyer discusses how meaning is communicated in music through emotion. His goal is to show the relationship between two different ways people understand meaning in music. The first is the formalist position which takes an intellectual approach and argues that the meaning of music lies in the perception and understanding of musical relationships. The second is the absolutist expressionist position which focuses more on the emotions elicited by these musical relationships. Meyer argues that both these positions are simply different ways of experiencing the same process because “both depend on the same perceptive processes, the same modes of mental organization, and the same musical processes give rise to and shape both types of experience.” (39) Neither approach has explained how perceived sound patterns become meaningful or elicit emotional responses. Meyer’s answer to this is that a musical stimulus results in certain expectations. When these expectations are not met, this elicits an emotional response. This process can be interpreted both emotionally and intellectually depending on the training of the listener. A more intellectual or technical approach “waits for the expected resolution of a dominant seventh chord.” (40) For others, the musical processes are experienced emotionally without conscious consideration. What principle underlies author’s capacity to elicit emotional responses in listeners? In order for a stimulus to elicit an emotional response it must first produce a tendency for an individual to act or think a certain way. Emotion is then aroused if that tendency to respond is inhibited. “When instinctive reactions are stimulated that... ... middle of paper ... ...sical stimulus, the musical event it points to, and the individual. He argues that “the meanings observed are not subjective” (34) and are “real connections existing objectively in culture.” (34) He does however acknowledge that they are a product of cultural experience. This seems to suggest that you have to be familiar with a particular style of music for it to have any meaning. Because meaning and emotion depends on our expectations “a stimulus or gesture which does not point to or arouse expectations of a subsequent musical event or conclusion is meaningless. Because expectation is largely a product or stylistic experience, music in a style with which we are totally unfamiliar is meaningless.” (35) Meaningless is too strong a word. Do we have to completely understand the relationships between each musical stimulus in order to obtain some kind of meaning from it?

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