Musical Emotions

Hi friends. For Music Monday this week I’d like to share a terrific segment I heard on NPR’s On The MediaIt explores the ability of music to elicit emotions in its listeners and identifies the specific elements that create such an effect.

Every one of us has experienced intense responsiveness to a piece of music at some point. Some of us have even been moved to tears. And if not moved to tears, to a feeling of emotional arousal that causes us to get lost in the moment. It’s quite thrilling when it happens. I feel tremendous emotional response when I listen to Beethoven. But of course, Beethoven was a master at provoking emotional response. Nobody does it better in my opinion.

The guest in the On The Media segment is Dan Levitin, professor of  Psychology, Behavioural Neuroscience, and Music at McGill University. He explains some compositional elements of music that work effectively in creating responsiveness, such as the use of arpeggiated chords, also known as broken chords. The opening measures of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, which Levitin uses in the segment, is a perfect example of the arpeggio effect and how it taps into the feelings of the listener. Other factors include some element of surprise – unexpected flourishes, rhythms, crescendos, and spurts of dissonance.

The segment is only seven minutes long but well worth a listen. Very interesting and enjoyable.


Saint Cecilia by John William Waterhouse: