Why do we like sad music?

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ratsrcute
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Why do we like sad music?

Post by ratsrcute » Mon Apr 25, 2016 7:48 pm

Why do we like sad music, when sadness in daily life is distressing?

Before I address this, I want to give some caveats.

Let's not concern ourselves with whether a particular piece is universally sad. Let's say that particular people know for themselves that particular pieces resonate with sadness.

Second, I am aware there is research on this question. However, I think it might possibly not have much significance because it tries to answer this question in a universal sense, whereas I think the reasons might be different for everyone. In fact, I think the best way to answer this question for yourself is to carry out an investigation of your own senses and feelings. Phenomenology, mindfulness meditation, and psychoanalysis all indicate some directions to take.

If anyone here would like to explain how they personally experience sad music, I would be very interested.

Here is what I have found. (I'm going to use the pronoun "we" in the following, because I found most of this information from teachers who write about how widespread these phenomena are. However, I still think it could be very different for other people.)

It comes down to this: sadness is not inherently distressing. That's the nub of it. It is only when we resist sadness that it becomes distressing. This is the wisdom from mindfulness meditation, therapy, etc. There are a couple more points, though. (1) Our nervous systems can resonate with emotions like a string shows sympathetic resonance with nearby sounds. So we don't have to begin a piece in a sad state to experience sadness in it. (2) There is a kind of reservoir of emotions related to our past history, in particular our childhoods. We sense this while listening to the music. (3) The beauty of the music guides us into an equanimous experience of emotion, and this touches us deeply because it gives a more comfortable perspective on that reservoir of emotion.

So to summarize: sadness is not distressing if we don't resist it. The beauty of the music acts as a guide into an equanimous perspective, so we aren't resisting, and it touches us because we reinterpret the reservoir of emotion.

Okay, again I apologize for using "we" if you felt this explanation has nothing to do with your own experience. I would like to hear it.

Mike

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 3:50 am

I am reminded of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Sarek (Spock's father) appears. It is one of the great episodes of the entire franchise. Sarek is suffering from a Vulcan form of dementia which causes him to lose emotional control, including in the presence of sad music. (I am frequently moved to tears by music and make no apology for it.) He attends a supposed concert of Mozart chamber music at which a tear falls from his eye on the presentation of this, which is not by Mozart and requires six players rather than the four that we see in the episode.


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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:24 am

You might equally ask, why do people enjoy sad or tragic or horrifying movies or plays or novels or poems or pictures or statues. Maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word, but people seek them out and pay money for them. I'm not a psychologist and have no answer, and I can't say why I listen to music that I'd characterize as sad. It's nothing to do with my own mood at the time, any more than that the composer was sad when he wrote it (he probably wasn't, depression would not seem a helpful state of mind for creative work). Sorry, no answer.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:25 am

I would agree with the premise that "sadness is not inherently distressing." In general, I find great music uplifting; it takes my mind to a better place. In particular, music that stirs the emotions, including sadness, is the most uplifting for me.

Before attending my first performance--and first hearing--of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, I was warned that the music was very depressing. Yes, the music of this symphony is "sad," but it was anything but depressing to attend this performance. Instead, it was an emotional high for me.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by maestrob » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:27 am

Great music often moves me to tears, and I make no apologies for it. That's the whole point of romantic music, methinks, starting with Beethoven (he said, hearing the slow movement of the Emperor Concerto in his head.). Music uplifts the spirit, whether there are tears of joy or sadness. The emotion I feel is a kind of ecstasy, as if a great epiphany had just occurred. Bach does that for me, especially the great choral works, but so do many great composers, including Harmonielehre by John Adams.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:43 am

I do believe that Aristotle covered this topic quite well a couple of millennia ago. Though he has been superseded in many respects, I doubt that anyone (even Freud) will come closer than the Poetics to explaining why great art has such an emotional impact.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:49 am

maestrob wrote:Great music often moves me to tears, and I make no apologies for it. That's the whole point of romantic music, methinks, starting with Beethoven (he said, hearing the slow movement of the Emperor Concerto in his head.). Music uplifts the spirit, whether there are tears of joy or sadness. The emotion I feel is a kind of ecstasy, as if a great epiphany had just occurred. Bach does that for me, especially the great choral works, but so do many great composers, including Harmonielehre by John Adams.
Oh heck, Brian, sometimes it is not even great music. For years the high school where I taught in Maryland put on embarrassingly mediocre versions of the ritual of the annual musical. Then one year they were somehow endowed (I mean with money) to bring in heavy powers, and it was as night to day. The performance of West Side Story by my own students was so fabulous that I had to change my seat so that the kids would not see me bawling my eyes out.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by maestrob » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:55 am

jbuck919 wrote:
maestrob wrote:Great music often moves me to tears, and I make no apologies for it. That's the whole point of romantic music, methinks, starting with Beethoven (he said, hearing the slow movement of the Emperor Concerto in his head.). Music uplifts the spirit, whether there are tears of joy or sadness. The emotion I feel is a kind of ecstasy, as if a great epiphany had just occurred. Bach does that for me, especially the great choral works, but so do many great composers, including Harmonielehre by John Adams.
Oh heck, Brian, sometimes it is not even great music. For years the high school where I taught in Maryland put on embarrassingly mediocre versions of the ritual of the annual musical. Then one year they were somehow endowed (I mean with money) to bring in heavy powers, and it was as night to day. The performance of West Side Story by my own students was so fabulous that I had to change my seat so that the kids would not see me bawling my eyes out.
Well, I happen to think that West Side Story IS great music, so there! :D

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 1:30 pm

maestrob wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
maestrob wrote:Great music often moves me to tears, and I make no apologies for it. That's the whole point of romantic music, methinks, starting with Beethoven (he said, hearing the slow movement of the Emperor Concerto in his head.). Music uplifts the spirit, whether there are tears of joy or sadness. The emotion I feel is a kind of ecstasy, as if a great epiphany had just occurred. Bach does that for me, especially the great choral works, but so do many great composers, including Harmonielehre by John Adams.
Oh heck, Brian, sometimes it is not even great music. For years the high school where I taught in Maryland put on embarrassingly mediocre versions of the ritual of the annual musical. Then one year they were somehow endowed (I mean with money) to bring in heavy powers, and it was as night to day. The performance of West Side Story by my own students was so fabulous that I had to change my seat so that the kids would not see me bawling my eyes out.
Well, I happen to think that West Side Story IS great music, so there! :D
The greatest show stopper, with nothing else being close in Broadway history.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Tue Apr 26, 2016 1:43 pm

In music, what can bring tears to my eyes is not necessarily sad music or any particular emotion, but music of a certain penetrating kind of beauty. One example is the orchestral close of "Der Rosenkavalier" Act 1, after the Marschallin has sung her last - begins at 1:08:05 in this clip:

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:19 pm

John F wrote:In music, what can bring tears to my eyes is not necessarily sad music or any particular emotion, but music of a certain penetrating kind of beauty. One example is the orchestral close of "Der Rosenkavalier" Act 1, after the Marschallin has sung her last - begins at 1:08:05 in this clip:
John, you gave us an hour's worth of music to listen to! :) You did not meet my friend Ted in NYC, who loves Elektra and unaccountably bel canto at the same time but calls Rosenkavalier "four hours of cotton candy." I do not share that opinion, of course, but one can be a bit more concise in proposing selections that move one to an emotive state.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Tue Apr 26, 2016 6:38 pm

I gave you just under two minutes of music to listen to, telling you at what point in the clip to start listening. To do that, move the mouse pointer along the track just beneath the picture, ahead of the moving disc until the timing above the pointer is what you're looking for. Then left click the mouse.

Having confessed that a particular passage of music can move me to tears, I don't appreciate being hit with a gratuitous and stupid putdown from somebody I don't know, whose opinion you say even you don't agree with. What is that about?
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 9:10 pm

John F wrote:I gave you just under two minutes of music to listen to, telling you at what point in the clip to start listening. To do that, move the mouse pointer along the track just beneath the picture, ahead of the moving disc until the timing above the pointer is what you're looking for. Then left click the mouse.

Having confessed that a particular passage of music can move me to tears, I don't appreciate being hit with a gratuitous and stupid putdown from somebody I don't know, whose opinion you say even you don't agree with. What is that about?
Indeed you did, and I did not need the instructions about how to move the pointer. My bad for not being thorough with your post. Do not impute a "put-down" to my friend whom you did not meet. I was casually going back a long way through our history. There is no way that he would directly "put you down," nor would I, ever.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:17 pm

D Minor
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by ratsrcute » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:44 am

John F, indeed we can ask about a range of emotions. I wanted to narrow the discussion, that's all. We in a huge area just to discuss one emotion.

You mention that composers don't have to be experiencing sadness to write sad music. I put it like this--the brain or nervous system is always ready to "resonate" with emotion occurring around us. Consider regular life for a second. We respond to the emotions of the people around us. Sometimes we don't like that. I recall a philosopher (I forget who) writing about people attending a tragic play and crying at the fate of the characters, then walking into the street and ignoring beggars. I think a person who is not resisting their emotions will be moved by almost any tragic situation whether in a play or the street in front of us, but most people only willingly enter into those feelings when they are carried on a stream of beauty. But is there an essential difference? The lesson from mindfulness meditation (an application of Buddhism) is that we can learn to willingly enter into our feelings about real-life situations if we don't resist them. I can't claim that's universally true, but I've seen it work in my own life. This has taught me that the feelings we have about tragic music are essentially the same feelings we have about real-life tragedy and that we could easily be comfortable with both, except that we are conditioned to fight the emergence of real-life sadness.

But why don't we fight sadness in beautiful art?

Several people here wrote about the transcendent experience of beauty. It reminds me of mystical experiences and experiences in psychotherapy. In the latter two domains, people often experience a transformation of what we could call their "perspective" on their lives, or the "meaning" of their lives. It's hard to explain, but it's a sense that all of the events of your life, especially very deep formative experiences, add up to something that can be embraced and integrated. A person becomes becomes whole. What I'd like to believe, because it seems so cool to me, is that music is a kind of "facilitated enlightenment." You temporarily have a radically different perspective on your life, or on life as a whole. The kinds of transformation I get from meditation and therapy feel quite like those in music, the difference being that I can integrate the former into regular life. So it seems very likely, from my point of view (not that I know anything :wink: ) that music is evoking a similar experience, although some people may experience it as only temporary.

Bach's C# minor prelude/fugue from WTC I, as performed by Leonhardt, is a mystical experience to me. It just keeps getting bigger and better with time. Although my goal is to live in a wakeful state at all times, there is nothing wrong with using music to help it along, and it gives me so much pleasure that it makes life considerably more valuable and worth being "awake" for.

Mike

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by premont » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:34 am

Why do we like sad music?

I am sorry, I do not know why.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by maestrob » Wed Apr 27, 2016 11:45 am

JohnF's experience with Rosenkavalier is more like what I look for in great performances of great music, that powerfully transcendent moment of beauty, whether from a full orchestra, a section, or just the placement of a single note. There are so many examples that I'll refrain from posting a list, but it's something that we all share in our musical quest.

I don't call it sad music, but moving music: it doesn't make me sad, but those inexpressible moments do move me to tears. These are moments of deep emotion, but not sadness. One weeps for many reasons besides sadness: joy, sublime beauty, the magical ending of a story, all of which can be the result of great music. It takes very special musicians to bring about these moments: it's what we look for in concerts and on recordings.

'nuff said.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:12 pm

maestrob wrote:JohnF's experience with Rosenkavalier is more like what I look for in great performances of great music, that powerfully transcendent moment of beauty, whether from a full orchestra, a section, or just the placement of a single note. There are so many examples that I'll refrain from posting a list, but it's something that we all share in our musical quest.

I don't call it sad music, but moving music: it doesn't make me sad, but those inexpressible moments do move me to tears. These are moments of deep emotion, but not sadness. One weeps for many reasons besides sadness: joy, sublime beauty, the magical ending of a story, all of which can be the result of great music. It takes very special musicians to bring about these moments: it's what we look for in concerts and on recordings.

'nuff said.
Strauss is full of moments like that. Click and hold your cursor on the advance blob in the YouTube and hold it down until the timer underneath reads 4:00, unless you care to miss the greatness surrounding the climax. I believe I've made my point.


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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by maestrob » Thu Apr 28, 2016 11:48 am

Yes, that's one of my favorite moments in Strauss, and Jessye Norman's voice is ideal for that role. I programmed that aria twice in my competition: the second time, the singer in question was hired by the MET.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by SONNET CLV » Thu Apr 28, 2016 4:05 pm

Why do we like sad music?
Sadly, I don't know. Except to say, maybe it makes us ... happy?

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Marc » Mon Jan 16, 2017 1:47 am

I think it's got something to do with emotional empathy and consolation.
IMO, these feelings are beautiful and positive.
And that's why it feels good to experience them.

I think.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Belle » Mon Jan 16, 2017 2:36 am

All excellent responses. And I adored the Chopin Nocturne - what's not to love. And "Der Rosenkavalier"!! Not all candy at all; oh no.

I find I respond to the written word as well as music when it comes to emotion. Some of us are predisposed to emotion more than others, I'm sure.

Just yesterday I was reading aloud an anecdote about Carlos Kleiber written by an erstwhile clandestine lover from the early 1970s, reflecting on her long friendship/relationship with the conductor and I found I couldn't continue with the reading of it, halted by a lump in my throat. This is because of my love for music is so great and reading about an extraordinary conductor, loved by all and who is inextricably woven into that passion of mine, makes me extremely vulnerable. The writer is an American and she enjoyed a long, but sporadic, friendship by phone with Kleiber over 3 decades, after an initial physical affair in Munich:

"In a nutshell, Carlos Kleiber was the kindest, gentlest, most intelligent and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to know. And, for me, he was the ultimate musician........
My husband died in 2002, a year before Stanka (Kleiber's wife) and even though Carlos was very ill he spent a lot of time helping me through the hard parts. Then Stanka died, and then Carlos left too. It all just disappeared in a puff of smoke. In the end, I guess that's what magic is all about".

This work is shattering, especially at 2h37m35seconds:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF4zN-Okonc

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Mon Jan 16, 2017 5:24 am

This is actually a complicated philosophical question of long standing. The philosopher Peter Kivy has discussed it at length in, for example, the chapter "The Emotions in You" in "Introduction to a Philosophy of Music." He observes that if music expressive of negative emotions, such as sadness, despair, or anger, aroused those emotions in us, most of us would avoid it; but in fact the music does not arouse those emotions, and so the Pathetique Symphony is one of the most popular works in the repertoire. Kivy suggests that we listen to such music and enjoy it because we find it "beautiful, wonderful, magnificent," or other positive qualities, as music. Wnat attracts and rewards us is not the emotions it expresses but its esthetic qualities. That's a pretty good description of how and why I listen to classical music - and why I get so little out of other kinds of music.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 16, 2017 5:40 am

John F wrote: Wnat attracts and rewards us is not the emotions it expresses but its esthetic qualities. That's a pretty good description of how and why I listen to classical music - and why I get so little out of other kinds of music.
I'd have to think more about this but it doesn't seem to apply with regard to opera-emotions matter. Regards, Len

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Marc » Mon Jan 16, 2017 6:58 am

lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote: Wnat attracts and rewards us is not the emotions it expresses but its esthetic qualities. That's a pretty good description of how and why I listen to classical music - and why I get so little out of other kinds of music.
I'd have to think more about this but it doesn't seem to apply with regard to opera-emotions matter. Regards, Len
Or anything with lyrics.

During the Schlußchoral of Bach's Matthäus-Passion, part 1 ("O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß"), I always get a bit emotional (just a bit ;)) when the sopranos sing (followed by the A-T-B) "Den Toten er das Leben gab / und legt dabei all' Krankheit ab". I don't think that would happen (in the same way, that is) if they had sung "Ja gib uns noch ein Meter Bier / dann feiern wir die Weiber hier". Yet the 'esthetic' beauty of the notes has not really changed... or has it...?

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Belle » Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:20 am

Absolutely, yes, the aesthetics of the music are altered by the lyrics. The powerful combination of music and words forms an essential part of the emotional experience. Just as the moving image of ballet when combined with 'sad' music has a yet more potent impact. Look at this famous Cranko choreography of Prokofiev's masterpiece and try and envisage the music without the ballet!! The two lovers in Cranko are fully cognizant of their doomed love and this is very evident in the dramatization - the sense of fatalism is one of the sources of the powerful emotional response (and sadly the Stuttgart Romeo comes across as rather wooden in this excerpt):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDloTFpoZAI

Contrast the same scene from the same ballet with the same music but this time with a different choreographer, Kenneth Macmillan. His lovers are more youthful, exuberant, passionate and seem unaware of their fate: (need to ff to about 1m35")

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a04IcHI1fFQ

The latter is for me the more emotionally charged because the lovers are young and their love so ecstatic and new - and we know where it's going to end. Ergo, the music is received with a greater degree of emotional intensity.
Last edited by Belle on Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:35 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:29 am

Belle wrote: Contrast the same scene from the same ballet with the same music but this time with a different choreographer, Kenneth Macmillan.
Belle, thanks-how ironic you picked this-I can contrast both ballets and their music with the opera we just saw last week at the Met-Gounod's Romeo et Juliette with great music, singing acting and production set.! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Mon Jan 16, 2017 8:11 am

Marc wrote:
lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote: Wnat attracts and rewards us is not the emotions it expresses but its esthetic qualities. That's a pretty good description of how and why I listen to classical music - and why I get so little out of other kinds of music.
I'd have to think more about this but it doesn't seem to apply with regard to opera-emotions matter. Regards, Len
Or anything with lyrics.
But that's an entirely different matter. Our discussion isn't about sad words or sad dramatic situations but sad music in itself. Does, for example, the first movement of Beethoven's quartet #14 make you actually feel sad? Does the finale of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony plunge you into the depths of despair? I expect not; music alone, without words, has no such effect on me anyway.

Marc's example bears out what I've said, doesn't it? Another example. In Bach's Matthew Passion, the passion chorale "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" is sung four times with different words in different contexts and in different keys, but otherwise it's the same music every time; for me at least, the effect is different each time because the words are. The tune itself is not sad, but the words are increasingly so as the Passion progresses. (For the fifth repetition, in which the chorus sings not of Jesus' death but their own, Bach has recomposed the chorale - one of many strokes of genius in this great work.)

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 16, 2017 8:34 am

John F wrote:Does, for example, the first movement of Beethoven's quartet #14 make you actually feel sad? Does the finale of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony plunge you into the depths of despair? I expect not; music alone, without words, has no such effect on me anyway.
I don't think music alone can get completely specific-still when I listen to that finale I'm not tapping my toes-I think it generates a sad sort of feeling-otoh that Radetzky March makes me want to march and clap-isn't there some emotion to the music? Regards, Len

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 16, 2017 8:43 am

[quote="John F"]

Marc's example bears out what I've said, doesn't it? Another example. In Bach's Matthew Passion, the passion chorale "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" is sung four times with different words in different contexts and in different keys, but otherwise it's the same music every time; for me at least, the effect is different each time because the words are. The tune itself is not sad, but the words are increasingly so as the Passion progresses. (For the fifth repetition, in which the chorus sings not of Jesus' death but their own, Bach has recomposed the chorale - one of many strokes of genius in this great work.)

/quote]

I just listened to the clip-no captions so I had no idea what they were singing-without knowing the specifics I certainly wasn't breaking out laughing so maybe the music itself has some emotional power? Regards, Len

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Mon Jan 16, 2017 12:15 pm

Since you didn't understand the words, does the music by itself cause you personally to feel a particular emotion? If so, what is it? (I'm not asking what emotion the music expresses but what you feel when listening to it, if any.)
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 16, 2017 3:00 pm

John F wrote:Since you didn't understand the words, does the music by itself cause you personally to feel a particular emotion? If so, what is it? (I'm not asking what emotion the music expresses but what you feel when listening to it, if any.)
I`ll have to listen some more but for now I heard seriousness if that counts as an emotion-right now I`m on the jet blue plane with free wifi replying with my tablet-first time ever aboard a US plane and getting this-free-I`m ìmpressed. Len

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Mon Jan 16, 2017 4:14 pm

I'll say it again, Lenny. The question is not whether music expresses emotions - we know it does - but whether hearing it makes you feel an emotion you weren't feeling before. "Seriousness" is most people's state of mind when listening to any classical music, before the music even starts, so that's not it. Does sad music make you personally feel sad, as if a friend had died? Does any music expressing anger make you personally feel angry? That kind of thing. If so, then what music?
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Belle » Mon Jan 16, 2017 6:18 pm

Great question!! I tend to think that emotional responses in music are enhanced by the mood you are already experiencing. You can feel MORE exhilarated when you are already in a buoyant mood - for example, when I listen to Mel Torme and George Shearing singing their classy jazz arrangement of "Pick Yourself Up" by Jerome Kern it makes me feel invincible. But I go for this music precisely because of my mood. Then there's Beethoven's "Heiliger Dankgesang" which I wouldn't want to hear when I'm feeling exuberant. It wouldn't do this serious work justice, but I would listen to it when I want quiet time and contemplation. But, having said that, it can still make me sad because the more you're prepared to enter into that aesthetic world and surrender to it the more likely it is to move you out of your current emotional state into, perhaps, a less desirable one.

But the original premise of this thread was asking 'why do we like sad music'? I wouldn't say 'like' has anything to do with it; that word is so over-wrought, thanks to the internet, that it ceases to hold any meaning for me other than as a trite code-word, or symbol, acknowledging the comments of others. A singular bleat from the sheep!! The metonymic tic of our (r)age!!!

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 16, 2017 9:42 pm

John F wrote:I'll say it again, Lenny. The question is not whether music expresses emotions - we know it does - but whether hearing it makes you feel an emotion you weren't feeling before. "Seriousness" is most people's state of mind when listening to any classical music, before the music even starts, so that's not it. Does sad music make you personally feel sad, as if a friend had died? Does any music expressing anger make you personally feel angry? That kind of thing. If so, then what music?
0pera can sure make me sad even if I start out before listening to it happy-classical music without words-don`t know. It can make me happy-let`s say I`m having a bad day in the kitchen-the classical piece may calm me down and cheer me up--mozart`s 39th sym. Len

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Marc » Tue Jan 17, 2017 1:10 am

John F wrote:
Marc wrote:
lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote: Wnat attracts and rewards us is not the emotions it expresses but its esthetic qualities. That's a pretty good description of how and why I listen to classical music - and why I get so little out of other kinds of music.
I'd have to think more about this but it doesn't seem to apply with regard to opera-emotions matter. Regards, Len
Or anything with lyrics.
But that's an entirely different matter. Our discussion isn't about sad words or sad dramatic situations but sad music in itself. Does, for example, the first movement of Beethoven's quartet #14 make you actually feel sad? Does the finale of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony plunge you into the depths of despair? I expect not; music alone, without words, has no such effect on me anyway.
I'll go along with this, you certainly have a point... I do know sad music, but no music that makes me sad. Not even sad music makes me sad.
Not easy to describe how or why, but I guess it's something like this:

I think it's got something to do with emotional empathy and consolation.
IMO, these feelings are beautiful and positive.
And that's why it feels good to experience them.

I think.


:)

Post scriptum: I do know music that I do not like it all... if possible, I switch it off before it makes me sad. ;)

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Tue Jan 17, 2017 7:31 am

lennygoran wrote:classical music without words-don`t know. It can make me happy-let`s say I`m having a bad day in the kitchen-the classical piece may calm me down and cheer me up--mozart`s 39th sym.
Listening to classical music must make us feel good in some way or we wouldn't be here, would we? :) But suppose you put on Mozart's 40th symphony instead. Would that make you feel sad? The last movement seems to me to express the emotion of anger. Does listening to it make you angry - not at anyone or anything, just angry? That would be very strange indeed.

Others have spoken here of feeling sad in what they call empathy. But surely that's not right. We don't feel empathy with an emotion per se or with a piece of music but with people, and not just any people but those we like or at least don't dislike. (If you hate your mother-in-law, you're not likely to cry when she weeps.) In opera there are characters and situations with which we might empathize, but not so in a symphony or a sonata. So if someone actually does become sad simply from listening to sad music, empathy isn't the reason. What is, then?
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Tue Jan 17, 2017 7:47 am

Belle wrote:But the original premise of this thread was asking 'why do we like sad music'? I wouldn't say 'like' has anything to do with it; that word is so over-wrought, thanks to the internet, that it ceases to hold any meaning for me other than as a trite code-word, or symbol, acknowledging the comments of others. A singular bleat from the sheep!! The metonymic tic of our (r)age!!!
Oh, I think "like" is still a very useful word, expressing a positive feeling without saying how strong it is. Use a synonym if you like, :) but the chances are you'll wind up asking a slightly different question.

As for this question, we haven't gotten beyond the possibility that we like music expressing negative emotions not from empathy or any such response but simply because we appreciate the quality of the music as music, regardless of whatever emotion it may express. Anybody have any other suggestions?
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by lennygoran » Tue Jan 17, 2017 9:20 am

John F wrote:
lennygoran wrote:classical music without words-don`t know. It can make me happy-let`s say I`m having a bad day in the kitchen-the classical piece may calm me down and cheer me up--mozart`s 39th sym.
Listening to classical music must make us feel good in some way or we wouldn't be here, would we? :) But suppose you put on Mozart's 40th symphony instead. Would that make you feel sad? The last movement seems to me to express the emotion of anger. Does listening to it make you angry - not at anyone or anything, just angry? That would be very strange indeed.

Others have spoken here of feeling sad in what they call empathy. But surely that's not right. We don't feel empathy with an emotion per se or with a piece of music but with people, and not just any people but those we like or at least don't dislike. (If you hate your mother-in-law, you're not likely to cry when she weeps.) In opera there are characters and situations with which we might empathize, but not so in a symphony or a sonata. So if someone actually does become sad simply from listening to sad music, empathy isn't the reason. What is, then?

John thanks-when we get back I`ll check out that 40th-right now we`re headed out for the greenery and seacoast of southern florida-80 degrees-may get in some birding and I`m sure we`ll see some colorful flowers Len [in ft lauderdale]]

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Belle » Tue Jan 17, 2017 2:45 pm

John F wrote:
Belle wrote:But the original premise of this thread was asking 'why do we like sad music'? I wouldn't say 'like' has anything to do with it; that word is so over-wrought, thanks to the internet, that it ceases to hold any meaning for me other than as a trite code-word, or symbol, acknowledging the comments of others. A singular bleat from the sheep!! The metonymic tic of our (r)age!!!
Oh, I think "like" is still a very useful word, expressing a positive feeling without saying how strong it is. Use a synonym if you like, :) but the chances are you'll wind up asking a slightly different question.

As for this question, we haven't gotten beyond the possibility that we like music expressing negative emotions not from empathy or any such response but simply because we appreciate the quality of the music as music, regardless of whatever emotion it may express. Anybody have any other suggestions?
Empathy occurs in our relationship with people, but we can respond very strongly and emotionally to music without text or ballet. Of course, this cannot simply exist on the page in the notes; music requires an interpreter and an audience. The musician/s performing will bring their own 'story' to that performance and we might respond to that 'communication' between us. In that sense we ARE responding with empathy to other human beings; in any case, music is one of the strongest means of communicating between people that I know. Even the act of listening on CD is one about responding to both music and performer.

Today at 6.45am Sydney it's already ferociously hot (over night 92F) and I'm listening to this. I didn't feel sad upon waking but I have become very emotional listening to this: it's immediate and visceral!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJbixlJc84w

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Tue Jan 17, 2017 11:44 pm

Perhaps we might think about why we like music, regardless of what kind. Belle has touched on this. From what I've read, music stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain in a direct way, as do other kinds of experience. Steven Pinker, in "How the Mind Works," calls music "auditory cheesecake," and says it is "an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of at least six of our mental faculties." Of course different people respond to different kinds of music, just as they respond to different kinds of food, for individual and cultural and doubtless other reasons, but nearly everybody responds to some kind of music.

Why? Does the ability to make music and respond to it convey some advantage to those who can, and disadvantage to those who can't? That way of speaking raises the question of music's role in human evolution. Pinker claims it has no such role, that musicality is a side effect of other aspects of mental evolution and development, but others have noted its role, and that of dancing with which the origin of music is closely associated, in courtship, reproductive success, and therefore our natural selection. All this is just theory, of course, and there may be other explanations that others find more persuasive. I doubt any answer can be conclusive. But all are suggestive.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Wed Jan 18, 2017 7:55 am

With this as a starting point, it's now reasonable to ask what it is in some music that we interpret as expressing sadness, or cheerfulness, or the other basic emotions. I don't think it's inherent in the music itself. Why should we hear sadness in a minor chord, or cheerfulness in the major? And these responses, though very common today, are not universal. Much baroque music in minor keys is quite cheerful, such as some movements of Bach's suite in B minor for flute and strings. And in oriental music based on a five-note scale, there's no such thing as a minor chord, yet no doubt Chinese or Japanese listeners hear some music as sad.

Music is not a language - it has syntax but not semantics - but both have in common that each is an abstract sound system. The sound of a word does not imply what it means; the sound and spelling of the word "cat" are unrelated to anything about the animal. In Japanese the word for "cat" is "neko," which is just as abstract. We understand the meaning of "cat" because we've learned it, but we don't know what "neko" means. Music is far more abstract than language since musical phrases have no meaning that can be expressed in words, no definition. But over the centuries, we have learned to link certain kinds of music with human emotions, and respond as if the emotions were inherent in the music and not in our culturally determined conditioned response to it.

I don't know if this is right, it's just my guess, but to me it seems logical enough. I'd be interested in what others may think.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jan 19, 2017 1:41 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/opini ... music.html
Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23785342
In general, sad music is thought to cause us to experience sadness, which is considered an unpleasant emotion. As a result, the question arises as to why we listen to sad music if it evokes sadness. One possible answer to this question is that we may actually feel positive emotions when we listen to sad music. This suggestion may appear to be counterintuitive; however, in this study, by dividing musical emotion into perceived emotion and felt emotion, we investigated this potential emotional response to music. We hypothesized that felt and perceived emotion may not actually coincide in this respect: sad music would be perceived as sad, but the experience of listening to sad music would evoke positive emotions. A total of 44 participants listened to musical excerpts and provided data on perceived and felt emotions by rating 62 descriptive words or phrases related to emotions on a scale that ranged from 0 (not at all) to 4 (very much). The results revealed that the sad music was perceived to be more tragic, whereas the actual experiences of the participants listening to the sad music induced them to feel more romantic, more blithe, and less tragic emotions than they actually perceived with respect to the same music. Thus, the participants experienced ambivalent emotions when they listened to the sad music. After considering the possible reasons that listeners were induced to experience emotional ambivalence by the sad music, we concluded that the formulation of a new model would be essential for examining the emotions induced by music and that this new model must entertain the possibility that what we experience when listening to music is vicarious emotion.
Full NIH article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articl ... /23785342/

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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by John F » Thu Jan 19, 2017 3:13 pm

Very interesting - thanks for posting it. The article is pretty jargon-infested, and common words such as "vicarious" have meanings not in the dictionary. I'm not sure it advances the argument. But at least it doesn't contradict what I've gotten from other sources and said here. I think.
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Re: Why do we like sad music?

Post by Belle » Thu Jan 19, 2017 4:16 pm

As usual, your comments are thought-provoking. And I related to the NY Times article about lived versus perceived emotions. We can and do adopt the livery of a particular emotion given the right environment and circumstance, and this may be evanescent.

In our music group we have 2 sessions a year where people bring in the music that they like, play the CD (or the piece on an instrument if they wish) and then discuss it. On one such occasion I presented this little gem from Gershwin - the response was immediate, but the music was accompanied by words - which can alter responses hugely. One listener (a musician himself) turned around from his front seat and was quite visibly moved and expressed that emotion with his facial expression and body language:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8FUHNcNFIo

Most of us have somebody in our lives we will always remember; for some of us that will include more than one person! Ergo, words and music are received differently from just music alone.

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