The emotional language of music

Exactly what music transmits to us and how it does it remains somewhat mysterious, but certainly, as everyone experiences, it is something capable of transmitting or awakening a great variety of intense emotions

The musical language is "asemantic" that is, unlike the common language, it does not refer to anything concretely definable.  In common parlance the word "bread" means that object in an incontrovertible way, but listening to a Beethoven quartet what does it allude to, what does it tell us, where does it take us?  The fact is that sound structures cannot be inventoried in a vocabulary. 

Thus, music has a strong emotional impact, but its essence is mysterious and not describable, except in an indirect, allusive and ultimately unsatisfactory way for the rational mind. 

And yet, as the history of civilization shows, we cannot do without music. 

Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote that "of all languages, music brings together the contradictory characteristics of being both intelligible and untranslatable", while E.T. Hoffmann wrote: "Music opens up an unknown realm to man; a world that has nothing in common with the external sensitive world that surrounds him and in which he leaves behind all the feelings defined by concepts to rely on the unspeakable". 

Deep language 

There is a possible correlation between this unspeakability of music and the unconscious, which by its nature always tends to escape from being grasped. Both stimulate the imagination and cause or evoke powerful emotions; both need a ritual, which isolates them from the common temporal flow and gives them a particular meaning. 

As in the analytic relationship there are silences, in music there are pauses and often music prevents us from speaking because its language is another. 

To better understand the essence of music, it is therefore necessary to accept its nature as a language not aimed at transmitting information

In reality, music does not, strictly speaking, convey information or, at least, this is not its main task. To use a definition that goes back to Kant, it has the ability to "move the soul" and therefore to be the "language of affects". 

It provokes emotions, favors the unfolding of the imagination, generates atmospheres, modifies moods, "moves".  Consequently, no verbal explanation can ever replace the live and direct experience of music. 

All this does not mean that the music is volatile, vague, insignificant.  In reverse, as Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy wrote: "Music is not too imprecise, but too precise for the thoughts it evokes to be expressed in words". 

Emotions evoked 

In search of the possible cataloging of the emotions that music is capable of arousing, a group of international researchers led by Alan Cowen of the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley attempted to classify the emotions that different music can arouse in listeners belonging to very different cultures. 

The study involved over 2,000 US and Chinese listeners in two different experiments during which they were exposed to hundreds of musical pieces of various genres.  

In the end, 13 experiential dimensions associated with different types of music were identified: funny, boring, anxious, wonderful, relaxing / serene, dreamy, energizing, erotic, challenging, joyful, depressed, scary and triumphant / heroic. 

From the intercultural comparison it emerged that the feelings of joy and triumph are to be considered the most universal, those with the greatest number of passages associated with similar feelings between those belonging to the two cultures.

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