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Journal of No. 118

February 23rd, 2010

Speaking in notes @ 04:45 pm

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For some reason, I reread Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain. My opinion is roughly the same -- it starts great, and then gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Nevertheless, I was struck by a particular sentence enough to mention it. Some music is programmatic in that it literally(?) tries to tell a story, or describe something in the real(?) world. In a strange way, it is music as language. What is the Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony describing to you?

Within a particular musical tradition, no one would interpret a theme titled "Grief" as being joyous. Asked to guess the music's intended meaning, we might overlook grief, but would surely settle on something grief-like, something full of internal strife and pain, such as 'agony' or 'dying'. A title seems not so much to define a composition's meaning as to define its meaning more precisely. It tells us what kinds of anticipations will be rewarded by the piece, and so helps us listen to it more successfully, particularly on the first hearing.

Then why not name all compositions? [i.e. Why is not all music programmatic?]

Clearly, because we do not have words for everything music has to say.
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Date:February 26th, 2010 07:33 am (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes!

Journal of No. 118