Musicology – Session 1

As last year, here is a powerpoint of some introductory notes to a musicology session I teach. Anyone interested in commenting – please do so!

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Introduction to Musicology Lecture” target=”_blank”>Introduction to Musicology Lecture</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Paul Carr</a></strong> </div>

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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19 Responses to Musicology – Session 1

  1. Steve says:

    Hi all, Ok I’ll start with a thought shall I?….:)

    Just started reading Edward Hanslicks ‘The Beautiful In Music’
    Although I’ve probably spent a large part of my life deliberately or accidentally contemplating the effects of music on the emotions and imagination of the listener, I find the ideology of this fascinating.
    I agree with the idea that it is the imagination evoked in each individual (which can depend on or shaped by the individuals own experiences in life) that governs how each piece of music, melody or even note could be perceived through unique thought patterns or memories. Maybe composers are not as in control as they might think! If certain emotions are looked for within composition, and achieved, it’s probably more sociological than scientific.

    So far though, reading this, I also find it interesting that sometimes with this sort of writing, authors’ ideologies are sometimes written and come across as facts, when in fact, they’re just their ideologies….or maybe that’s just me.


  2. Haha, you’re the brave one for starting off Steve!
    I’ve literally just read the first two pages of the first chapter and am already finding it hard to understand exactly what Hanslick is on about so instead I’ll just write my opinion on another part of the presentation.
    I thought it was interesting when it was mentioned how music should sound complete. An a song-writer, I don’t think I have ever written a song entirely on my own and thought that it has sounded complete. However once I have showed this song to another musician, normally my song-writer friend Naomi, and she makes suggestions or declares it a finished song, do I begin to think of it as a complete song.
    For me personally a song can never feel complete until I have had a stamp of approval on it, because for me, music isn’t just for the individual, it’s about sharing.
    Sounds quite soppy haha


  3. Ryan Evans says:

    In agreement with Steve, I think imagination is a big part of how we feel when listening to music. I was talking to someone about a song they composed in the lydian mode not too long ago, and he thought it sounded sad. I listened and reasoned that I could hear what he thought was sad, but I got a much stronger feeling that the song was happy; how did we arrive at different outcomes if our imaginations hadn’t influenced how we heard the song?
    Something else to consider is our history with a piece of music. If I hear a song that I’ve heard before, I tend to associate it with the memory of the first time I heard it (or another time if the memory is stronger) and that influences my feelings on the song.
    Another thing is how music’s inclusion with other media can distort feeling. A piece of music we might consider happy on its own, when played with contrasting imagery can lose its feeling completely and elicit a different set of feelings. An example of this is the trailer for Dead Space ( – a horror video game – which uses the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. While I’d normally categorise this as a happy nursery rhyme, used in this context it doesn’t sound happy to me at all!
    To sum this up, I’d say I agree with Hanslick’s idea that the emotions we feel aren’t present in the music, but we put feeling to the music upon hearing it and analysing it in context with its/our surroundings.


  4. Mollie Ford says:

    Just thought I’d reply to you both with my opinions and maybe other ways of thinking…?
    Steve – I agree to a degree with what you’re saying about composers not always being in control of their emotions. However, sometimes a piece of music needs to be written, for the piece of mind of the composer. For example, Biffy Clyro’s 4th album was written around the time of Simon Neil’s (the main songwriter for the band) mother’s death. There’s a song on there called Folding Stars, which primarily deals with and talks about this event, however the whole record goes through a series of emotions, with depression, anger, anxiety and loneliness all covered through different songs. I think that Neil would have realised, whether subconsciously or not, that he was writing these songs to compensate for his loss.
    Natalie – I think that’s from a perfectionists point of view! I think also when you create something, you want it to be as perfect as possible, so with something like a song that can be meddled with and keep adding layers too, it’s hard to stop until you receive someone else’s opinion, with fresh ears!


  5. Dan Tucker says:

    I’m almost not sure that what i’m saying is right as this confused me a fair bit. It almost seems like Hanslick is commenting on both sides of the argument and almost makes a contradiction between the 2. It’s really difficult to just staple a full gone conclusion on the ideas Hanslick puts forward. He describes beauty as a more visually physical manifestation ‘in the eye of the beholder’ and suggests that something beautiful is and remains beautiful, regardless of anyone’s opinion or any emotions evoked by it.
    He suggests that a pre-conception of beauty in relation to an intellectual and experience basis, formed from our own experience and knowledge gathered of our lives, is what forms the idea of beauty in our minds, but not defines beauty of something itself. Only the object is beautiful. I largely disagreed with this notion. Human beings develop their senses to be able to distinguish different attributes to all elements of life. Tone of voice for example. Some people can relate to sarcasm and understand when it is being used, but then others have no idea when someone is being sarcastic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t being, it’s just not being interpreted that way. I think then that something can only be deemed beautiful when it evokes a reaction of any kind and it’s up to the person’s own subconscious judgement to decide if it is or not based on their own values. I almost saw this as a contradiction on Hanslick’s part. He infers that beauty cannot exist from these opinions or evoked emotions. That beauty is just and is with no extraneous input from external factors. But a rose cannot be beautiful unless it is deemed beautiful by someone? I think beauty (as anything) is very subjective and it’s not possible to label something as a definitive without input from external factors.
    Apologies for the length as well haha.


  6. Elliot Dykes says:

    What interests me in Hanslicks book is his comparison of different functions in the brain (sensation, feeling and imagination) and how from sensation we don’t use our feelings, but instead our imagination to react to how a piece of music is. What I find very interesting is the comparison of art and music, though Hanslick suggests that art and poetry when it comes to studying the aesthetics, has many rules already understood and researched compared to music.

    Music and emotion has really interested me for quite a while now, probably since my second year of college and it’s interesting how he seperates sensation and feeling. LIke how he compares the feeling of joy and sorrow through music against the feelings of winning a lottery or hearing of a friend with a grave illness, though arguably it’s rarer to hear of both of those and yet music can emulate those feelings time and time again.

    I look forward to reading more of this book throughout the term, seeing as it has a lot that would interest me. Currently I’ve been reading a book by Philip Ball called “The Music Instinct” which has a lot about science, history and culture in music and is incredible to read. So many books to read this year but I feel it’s an eye opener.


  7. carza says:

    The comment on Twinkle Twinkle is Interesting – but it is more than the video that impacts the mood of the music. It is also the way the song is delivered, the heavy reverb and general texture. These factors carry meaning too.


  8. Rhys Moore says:

    I somewhat agree with the point that Ryan made, however i feel that the white noise and the slow uncertain singing style perhaps force you to see the music differently, meaning that the emotion is present within the music, so perhaps its this adding/subtracting of different textures to what you are expecting is whats making you feel differently about the melody, rather than than the images which you are seeing along with it.
    I am not entirely sure if i agree with Hanslick’s theories to do with emotion and music but it is something that i am interested to look into further


  9. Rhys Moore says:

    Opps, been sitting on that comment since ryan so only just noticed the one above from ‘carza’ which i very much agree with!


  10. Adam says:

    I feel Hanslick is hinting at the essence already inherent in certain music which can be interpreted, dependent on the listener and their state of mind. I disagree with his idea that emotion is not present in music as if a piece is composed with emotion, that emotion is available for transfer to the listener. If music is a form of communication, then maybe not all listeners are capable of receiving that form of communication, in the same way that not all people can understand a language or a point of view.

    In reference to what Ryan said regarding harmonic interpretation I think If a guitarist consciously decides to use a texture in their work that is considered beautiful, that texture will always be perceived as beautiful to the people who it has that effect with. However, if the same texture is created as a pure result of the creative process, it will then take on a whole other dimension. For instance the lydian mode creating a sense of sadness as opposed to happiness.

    When making music from a theoretical standpoint, we tend to be consciously aware of the numbers and symbols we are using. In order for something beautiful to be truly beautiful, the artist should aim to change these numbers and symbols into colours which they then have to hand like a painter would have his choice of palette. If theory is instilled in the back of the artists mind, as opposed to there in the foreground it can then assist them in their role as an artist and allow their music to be truly beautiful.


  11. Tom Fake says:

    I’ve got to say, it might be quite heavy going but I do find it fascinating. At one point Hanslick says something along the lines of ‘the arousal of feeling is the defining purpose of music’ and that ‘feelings are the content of music’. As I was reading I was nodding and agreeing with what he was saying before he declared that it was false in the next paragraph! I guess that’s how I always viewed music but I’m hoping that this will open my mind a little more with regards to imagination being the key to interpreting music.

    In my defence, Hanslick did state later that musicians believed that the arousal of feeling distinguished music from other art, so at least I’m not the only one to be thinking that before reading this!

    I may have been wrong with my interpretation of one part of Hanslick’s explanation of feeling not being the defining purpose of the art of music. He seems to indicate (I find that some of the sentences are very word-y and sometimes difficult to interpret) that beauty is beauty, regardless of the personal interpretations of the beholders. I just can’t seem to agree with this, because i cannot see beauty as anything other than a personal consideration, and I do not think that beauty is matter-of-fact. Surely that is why we all have different music tastes, otherwise we would all like the same bands and listen to the same collection of songs.

    I also agree with Mollie, and i think that sometimes the purpose of music is to evoke certain emotions in the listener, emotions that were present in the composer at the time of their writing of the song. As a result I perhaps don’t necessarily agree that imagination is essential to the interpretation of music, I just think that you have to establish a connection with the music to be able to receive it’s emotion message, rather than having to use your imagination, because the use of imagination suggests that different people will reach different conclusions, but sometimes the composer wants the listener to arrive at a particular emotion that they were feeling. I hope that all makes sense!

    Ryan – I agree with your statement about foreign media blocking or altering the original emotions of a piece, but this is naturally a more modern consideration of the interpretation of modern day music in popular culture in comparison to music in the more traditional European art discourse.

    And Natalie – I love your way of interpreting music – both listening and composing. It also shows to me that music is something to be interpreted (I guess that’s in line with Hanslick’s opinions of the importance of the imagination) because I can write a piece of music, or listen to a piece of music, and it is complete to me when I have placed an emotion “stamp” on it – so that that particular song will evoke a particular set of emotions (usually linked to events and/or people too) every time I listen to it in the future.

    Sorry if I’ve written too much or repeated anyone’s opinions!


  12. Milosz Niziol says:

    I definitely agree with Ryan and Steve – our imagination and, very often, also memories and experiences from the past can shape the way we perceive music. There are some songs we would normally like, but we don’t – and it’s not because of the music, it’s because of the memories we have about them. It can work the other way round as well – “I’m blue” by Eifel 65 is a good example: I think if I heard this song today or couple of years ago, I would say “No, this is not my cup of tea, really”, but since I used to hear it literally all the time when I was 9-10, it reminds me of those times, and thus is one of the songs I’m really fond of, even though it’s not the music genre I like to listen to.

    Also, reading Hanslick’s book, I’ve found many interesting things, but this sentence certainly riveted my attention the most:
    “Definite feelings are unsusceptible of being embodied in music”.
    Is the above statement true? I think it is impossible to answer this question unequivocally. As Hanslick claims it is impossible to express love, I partly agree with him – in most of cases when love is the subject of the song’s lyrics, the music conveys such feelings as dreaminess, pensiveness or longing for someone, but not love, really. Then again, some songs, like for instance “You take my breath away” by Queen sound like nothing but an expression of love to me, but this may be caused by the fact I’m a big fan of Queen and this song is (in my opinion) simply beautiful. Yet I think there is one more thing we have to bear in mind: “The beauty in music” was written over 150 years ago and popular music has changed a lot since. If “You take my breath away” actually does express love, maybe we should assume Hanslick didn’t think music would change so much in the next century?


  13. Ah, finally found it, although I’m still having a little trouble understanding the synopsis of the book, but here it goes regardless.

    I did exactly the same as what Tom did, where Hanslick stated that ‘the arousal of feeling is the defining purpose of music’ and that ‘feelings are the content of music’. Instantly, I found myself agreeing with this and reading on to find that Hanslick found the statements to be false! At that point it had me thinking that if ‘feeling’ or ’emotion’ isn’t necessarily the defining purpose of music…then what is? Hanslick states that ‘feeling is not necessary to critical judgment’ and that feeling is a secondary effect of listening. Personally, when I have reviewed a piece of music (or merely given my opinion on it), at some point I ALWAYS find myself referring to the emotion that it brings out in me, regardless of the emotion. In fact, it’s only when a piece music fails to evoke any emotion do I negatively review it, or alternatively respond to it with “it doesn’t really do anything for me.”

    Hanslick also states that “beauty is not limited to any specific style”, which I agree with. By this, I assume that by ‘style’, Hanslick refers to genre. Whilst I can relate to certain emotions that are present in certain styles of music, often I can’t connect to it as I’m not necessarily a fan of the music itself, where as someone who is a fan of that particular genre can make that connection.

    I find this quite fascinating because while almost everyone can agree that some pieces of music are beautiful, (for example Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto in E minor, or more controversially the 2nd movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major) there aren’t really any modern pieces of music that you can say the same about. Why is it that when you play a piece of music from one of the great composers to someone, you can guarantee that the response will either be “it’s beautiful” or “it’s a masterpiece”, however should you play anything from the modern era, you cannot have that same guarantee? Is it because of the global admiration of such composers? Or is there genuinely an element in the music that can be emotionally accessible to everyone?


  14. Holly Griffiths says:

    This is ALL very confusing at the moment, I’m having difficulty trying to comprehend the majority of all this, but I’m sure sooner or later it will all click into place. I loved in the first lecture when Paul discussed Pythagerus’ theory that the planets going around the sun make a noise, and the theory that most music has evolved from other music. Compared to what everyone else has wrote, I must seem like a massive div but unfortunately I couldn’t for the life of me remeber the title of that Hanslick book, but at the same time I thought I’de comment on this to make sure I’m keeping up with everyone else.


  15. Edward Scott says:

    I’m with ryan. Although, I believe it links more specifically with memory. When listening to music, I’m not just analyzing it critically. I make connections with past memories, be it hearing a similar sound that reminds me of another band, or connecting with a point in my memory that links with that specific song, time or place. I use my imagination more when I listen to my own music. Picturing myself onstage and how I’d like the crowd respond.


  16. Ty Walker says:

    I have to start by agreeing with a similar point to Tom, which is that I too whilst reading the Hanslick book found myself agreeing with points he was making such as the ‘two roles of music’ that he then in the next paragraph opens with saying this is false. I think I found myself agreeing with these two roles as being a musician myself and especially when it comes to writing music I tend to try and convey an emotion through lyrics and song structure. This is also raised in Hanslick where he states along the lines of beauty is still beauty even if no emotions or feelings are aroused by this, which similar to the point that Ryan made, can be totally in the eye of the beholder and on what musical culture you were raised on as I know that in some cultures what we would consider to be sad they would quite feel the opposite.
    I did however, like most people find the Hanslick a bit difficult to read as he is very ethereal and wordy.
    In relation to the presentations (apologies for my absence from the actual lecture >.<) I really found the 'Concerning our Writing' slide very interesting as I don't think I have ever considered all of those factors when both listening to music but also writing music. I found the Prezi presentation helped me to really get my head around everything as whilst I understood everything in the powerpoint seeing it laid out like that and the cross over and links between certain sections really helped it all to click and cement into place
    All in all it's going to be hard graft but I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this topic as it is very interesting and will hopefully enlighten me as a musician and a music fan.
    Ty xXx


  17. Better late than never! I had written all my notes down on what i had gathered from reading the sort of summary version of Hanslicks book, and it was just a case of actually typing my notes on here!! .. One things i found interesting was how Hanslick talks about imagination playing a huge part in what we listen too. This is one thing i really do agree with, one evening i was playing River Flows in you – Yiruma .. if you haven’t listened to it then do! … But my mum came in and said she liked the music, and that it sounded like you could literally do anything in your power when the music was on. I assume she meant that it had a sense of freedom in it, but this is completely different to what i felt when listening to the song. I really think exactly how the composer wants it to sound is how it will sound, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t all interpret it differently, especially if the composer is telling a story through their music.
    Whilst doing my presentation, I came back to Hanslick, and found this quote: “it is said that the aim and object of music is to excite emotions, i.e., pleasurable emotions; on the other hand, the emotions are said to be the subject matter which musical works are intended to illustrate” … this thought that music is not written to excite or make emotions is something i really do not agree with. I believe that composers purposely use harmonies, melody, and things such as dramatic swells to create a response from the listener, as well as making the music sound beautiful! I know that when i personally write music i think ahead to how the music is going to be received by other people, especially when writing classical music!! 🙂

    hannah xx


  18. Daniel Lewis says:

    Very late, but I’ve found answering these is productive towards my essay. After reading some of Hanslick’s points I can understand his issues surrounding the ‘beauty’ in some music (emotion vs written form). Songwriting for me can sometimes become a mechanical process. For instance often I am searching for interesting changes in chords which will satisfy certain musical rules (a cadence for example). Often however, my pursuit for the perfect musical form will impact on the emotional impact of a piece – Too much time can be spent analysing and satisfying written rules that are known to evoke certain emotions. Sometimes it is the delivery, more so than the content that impacts the listener.

    Johnny Cash covered Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Hurt’ and many people who have listened to the piece prefer his version despite it being stripped down and played with simpler chords. Is the song beautiful on paper? Lyrically this could be argued, but a quick glance at the chord sheet on a tab site doesn’t really convey any ‘beauty’. It is the human fragility in his voice that will give it the emotional impact, and therefore the beauty people describe.


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