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#1148426 - 12/16/05 12:59 AM Why do we like music?
jbot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/05
Posts: 59
Loc: Kentucky
Tonight, I was listening to a Saint Saens piano concerto. Magnificient! Immediately afterward, I listened to a Haydn Piano concerto. I was amazed that I enjoyed it equally as much. Two entirely different styles and yet they were both masterpieces, IMHO. That brings me to my question. What makes "great" music? (To each of us, of course. Not by some outside arbitrary standard.) My thoughts are, among many others, a wealth of beautiful themes executed in imaginative ways and repeated with variations which are never boring and which stimulate our imaginations. Ingenious modulations and accompaniments and constantly changing textures, yet with enough familiarity to give us a sense of identification and comfort.
I am very interested in the composer's viewpoint on this topic.

Merry Christmas to all,
Jim Bottom

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#1148427 - 12/16/05 01:24 AM Re: Why do we like music?
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
I abhorred the only Saint-Saens concerto I ever listened to, and since, have listened to absolutely nothing by that composer out of choice. (Yet, I know in the world of these forums, I am in the minority.) ;\)

To me, music must have the same things a great story has, for to me, music tells a story. And a story has three great things about it:

1. Plot/Theme
2. Character
3. Setting

With Saint-Saens, I found only setting, and maybe a little theme. But there was no over all plot, and to me, absolutely no character development. Maybe in a few years, I'll try it again. For now, my taste is closed off to that particular composer.

So, let's look at how this translates to music, and then I'll list the wide variety of things I enjoy.

The plot/theme can easily be heard in the melody. However, the harmony really takes the plot from one point to the next. Setting is, to me, the over all shape of the piece. Chords, instruments, voicing...these things determine the setting of the piece. The 'character development' is a little more difficult. It is intertwined with how the piece changes over time. The melody opens static and unchanging. Then it reaches some initiation, finds its boon, struggles, transforms, modulates, becomes something new, and reaches some catharsis. Sometimes (much of the time in good music), it then "comes home". It has to return from its journey to the place of its origins. After all, if the character in a good story never returned home (or we never knew what became of the character), it would not be a good story...we would not be able to relate to it.

I can find these elements in everything from Bach to 2pac, though I am partial to neither of those two in particular. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff. Gershwin, Ellington, Gillespie, Ferguson. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy, hell...the whole Rat Pack, Tony (Bennet), even Louie Prima and Lou Monte. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, the Beatles, the Doors, the Monkeys, the Beach Boys. Elton John, Billy Joel. And I can name a bunch of 90s and later groups, too (but I think the list is getting over-populated).

I am a lover of music, of great music, and not of one particular style of music. I can play Beethoven sonatas on the piano, or I can turn it around and rock it out with "Great Balls of Fire". I don't enjoy sitting in the rut of one particular style and saying, "This is everything," because, in the end, it is not. ;\)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#1148428 - 12/16/05 01:42 AM Re: Why do we like music?
jbot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/05
Posts: 59
Loc: Kentucky
Derulux, don't judge Saint-Saens piano concertos until you have listened to his 2nd and 5th. I was not impressed with his 2nd and 3rd, (and even his 4th until I heard the 3rd movement). The 5th is wonderful, however.

JBOT

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#1148429 - 12/16/05 01:43 AM Re: Why do we like music?
jbot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/05
Posts: 59
Loc: Kentucky
Sorry, I meant to say the 3rd and 4th (Until I heard the 3rd movement.

jbot

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#1148430 - 12/16/05 01:58 AM Re: Why do we like music?
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
I believe it was his 2nd that I listened to. ;\)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#1148431 - 12/16/05 07:26 AM Re: Why do we like music?
sarabande Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/18/05
Posts: 1597
Loc: Mo.
 Quote:
Originally posted by jbot:
My thoughts are, among many others, a wealth of beautiful themes executed in imaginative ways and repeated with variations which are never boring and which stimulate our imaginations. Ingenious modulations and accompaniments and constantly changing textures, yet with enough familiarity to give us a sense of identification and comfort. Jim Bottom [/b]
= variety![/b]

Well put, to me variety is a top factor.

Sarabande

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#1148432 - 12/16/05 10:26 AM Re: Why do we like music?
pianocliff Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/05/05
Posts: 398
Loc: Washington, DC Metro
"... (Music) should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise. It's easy to rediscover part of yourself, but through art you can be shown part of yourself you never knew existed. That's the real mission of art. The artist has to find something within himself that's universal and which he can put into terms that are communicable to other people. The magic of it is that art can communicate to a person without his realizing it... enrichment,
that's the function of music."

-- Bill Evans, jazz pianist

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#1148433 - 12/16/05 03:57 PM Re: Why do we like music?
Steve Chandler Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2739
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
 Quote:
Originally posted by jbot:
What makes "great" music? (To each of us, of course. Not by some outside arbitrary standard.) My thoughts are, among many others, a wealth of beautiful themes executed in imaginative ways and repeated with variations which are never boring and which stimulate our imaginations. Ingenious modulations and accompaniments and constantly changing textures, yet with enough familiarity to give us a sense of identification and comfort.
[/b]
Great music is a combination of a message or story and effective manipulation of musical concepts in a way that is entertaining, engaging and ultimately uplifting. For example Bach's Art of Fugue combines the desire of a supremely gifted composer to codify his art near the end of his life with some of the deepest counterpoint ever composed. In fact it's interesting that both late Bach and late Beethoven share a sense of greatness not because the give the audience what it wants, but because each composer feels free and is motivated to express himself to the utmost of his ability.

This point brings me to Saint-Saens. I have not heard any of his piano concertos, well maybe I have, but I don't remember them. However, his cello concerto is a wonderful piece. BUT, it's the Symphony #3 in C minor with organ (avec orgue) that echoes the point I just made. This work is widely regarded as SS's most significant achievement for orchestra. I seem to recall that he commented once that he put everything he had into the piece and indeed he wouldn't write any more significant pieces for orchestra.

So is SS's 3rd Symphony a "great" piece? It's very skillfully written and the organ parts meld seamlessly into the overall texture (very rare and very difficult). It's a beautiful and engaging piece. It has had a solid place in the repertoire for over a century and it is by far the most popular work in its genre (organ and orchestra). That makes it great in my book. This is a case where a second tier composer overreached himself produced a first tier work.

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#1148434 - 12/17/05 11:38 PM Re: Why do we like music?
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
maybe to everyone, great music means differently. i like Saint-Saens music, at least half of it, his 4th piano concerto especially and the magnificient Introduction and Rondo Capriccoso(?) op.80. such music is haunting... and of coures. his B minor violin concerto, among my favourite. Saint-Saens is actually a very smart guy, who's not only good at composing, but also in math/science as well. he might suffer from it though, because he didn't solely focus on his music...

to me Beethoven's music is great, because almost every work of his speaks to me and connects to my inner being, i guess, and his music always has sense of direction/structure/development and as if you see the flow of the music and go with it. i like Bach too, because i like certain complexity in music, such as multivoiced, fugues and etc.

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#1148435 - 12/17/05 11:51 PM Re: Why do we like music?
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
 Quote:
Originally posted by Derulux:
I abhorred the only Saint-Saens concerto I ever listened to, and since, have listened to absolutely nothing by that composer out of choice. (Yet, I know in the world of these forums, I am in the minority.) ;\)

To me, music must have the same things a great story has, for to me, music tells a story. And a story has three great things about it:

1. Plot/Theme
2. Character
3. Setting

With Saint-Saens, I found only setting, and maybe a little theme. But there was no over all plot, and to me, absolutely no character development. Maybe in a few years, I'll try it again. For now, my taste is closed off to that particular composer.
[/b]
You might like Saint-Saens' "Dance Macabre."
_________________________
Sam

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#1148436 - 12/19/05 12:55 AM Re: Why do we like music?
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
 Quote:
You might like Saint-Saens' "Dance Macabre."
I'll have to give it a listen. Perhaps the Classical Music Archives has a free listen available? We shall see... ;\)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#1148437 - 12/19/05 01:01 AM Re: Why do we like music?
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
 Quote:
Originally posted by Derulux:
 Quote:
You might like Saint-Saens' "Dance Macabre."
I'll have to give it a listen. Perhaps the Classical Music Archives has a free listen available? We shall see... ;\) [/b]
The concert master's violin is tuned a half-step flat on the A string (so that it's an Ab string). He's supposed to sound like the devil.

It starts off in a quiet graveyard, behind a church, and it's getting late. Suddenly the devil strikes an obnoxious chord on his fiddle, and slowly all of the skeletons rise from their graves and start dancing about. It gets later and later, and all of these skeletons are dancing about.

Suddenly, at the break of dawn, the cookoo bird calls out. The skeletons go back to sleep in their graves, and the devil plays a sad, lonely, final tune on the fiddle.
_________________________
Sam

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#1148438 - 12/19/05 01:04 AM Re: Why do we like music?
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
 Quote:
The concert master's violin is tuned a half-step flat on the A string (so that it's an Ab string). He's supposed to sound like the devil.
So the devil's playing "a little flat"? You know, they have surgeries for that nowadays...or even medications. :p ;\)

 Quote:
and the devil plays a sad, lonely, final tune on the fiddle.
...which is still out of key, I presume? :p

Yes, I'll have to take a listen. I do so hope, however, that it is not overly dissonant. I don't like that too much, either. (Some Liszt is this way, and some Ginastera I encountered recently.)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#1148439 - 12/19/05 11:54 AM Re: Why do we like music?
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17778
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
Interesting thread, jbot! It strikes me, though, that you are really asking two very different questions: "why do we like music?" vs. "what makes great music?" I have no hope of being able to answer the 2nd question, but the first question is very interesting, even though I'm not sure I have an answer to it, either. Music (and all the arts, actually) presents a conundrum to evolutionary biologists: Where is the selective advantage in creating and enjoying music? It's not at all obvious, yet the fact that every single culture discovered so far has some form of music suggests that it is a fundamental aspect of human nature (and thus presumably evolutionarily advantageous). I find myself with the rather unsatisfying conclusion that the creative arts are a byproduct of a much more important general intelligence/adaptiveness that DOES have enormous survival value.
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Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

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#1148440 - 12/19/05 11:14 PM Re: Why do we like music?
jbot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/05
Posts: 59
Loc: Kentucky
Monica, I am not sure I agree. Of course there might be a "consensus" agreement on the things which make "great" music. However, each of us must make the determination on what kind of music we "like". In this sense, each of us functions independently to determine "Greatness". I am very interested in, "what characteristics we, as individuals, value. IOW, those things which lead us to declare that this is a 'great piece of music'"? IMHO, this is not an objective evaluation, it is very subjective.

As to the sociological and evolutionary implications, I have no idea nor interest. My question is strictly personal.

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#1148441 - 12/19/05 11:38 PM Re: Why do we like music?
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17778
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
Well, yes, I realize I went off in mini-lecture mode there. To try to answer your question a little more directly, I would say that "greatness" in music is bounded by culture and time. In other words, what makes a piece of music great in Western cultures might leave people in Eastern cultures cold. And vice versa. And I devoutly hope that the characteristics that make a "great" rap song (shudder) would not hold up over time.

Of course, you could very reasonably offer a rebuttal that some forms of greatness have staying power, e.g., Mozart and Beethoven were great long before rap and will be great long after. I'd agree with you, but if you were to then reasonably ask "well, why is that?" I'd be at a loss. Could mathematical analysis of the rhythm and melodies of great works show some distinctive characteristics? Maybe; who knows?

But I found myself thinking that, while I agree with you that perceptions of music are very subjective, there IS some sort of objectivity in recognizing the great pieces. In other words, although not everybody likes Beethoven's Emperor concerto, enough people DO such that it is recognized as a great work. That suggests to me that there are objective, quantifiable aspects of great music that could be identified if we knew the right analytical questions to ask.
_________________________
Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

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