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EMOTION and MUSIC
Edited by Françoise Russo-Marie and Frederic Rossille
A book in French language - Editions EDK (Paris, 2001)
Jorge Antunès (Brasilia) / Le sémantème musical
Sergueï Belimov (Paris) / Emotion: humanisation de l'Univers (sonore)
Christian Manuel (Paris) / La musique vue du cerveau
Sylvie Nicephor (Paris) / Emotion et musique sacrée
Lili De Vooght (Louvain) / Gabriel Fauré: vers une sublimation pure
Hisako Ito (Tokyo) / La transmission de l'émotion dans la musique de nô
Frédéric Rossille (Paris) / La musique de nos émotions



Extract from the preface
translation: Mary Osborne-Pellegrin, Rencontres Art & Science courtesy

Articles on musicology often discuss the emotional response to music but they generally treat the subject indirectly. We decided to organise a public debate on this subject by inviting various composers, musicologists, instrumentalists and music-loving physicians to participate in a concert-conference which took place on June 29th 2000 at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. This concert-conference , entitled 'Classical Trio - Emotion and Music' was co-produced by "Rencontres Art et Sciences", the association "Plasticités Sciences Arts" and the Editions EDK.

During the first part of this event, several trios (for piano, violin and cello) composed by Frederic Rossille, were interpreted by the composer himself, accompanied by the violinist Mathieu Godefroy and the cellist Robin Dupuy. The CD attached to the present book, reproduces the pieces in the order they were performed at the concert. For the first edition, recording was done using digital processing.

The second half of the event was devoted to lectures by invited speakers from several continents. Below, we have summarized their talks, respecting the order of the programme.

After discussing the concept of the acoustic unit and the application of semantics to music, Jorge Antunès tackles the controversial subject of the significance of music. He stresses the links between music, in particular electro-acoustic music, and visual experiences. He defines the "sémantème" as the minimal fragment of music with significance and then he tries to identify and propose a classification of such a fragment. He distinguishes between two types of "sémantème", "volatas" and "cascades", which are respectively of ascending and descending profiles. These categories are potentially capable of transmitting signification inducing a strong emotional response. Analogies of ascending and descending movements as they occur in different fields of activity outside the sphere of music are presented in a table. While searching for "sémantèmes" of the two categories, i.e. "volatas" and "cascades", in electro-acoustic music, the author comes to the conclusion that they exist also in symphonic music. He thus hypothesises that "sémantèmes" may represent universal signs of musical language.

For Serguei Belimov, emotion acts as an amplifier of resonance between universal constants and those immanent in music. By comparing Asian and European cultures, he demonstrates the relativity of emotional expression. He insists on the importance of timbre, rather than pitch, in traditional music from diverse cultures suggesting the existence of semantically universal sounds, capable of producing identical emotions in different cultures. In all religions, the timbre of the high notes plays an important role, favouring the contact with God and the Universe, i.e. the sounds of gongs in Asian ceremonies, the vocal style of the Islamic muezzin and the voices of the castrati in European sacred music. According to him, this use of the values of timbre represents a condition for the universalization of emotion in European music. In addition, S Belimov has developed specific techniques to widen the range of timbre produced by the piano, thus creating the Cordepiano.

What is experienced when listening to music cannot be described by words, says Christian Manuel as an introduction to his talk. Emotion, the arousal by a stimulus of various corporal manifestations, may be differentiated from sentiment, a conscious elaborated expression of an emotion, which can be verbalised and involves a process of memorization. Recalling data from clinical neuro-psychology and functional exploration using positron emission tomography, the author describes the cerebral zones involved in the perception of music and then details the mechanisms of perception and analysis of acoustic stimuli. The neuronal network involved is distinct from that involved in language. Regions at the base of the brain -the limbic structures- are thought to be particularly engaged in the process of emotional perception. Although both cerebral hemispheres cooperate, each one uses a different strategy. The analytical mode of the left hemisphere contrasts with the holistic mode of the right hemisphere and different musical tasks are thus carried out by one or other hemisphere. The processing of musical information varies depending on whether the subject is a musician or not. Cognitive interpretation of mental processing is discussed. A lexical representation, based on the recognition of "relevant sequences" is opposed to a semantic representation involving diverse domains of the symbolic, the sensorial, the implicit and the subjectivity of emotion. Finally the question of the specificity of the emotional response to music is raised, before concluding that music remains essentially "a mystery to be experienced".

Sylvie Nicephor invites us to share her reflections on emotion in sacred music. A particular state of mind participates in the emotion aroused by music, which while being the result of a certain mental organisation is considered from the viewpoint of its expressive finality. Musical art, which has always been associated with religion from antique mythology up to present day liturgies, appears to have the power to unite the human and the divine. Music thus contributes to the establishment of an inner peace, which is characteristic of states of meditation or reception of a divine message. The performance of a ritual can trigger entry into a state of mystical ecstasy. The organ is considered to be a sacred instrument. In Judeo-Christian liturgies, the role of music is to reinforce a sacred text. Thus Gregorian chant, from which most religious services are derived, unites music and words in a sentiment of plenitude. Over the ages, church music has evolved towards more technicality and formalism. It has been influenced by non-religious themes and the abuse of both the resources of the Scriptures and technique tended to reduce the clarity of the sacred text until Palestrina re-established a sort of equilibrium. Counterpoint and polyphony, which combine austerity with purity, are techniques which remain omnipresent in the religious repertoire. Another tendency was the exultation of the sacred character by accumulating vocal and instrumental means, as employed by Haydn and Mozart. As to whether the emotional response to sacred music is derived from the sacred or from the musical, the author replies that Gregorian chant is a pure product of the Roman Church within which polyphonic technique was developed. Finally, throughout its history, sacred music has had to struggle against certain excesses and to continually purify itself in order to maintain its identity and its finality.

For Lili De Vooght, the music of Gabriel Fauré opens a gateway to another world. The inner self of the maestro is described as a combination of great sensitivity and modesty. His music, seemingly simple and limpid, can however reveal unexpected dissonances. The author describes her personal impressions on listening to several compositions by Gabriel Fauré. She evokes images, subtle sensations and sentiments. She experiences pride and dignity on hearing the Elegy in C minor, Opus 24, whereas the Requiem, Opus 48 inspires awe. The notion of pure sublimation comes from the fact that the composer is governed by a call from within and also by the laws of composition, rigorous scoring and an occasional fantasy. Never did he give in to fashion or to outside pressures. As for psychoanalysis, the author considers that it should remain modest in the face of the works of a great composer. Concerning the composer's emotions, which may be at the origin of his inspiration, she speaks of a necessary self-forgetting and a detachment from oneself so as to feel and hear as from the outside. However, the technical aspects are also of considerable importance. In conclusion, the notion of transcendence is put forward as well as that of sublimation, which is described as essential for creation.

The most ancient theatrical art of Japan, the Noh theatre, is a long dance-drama performance whose text is difficult to understand nowadays. This is explained by Hisako Ito, who invites us to listen to an introductory piece, 'Oshirabe', followed by an interlude for flute, 'Shimonotakane'. A small flute and 3 drums represent the instruments of the Noh theatre. The unstable sound of the Japanese flute is responsible for its rather particular and mysterious character. The notes are said to sound 'like a butterfly on flowers'. The 3 percussionists interpret only a limited number of rhythms but their execution conjures up a changing landscape. Bizarre, dramatic cries are heard together with the drumbeat. Noh theatre music is largely improvised and its essence lies close to the laws of nature. Indeed, the emotion transmitted by this type of music symbolises the return to nature.

The editors,
Françoise Russo-Marie and Frederic Rossille




Reading notes
Paul Snaps, Les Cahiers de l'ACME (in French language)
Marc-Williams Debono, Plasticités Sciences Arts (in French language)
La lettre du musicien (n°257 - October 2001, in French language)


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