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Exploring historical changes in musical cue use through cluster analysis

Exploring historical changes in musical cue use through cluster analysis

Presenter Name:Max Delle Grazie

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Cameron Anderson, Dr. Michael Schutz


Acoustic cues such as pitch, timing, and loudness play a critical role in the perception of emotion in natural speech (Schmidt, Janse, & Scharenborg, 2016). Previously, these cues have been shown to play a role in the communication of emotion in a corpus analysis of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Chopin’s Preludes (Poon & Schutz, 2015). These sets of pieces are particularly well suited for cue-analyses as they balance the major and minor modes. Music’s stylistic changes throughout history provoke inquiry into composers’ use of cues, such as pitch, timing, and loudness throughout musical history. To date, few studies have investigated how the use of these cues differs across musical eras. To expand on this important issue, here we employ cluster analysis to visualize differences in Bach and Chopin’s use of pitch, timing, loudness, and mode. Our preliminary findings reveal acoustic similarities in music broadly consistent with previous findings. Examining differences in average pitch height between Bach and Chopin’s preludes revealed that Chopin’s lowest piece was four semitones lower than Bach’s. Further analysis revealed that there was a significant difference in loudness between Bach and Chopin’s minor pieces. These findings provoke inquiry into how technological changes in music history affected composers’ cue use, as Bach and Chopin composed for two very different keyboard instruments (i.e. the harpsichord and the pianoforte respectively). Future studies will extend these techniques using a broader corpus to reveal how composers’ cue use changed throughout history.

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