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Shifts in the Perceptual Categorization of Music between Eras

Shifts in the Perceptual Categorization of Music between Eras

Presenter Name:Benjamin Kelly

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Cameron Anderson, Michael Schutz


Previous research on the use of musical cues suggests notable shifts between historical eras. Specifically, categories derived from score-based analyses suggest shifts in cue-based piece clustering between 1750 and 1900 spanning the Classical and Romantic eras (Horn & Huron, 2015). Here we complement and extend those findings by exploring connections between score-based analyses and perceptual evaluations of pieces by composers from the respective eras. Our participants listened to the first 8 measures of 24 Preludes from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1, 1722) or Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28 (1839). Each composer’s set of pieces covers all major and minor keys. Before the experiment began, we provided participants with definitions of category labels and brief musical examples representative of the groupings in the previously discussed research. After hearing each excerpt, participants categorized the piece with the most frequently observed descriptors from the Horn and Huron (2015) study: Joyful, Tender/Lyrical, Light/Effervescent, Passionate, or Sad/Relaxed. Our team’s previous analysis of structural cues from these sets (Poon & Schutz, 2015) served as the basis for comparison. Preliminary analyses are consistent with the idea that some cues (namely mode) served different functions between the Classical and Romantic eras. We are currently exploring perceptual shifts in the category labels assigned to these sets. Together, this ongoing exploration provides a valuable perceptual complement to Horn and Huron (2015), informing our knowledge of musical perception with ecologically valid stimuli.

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