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The Emotional Implications of Acoustic Nuance in Preludes by Bach and Chopin

The Emotional Implications of Acoustic Nuance in Preludes by Bach and Chopin

Presenter Name:Cameron Anderson

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Michael Schutz


Recent studies examining music’s conveyed emotion have explored how mode and
timing affect emotional perception by manipulating cues. Although these controlled approaches
provide a clear indication of how differences in cue use can contribute to music’s emotional
messages, it remains unclear how composers actually use these cues to shape our perception of
musical emotion. Musicological studies examining mode and timing’s use across musical eras
indicate important historic shifts in their relationship, raising question to how differences in
compositional style affect music perception. To explore how these historic differences in cue use
affect emotional perception, we examined how differences in mode’s associations with timing
and pitch affect perceptions of emotional valence and arousal in unaltered stimuli by J.S. Bach
(1722) and F. Chopin (1837). Using commonality analysis to distinguish how cues’ unique and
combined use affects emotion perception revealed important differences between composers.
Whereas accounting for each cues’ unique and joint effects revealed broad similarities with
findings from previous studies—such as mode’s association with emotional valence and
timing’s association with arousal—nuanced differences in each composer’s cue use led to
differences in their music’s emotional effects. For example, mode’s association with timing most
strongly distinguished valence ratings of Bach, yet its unique effect explained most of the
variance in valence ratings of Chopin’s pieces. Our findings provide novel insight into how
composers idiosyncratically combine cues to form affective gestures. This complements a
growing body of work showing changes in cue use across musical history by exploring their
perceptual implications.

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