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A history of emotional communication in music: Prosody at work

A history of emotional communication in music: Prosody at work

Presenter Name:Max, Delle Grazie

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Michael Schutz


Research into the decoding of emotional meaning in music has shown common inferential processes to understand emotion in music and speech (Juslin & Laukka, 2003; Post & Huron, 2009). Specifically, musical emotion has been linked to speech prosody; high-pitched, fast music and speech are perceived as being happier than low, and slow music and speech. Interest in how emotional communication has evolved inspired numerous corpus analyses, showing historical changes in music’s structure (Danielle & Patel, 2013; Gabrielsson, 2016; Horn & Huron, 2015). Our team’s research builds upon that work, combining these techniques with perceptual responses to understand how emotional communication evolved over time. Here we presented eight measure excerpts to participants, asking them to rate each excerpt on scales of perceived valence (negative/positive) and arousal (relaxed/energetic). We examined emotional responses to Shostakovich’s Op. 34 Preludes, offering novel insight into an artistically significant set of pieces by a renowned 20th-century composer. Composed 94 years after Chopin’s Preludes (which themselves came 117 years after Bach’s WTC), this mid-20th century set allows for an intriguing expansion of our team’s previous work on emotional cues in Bach and Chopin (Anderson & Schutz, 2022). Extending those findings, these data show the influence of pitch height and attack rate on perceived emotion stronger in Shostakovich’s preludes than in Bach or Chopin, consistent with the idea that prosodic cues take on more prominent roles in conveying emotion in more recent time periods.

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