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How Performance Interpretation and Historic Context Affect Perceived Emotion

How Performance Interpretation and Historic Context Affect Perceived Emotion

Presenter Name:Cameron Anderson

School/Affiliation:Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University

Co-Authors:Jamie Ling, Michael Schutz


A complete understanding of how musical cues affect perceived emotion in music requires separating composers’ and performers’ unique communicative roles. However, the confounded nature of these roles poses challenges for analysis. To overcome these challenges, music researchers often create novel music stimuli to compare emotional responses to expressive performances and performerless renditions. These efforts find composers’ musical choices strongly influence perceived valence (i.e., the negative/positive emotional quality) whereas performers’ interpretations influence arousal (i.e., the emotional intensity; Quinto & Thompson, 2013). Yet, how these emotional effects differ in music from different periods of history remains largely underexplored. To clarify how performance cues shape perceived emotion in music from different eras, we assessed interpretive and deadpan renditions of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722) and F. Chopin’s Preludes (1839). Comparing renowned pianists’ interpretations in commercial recordings with performerless computerized renditions of the same pieces (equated in loudness and timing) enabled evaluating how the presence of performance interpretation affects participants’ emotion ratings. Our preliminary findings reveal several pieces significantly differed in arousal between interpretive and deadpan versions of Chopin, whereas more pieces differed in valence for Bach. These findings suggest context-specific effects of how performance interpretation affects perceived emotion, contributing to an evolving body of research highlighting the importance of historic context for music perception.

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