MUS202 music appreciation



MEETING 2 – 18 Jan
blues (cont.)

An example of insightful writing from Greg Sandow’s book-in-progress:


. . . there . . .  are crucial American musicians like Robert Johnson, the most powerful and forlorn of the Delta blues singers, whom many of us aren’t likely to understand without some preparation. For one thing, he mumbles his words, which first of all makes it hard to understand his songs, but also makes it seem, from a refined perspective, that he can’t be taken seriously. Why isn’t he just some bumbler from the depths of rural Mississippi, who couldn’t even speak, let alone sing or write music?


But a greater problem comes from something that people used to classical music—people familiar with its formal processes—ought to be equipped to understand. Blues, as it happens, is a very formal music, in which nearly every song has the same structure, built from the same simple chords repeated in more or less the same simple patterns. Its sophistication, therefore, comes from what each blues musician does with this more or less unchanging form, in which the “more or less” (along with the unique sound each singer has) can be a home for art.


Johnson’s habit is to smudge the formal patterns, to apparently evade them, to slide away from them with his voice, just when the chords might be finishing their sequence. So we get distracted from the sequence, even though it’s clearly there. If we know the blues, we can follow this, and find it haunting, as if Johnson’s lost inside the standard ways of life, and might either be despairing, or be trying to escape.


But if we don’t know the blues, he might simply sound chaotic . . .


Notice how he relates structural or formal meaning and expressive non-verbal communication to context and interpretation.  Very nice – proof that it is possible to write meaningfully about music!


MEETING 3 – 23 Jan
METER  -- duple (2 or 4) or triple or something else; more importantly, easy or hard to hear? 
Easy:  London Calling,” The Clash.  Hard: “Mambo Gozon,” Tito Puente [TEXTBOOK CD]
Tricky? “Take Five” (in 5), “2 + 2 = 5,” Radiohead, in 7 for the 1st 2/3rds of the song.


MEETING 4 – 25 Jan
The melody to "Norwegian Wood" (The Beatles) repeats a general shape or contour several times.   The 1st three minutes or so of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 spends more time on scales than the little tune – are the scales melody?  They are a “coherent series of pitches,” the textbook’s description of melody.  The melody to the Gregorian chant “Ave Maria” is hard, for me, to remember.  Is it coherent?  Is it a melody?  The melodic line of the Bach Little Fugue in G minor has several different ideas, one after another.  Is it coherent?  Perhaps the question is not whether something is or isn’t a melody, or if it is a good or bad melody.  How complex is it?  How memorable is it?  How tuneful is it?  See the book about tunefulness. 


Listening Activity 7.1 ASSIGNMENT due 30 Jan

ASSIGNMENT – One paragraph answer – “What is melody?” due 1 FEB


MEETING 5 – 30 Jan
 Using the blues to illustrate the components of music (Ch 2-6)

LYRICS – AAB pattern


Ø      Register – the use of high register is possibly a quality of early (Delta) blues.  The use of low register is possibly a quality of Chicago-style.

Ø      bending pitches

Ø      The Blues SCALE & blue notes.  A scale is a structured vocabulary of notes.  The blues scale is an essential part of the blues, but may also be heard in popular, jazz, rock and 20th-century classical styles.

Ø      HARMONY.  Chords are groups of tones that are harmonically meaningful (almost a circular definition).  Harmony usually functions in way that gives a sense of progress from home, to tension and then release or return.  The 12-bar blues progression, along with its rarer cousins, the 8-bar and 16-bar blues progressions, are examples of that. 


Ø      4-bar phrases – “phrase rhythm”  sometimes called hyper-rhythm but I did not use that term in class.

Ø      bars (measures) have 4 beats each.  This is DUPLE meter.  (Duple is 2 or 4.)

Ø      beats tend to be subdivided into 3 parts (triple subdivision) in blues.  In rock, duple subdivision is a bit more common.

SO WHAT?  While counting to 4 over and over might be an inherently pleasurable activity for a few people, for most of us it isn’t.  Understanding the 4-bar pattern of phrases and harmony may help a listener follow more closely the cycles of tension and release in the music.


How do we recognize the genre, the individual piece, the quality, the meaning?

ASSIGNMENT If you have not already done so, read Ch 1-7 in the book.



MONOPHONIC – one melody by itself.  Ex: Jean Ritchie, “Barbry Allen”

POLYPHONIC – “many” voices. Special case: IMITATIVE POLYPHONY Josquin, Ave Maria, 1500

HETEROPHONY – “mixed” voices – different instruments play the same melody at the same time in different ways.  Ex. “Tiger Rag” TEXTBOOK CD; Chinese Silk & Bamboo music.

HOMORHYTHMIC – different parts perform different pitches with the same rhythm.  Ex.: 4-part harmony, “Chester

MELODY PLUS ACCOMPANIMENT – very common.  Examples:  Robert Johnson “Crossroad Blues” and Keb’ Mo’s “Am I Wrong?”  TEXTBOOK CD.  Beyond identifying the texture, we can talk about the relationship of the accompaniment and melody.


What is important in a piece of music?   While it is full of lovely melodies, the Josquin Ave Maria seems to be more “about” texture than melody, rhythm, harmony, etc.  James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing,” having only one chord or harmony played throughout, certainly isn’t about harmony or harmonic interest.  The tune isn’t much either; the most important (the most engaging & interesting) thing is the rhythmic components of the piece.


MEETING 7  - 6 Feb
voting on  class lateness policy;  results: tardies count off from final grade
 practice quiz on terms
video clip from the PBS News Hour, Dan Levitin (link available on his website) on music.  He is the author of This Is Your Brain on Music. 
Robert Johnson, “Hellhound on my Tail”
The importance of the blues in American culture.  Film:  O, Brother Where Art Thou? 
Announcement of Black History events in main theater:  Jazz, 10 am, Hip Hop, 11 am, Gospel, 6-7:30 pm.


MEETING 8 - - 8 Feb
quiz on terms
start thinking about your presentation.  ASSIGNMENT:   turn in your song title and your hunch about what is musically  interesting about the song.  May be hand written, include lyrics and a chart of the form if possible.  Turn in 13 Feb. 

Ideas to think about:


Rhythm (unusual meter, rhythms, phrase lengths, etc.)



Contrast in use of meter, dynamics, etc.

Sound, rhythm, or organization of the lyrics (especially in rap)

Text painting – connecting the meanings in the lyrics with musical ideas

Ideas that should not be the focus of your class presentation:

Content of lyrics

PERSONA of performer


Thinking about the term “Popular Music”


Contrast to “folk” and “art” (a.k.a. “classical”) music

Urban instead of rural

Commercial/mass market

            Music to buy & do:  1800s  (or even madrigals around 1600?)

Ex. Stephen Foster, “I dream of Jeanie”

John Phillip Sousa, “Stars and Stripes Forever”

Scott Joplin, “The Easy Winners”  TEXTBOOK EX.


A DIGRESSION on a musical term –

Syncopation – accenting weak beats or weak parts of beats

Ex. Scott Joplin, “The Easy Winners”  TEXTBOOK EX.

Mozart, Symphony in G Minor, No. 25.  1st movement.  TEXTBOOK EX.


“Popular” v. “art” attitudes

Different kinds of music engages different kinds of listening, even within the same genre.

Rock has both “pop” and “art” currents; some rock, especially experimental rock, wants you to sit down and THINK about it.

Classical music has both “pop” and “art” currents

Ex. From the mid-1700s.  C.P.E. Bach, last movement of Orchestra-Symphony No 4.  Mindless listening fun?  First movement of Orchestra-Symphony No. 1: mindful listening fun?  Much less predictable, encouraging active listening.  

What modes of thought are being engaged?


Next assignment:  Louis Armstrong Listening Activity


MEETING 9 - - 13 Feb
Shakespeare Presentation In Main Theater


MEETING 10 – 15 Feb
Jazz.  Swing feel.  My personal theory:  rhythms that are “between the cracks” of simple ratios (2, 3 or 4) are processed differently by the brain.  In any case, we listened to the (unswung) Scott Joplin “The Easy Winners,”  Louis Armstrong (“I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” and, from the textbook CD, “West End Blues”), which definitely swing.  “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” from Oklahoma; original cast recording compared with the swingier Bing Crosby recording.  Ella Fitzgerald & the Count Basie Band, “Honeysuckle Rose,”  all-out swing.

Form.  The why of form.   Handout listing common song forms (html format)

ASSIGNMENT:  Louis Armstrong Listening Activity 8.3, due 20 Feb.  PROJECT ASSIGNMENT: Part II Data Collection and Observations due Thursday, 22 Feb.


MEETING 11 – Tuesday, 20 Feb
Analysis demo (“Eleanor Rigby”) for PART 2 of the analysis project.  Feel free to be wrong & ask questions.  I am grading on completeness and thoroughness, not correctness.  Part 2 is due Thursday, 22 Feb
more on form:  video, Prince, “Diamonds & Pearls.”  AABA form as architecture!


MEETING 12 – Thursday, 22 Feb
Text painting (notes in .doc format)


MEETING 13 – 27 Feb
Discussion of melody (notes in html format)


MEETING 14 – 1 March
Details on presentation and paper expectations.






Louis Armstrong
West End Blues (TEXTBOOK CD)
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

Duke Ellington
It Don’t Mean a Thing . . . (TEXTBOOK CD)
Harlem Airshaft

Glenn Miller
In the Mood

“Blues Skies” (song by Irving Berlin) performed by
Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie
Harry Connick, Jr.
Art Tatum

Body and Soul
Billie Holiday
Coleman Hawkins, recorded 1939


Charlie Parker

Miles Davis
So What
Flamenco Sketches (TEXTBOOK)
Flamenco Sketches, alternate take

John Coltrane
Giant Steps





Chose one of the examples described in the chapter on jazz.

Briefly discuss what that individual recording represents in the history of jazz.

In terms of musical characteristics, what traits does this recording have in common with jazz from other styles or periods?

What traits does it have that distinguish it from other types of jazz?

One page, typed; bullet point style OK.  15 pts.  Dues Thursday, 12 April.



Oliver Nelson (composer, band leader, saxophonist)

Album: The Blues and The Abstract Truth, 1961

Composition: Teenie’s Blues


why I played it:  example of fussy, perfect arrangement setting up an explosive solo by Eric Dolphy on sax; that is followed by an expressive but much more orderly Oliver Nelson solo, full of patterns.


This human thing in instrumental playing has to do with trying to get as much human warmth and feeling into my work as I can.  I want to say more on my horn than I ever could in ordinary speech.   Eric Dolphy


Charles Mingus (composer, band leader, bass player) Official bio from Mingus family website

Album: Mingus Ah Um, 1959

Compositions:  Better Get Hit in Your Soul, Boogie Stop Shuffle


a personal favorite – a balance of individual expressive freedom, tight ensemble playing, and compositions full of contrasts and growth of ideas


marks a return of group improvisation from early jazz


Milton Babbitt, composer

from Three Compositions for Piano, 1947


complex classical music to which certain jazz players might be hip


Cecil Taylor (composer, band leader, pianist)

composition: Rick Kick Shaw


complex head, complex solo.   More generally, an example of the experimental spirit in jazz.


Anthony Braxton (composer, band leader, saxophonist, clarinetist)

composition: Composition No. 34


seems to be a deliberate experiment to answer the question, “can you swing against a constantly changing (speeding up and slowing down) tempo?”  More generally, an example of the experimental spirit in jazz.


John Coltrane (composer, leader, saxophonist)

composition (and album name):  Ascension, 1965


collective and individual free improvisation.  Spiritual!


Herbie Hancock

Album:  Headhunters

composition:  Chameleon


fusion with popular music


Diana Krall

song:  Straighten Up And Fly Right



representative of popular, conservative, mainstream jazz today


Jonathan’s presentation on Squarepusher
What is “popular music” ?  Comparing Karlheinz Stockhausen, (wikipedia entry) Kontakte
Jazz, rock, and classical music genres seem to have a range of intentions, from immediately familiar to experimental.
introducing SONATA FORM
            simple example: Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, 1st movement.  on TEXTBOOK CD


A Beethoven Piano Sonata

Op. 2 No. 3 in C major, 1st movement (in sonata form)

Another Beethoven Piano Sonata (There are 32 of them)

Op 27, No. 2 in C-sharp Minor, (“Moonlight Sonata”)
1st and 2nd movements NOT in sonata form
3rd movement in sonata form



I.                     Briefly describe sonata form.  Compare your description with the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 or Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, all of which are on the textbook CD.

II.                 Defend both of these two conflicting positions:  [1] Consciously following the form makes listening to a piece in sonata form more meaningful; in fact, the process of the form is the primary meaning of the piece.  [2] Consciously following the form of a piece is not at all necessary as it is not the meaning of a piece.  [3] What is your opinion?

Typed, bullet point format OK.  Due 24 Apr 2007


Comments in support of [1]

·        Composers seemed to use it a lot in the period 1770-1820 (and after as well), so it must mean something to them, the performers, and the audience. 

·        Departures from the form seem very important to particular pieces of music; in order for the departures to have meaning & be surprising, the audience must have expectations about the form and what is normal.  Otherwise, how do you get the jokes or enjoyed being tricked?

·        A letter from Mozart describes a Paris audience clapping in the middle of a piece of music with delight at being surprised. 


A comment in support of [2]

·        Listeners might be following the form without consciously being aware of the form or that they are following it!

·        Moment-to-moment listening is the way most people listen, back then and today.  (A subjective claim!  What evidence can you offer?)

·        The trend in the 1800’s to supplement music with a story, as in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. 


To help you form your opinion on [3], listen to the 1st movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, all of which are on the textbook CD. 



Program Music – associating a story with music – as a response to form & the changing (expanding) musical public.  Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique,
(optional extra credit Listening Activity 13.3, pp. 196-198))

Is following the story of interest to you? 


An alternative to “story” – PROCESS.  Introducing the music of Steve Reich. 

The “clapping music” rhythm: 123 12 1 12 123 12 1 12 . . . This doesn’t immediately sound “logical” or systematically constructed.  But does your mind innately, apart from the verbal centers of the brain, recognize the orderliness of the rhythm?


MEETING – 24 April

Steve Reich, Drumming, Part I, and  Music for 18 Musicians, 2005 radio interview

Spam, Marc Mellits, Common Sense Composers’ Collective, New Millennium Ensemble


While all music (and daily life itself) relies on our ability to recognize patterns and detect differences, this sort of music focuses my attention on the process of listening.   How does it affect you? 


As a composer, I am fascinated in the midst of my working how verbally describable concepts translate into music that often has results that are not verbally describable.  Verbal knowledge can run along side of musical experience – I think the explicable feel of sonata form in Classical style classical music is the best example – but it can run along only so far, and then music dips into its own ways of meaning and language is left behind. 


I am sitting in a room (1969) by Alvin Lucier,  makes the process very clear! 


Back to story?  John Adam’s Hallelujah Junction. 


Final exam question

Listen carefully to the “Moldau” by Smetana on the textbook CD, following the outline of the Listening Activity, and read the accompanying text.  Listen again to the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique movement on the textbook CD and read the accompanying text.  Does the story (or the image of a river) make the experience of listening to the music more interesting, enjoyable, comprehensible or not?  Please be specific and mention musical details, particularly from the Smetana piece.  Compare the effect of the stories to knowledge about sonata form (discussed in the book) or the processes in Steve Reich’s music.  (Reich is in the textbook, but this website is a better resource, since you can listen.)


Performers and classical music – tempo and other choices

Schubert, “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” (Gretchen at the Spinningwheel) Kiri Te Kanawa (textbook CD example, pp. 191-195, Listening Activity 13.2), Janet Baker (different voice qualities, different choices of emphasis and tone color)

comments on the classical voice, recording v. performance


Glenn Gould, J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations variations, 1955, 1981

Chopin, Nocturne in F minor, Op 55 No 1, Garrick Olssohn, Daniel Barenboim.  The textbook’s example of Chopin is the Nocturne in E-flat  Major, Op. 9, No. 2  (textbook pp. 199-201; Listening Activity 13.4).


Chord voicing & piano tone
Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53, “Waldstein”
Beethoven Sonata, Op 109, Garrick Olssohn, Emil Gilels, Rudolph Serkin (3 different pianists)


Sandow on groove [handout quoting his blog entry]


Brahms, Symphony No. 4, 1st movement, Carlos Kleiber, conductor, DVD.  Philosopher and music-lover Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “even in Brahms one can begin to hear machinery.”  This performance starts as a smooth, well-oiled machine, by the end of this performance, the machine has melted into liquid passion!   A great example of what a conductor can do.

The textbook’s example of Brahms is the Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 (textbook pp. 203-208; Listening Activity 13.5). You can find the score for this piece for free at the Mutopia public domain music website.


Performer Choices in Classical Music

Playing a single chord confronts the skilled pianist with many decisions to be made.  All notes equally loud?  Top note louder than the others?  Bottom note louder than the others?  Top and bottom equally loud, all other notes softer?  Middle notes the loudest?  Each decision has a particular musical effect and might be justified or explained in terms of the performer’s approach to the particular piece or to the piano in general. 



A piece is played a shade faster or a bit slower—what difference would the difference make?  The mood may be different; the harmony can be heard in a different way.  I think our individual brains have a variety of individual clock rates for processing different types of information—pitch, pattern detection, change detection, timbre, etc.  A different tempo may stimulate different functions within the brain (my personal speculation) and thus change the effect of the piece. 


Once the prevailing tempo is established, how much variation is to be used and at what time scale?  Slow waves of gradual increase over the span of minutes, or speeding up and slowing down within a single phrase that maybe less than 20 seconds long?  Some pianists may bend the tempo so much that a notated sixteenth-note (nominally a short note) in one measure is longer than a quarter-note (which is by definition four times longer than the 16th-note).


For a pianist, are the two hands always in synch?  Usually, but for expressive effect, the two-hands may bend the tempo relative to each other.  This effect is called rubato.


Thursday, May 4, 2007

To counteract the possible impression that all conductors might be old (after watching Carlos Kleiber conducting the Brahms), I discussed the 26-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, who has been selected to become the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He is a product of an amazing youth orchestra program in Venezuela, a system that has engaged 400,000 children, many living in poverty, in making music. 


Possible final exam question

Compare the opening one minute of the performance of Beethoven's fifth Symphony on the textbook CD with the one minute sample available on the Internet, conducted by Dudamel.  Although the audio quality of the streaming audio over the Internet is not good, there is plenty one can observe about the differences in the two performances.  Notice the overall tempo, the flexibility of the tempo or the amount that the tempo changes, notice the intonation, notices blend of the instruments, notice the different use of dynamics.


Challenging Music

If some pieces seem to invite the listener in, either through sonata form, a program or story, or a process, there are other pieces that seem to focus in on the unpredictable elements of music and seek to achieve their delight through surprise.  I began with playing the opening of a Mozart string quartet, Quartet in E Flat Major, K. 428.  This is a piece that initially struck me as rather dull, even though I love many pieces by Mozart and this is one of his most critically celebrated pieces.  I will return to this piece and I hope to get the class to share a sense of how strange and subversive the opening of this piece is.  The next lectures are a very long detour on the way to return to Mozart.  I began by playing the Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 (textbook pp. 203-208; a selection from the textbook CD, Listening Activity 13.5). You can find the score for this piece for free at the Mutopia public domain music website.  The point I wanted to make with the piece is the use of an inversion in the melody.  The textbook also points this out.  That sort of musical manipulation becomes a primary way of organizing music, replacing the traditional role of tonal harmony, in the music of Arnold Schoenberg.  We watched in class a documentary on the Schoenberg Five Pieces for Orchestra.  This is also discussed in the textbook and is on the textbook CD.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Michael Tilson Thomas Keeping Score documentary on Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.



Describe your reaction to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Be very personal and try to be as expressive and descriptive as possible.  Try to describe something that you like the most about the piece and something that you dislike about the piece.  Focus on your personal reaction.  Save your comments about the historical background of the piece for your final exam answer.


Draft question for the final exam

Compare the Stravinsky and Schoenberg examples on the textbook CD.  Do you prefer one to the other?  If you like or dislike either piece—make your personal opinion clear—imagine what someone who feels the opposite about these pieces might think.  In other words, if you like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, what might someone else dislike about the piece?  Do you think you prefer music that fulfills your expectations or tries to surprise you or even change your expectations about music?  What was the intention of the composer, and does that matter to you in your listening?


Thursday, May 10, 2007 MOZART

Listen with empathy and imagination.  Even if you don’t like this music in this moment, what might someone else, today or in Mozart’s time, enjoy about it?


Musical Examples

The opening gesture of Mozart’s E-flat Major ‘Haydn’ Quartet contrasted with the opening gesture of the Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze” recording. 


Charles Rosen (a great pianist & author) comments

‘What was incomprehensible ever?’  Two threads running through Mozart:  a perfectly realized conventionality (the ‘perfect realization of the expected pattern’) – music that is beautifully normal – and ‘poly-vocal’ multi-stylistic musical collisions that can go unrecognized by later audiences.  To most of us, it just all sounds like Mozart or, even worse, just generic ‘classical music.’  (By “poly-vocal” I mean that the piece has multiple musical personalities, as when a fanfare is answered by frilly music.)  Mozart sometimes combines different styles of music, or just very different textures or gestures, and this was confusing to some of his audience.  This sort of musical humor, characterization and even violence seems lost to later generations of listeners as Mozart becomes a prettified confection.  Robert Levin tries to get it back for us.


Robert Levin DVD.  Mozart on the fortepiano. 

Key points

Performer choices

·        how should knowledge of historical instruments change interpretation?

·        Improvisation & spontaneity

Mozart is a rude bad boy.  How?

The unexpected combination of different ideas; the number and density of those ideas


Accepting Levin’s point that Mozart is a bad boy and is musically rude, why?  Mere personality or artistic quirk?  Or did Mozart have something to say about his world?  I find evidence of that in his great operas, such as Don Giovanni.


Scenes from Don Giovanni, an opera by Mozart, film by Joseph Losey; the ‘catalog aria,’ sung by the character Leporello


Mozart Question for final

Read the textbook’s section on Mozart and listen to the Mozart selections on the textbook CD (Symphony No 25, first movement; Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, 1st and 3rd movements; and the variations for piano on 'Ah, vous dirais-je, Maman').  Comment on each piece of music.  How does each piece rate on the scale from ‘perfect realization of the expected pattern’ to challenging the audience, then and now?


Tuesday, 15 May 2007 -- Mozart, Part Two [supplemental info in smaller font]

We viewed scenes from Amadeus (film); The Marriage of Figaro, opera by Mozart, video of staged production. 


While the play and the film Amadeus are full of invention and are not documentaries, I feel the segment of the film that I showed probably is a fair representation of Mozart's personality, given the historical record.  The cackling laugh and scatological humor perhaps deflected attention away from his serious political and social feelings.  Evidence of these ideas is found again in his opera The Marriage of Figaro.


Are those feelings encoded in his instrumental music?  My example is the opening of a string quartet (a composition for two violins, viola and cello) known as the Quartet in E-flat Major, K 428.  This is one of the group of six string quartets that Mozart published with a dedication to Haydn, and so they are sometimes referred to as "the 'Haydn' quartets."  (Obviously this is potentially confusing since Haydn himself wrote many string quartets.)  Mozart had already written a good number of string quartets, but he was very impressed with the level of accomplishment in quartets by Haydn, and Mozart worked hard to incorporate Haydn's level of sophistication in his own music.  Later, Beethoven was particularly influenced by these six quartets by Mozart.


For many people today, all Mozart is easy listening and probably boring background music.  This is the attitude that Robert Levin so vigorously argues against.  In his day, some of Mozart's music was considered very difficult listening, and some pieces were even regarded as incomprehensible.  When I first heard these quartets, now so highly esteemed by musical scholars and string quartet players, I must confess that I found them rather boring and impenetrable.  What was so special about these pieces?  They didn't seem to have any hooks to draw me in.  I don't know what changed in me, but one day, when I put these pieces on as background music, something in my brain clicked and I suddenly had a sense of the complex web of thematic connections in the music.  It is this density of ideas that was offputting to audiences then.


Does this music and its webs of musical signification have any relation to Mozart's feelings about society?  I don't know and I don't think anyone ever will.  But I do feel that Mozart is saying something about the complexity of life and what he was saying did made some audiences uncomfortable.



Language, music & evolution


Human song is generally admitted to be the basis or origin of instrumental music.  As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed.  Charles Darwin, 1871


One theory:  Music is a by-product of our capacity for language

Steven Pinker calls this the “Cheesecake” theory of music

The capacity for language evolved first, and music is a pleasant side effect

We didn’t evolve a specific capacity to eat and enjoy cheesecake, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it


Steven Pinker [from his Wikipedia entry] American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and popular science writer known for his spirited and wide-ranging advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.


A rival theory: music came first

Social coordination (dancing & hunting)  (plausible; no hard evidence for this currently, nor will there ever be)

Individual attractiveness (fitness) (plausible; no hard evidence for this)

The evolutionary history of various neurological structures used in music & speech (Levitin suggests that there is hard evidence)


Conversation transcript and video of the full conversation between Daniel Levitin and David Byrne


David Byrne is one of my favorite musician-thinkers.  In the early years of the band he helped create, Talking Heads, he was a nervous and geeky performer (part of his charm!).  As he spent years performing, he grew into a charismatic presence on stage.  (Recommended concert DVD viewing:  Stop Making Sense).  (Songs played in class:  “Psycho Killer,” “Burnin’ Down the House.”)  Knowing this adds a bit to the authority and insight of his comments in the interview.


Additional background

David Byrne Wikipedia entry

Talking Heads Wikipedia entry

David Byrne’s blog



DC Meckler

MUS 202 Course website