In the opening duet of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Figaro makes Freudian errors in counting and in singing. Susanna, needing emotional support and sensitive to Figaro’s psychology, directs his therapy in a manner both manipulative and helpful.
The brief scene is paradigmatic for the opera as a whole, and the duet’s dramatic action is projected by the music at every level, from small details to aspects of global structure.
This according to “Figaro’s mistakes” by David Lewin (Current musicology 57 [spring 1995] pp. 45–60).
Le nozze di Figaro is 230 years old this year! Above, Lydia Teuscher and Vito Priante as Susanna and Figaro; below, the scene in question.
People can systematically match information from different senses; these matches are known as crossmodal correspondences.
A 2013 study demonstrated that at least some color-music correspondences can be explained by emotional mediation.
A later study investigated the emotion mediation hypothesis for correspondences between odor and music, testing whether the strength of odor-music matches for particular odors and musical selections can be predicted by the similarity of the emotional associations with the odors and music. These researchers found that perceived matches were higher when the emotional responses were similar and that a model including emotional dimensions captured a significant amount of the variance of match scores, providing new evidence that crossmodal correspondences are mediated by emotions.
This according to “The smell of jazz: Crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion” by Carmel A. Levitan, Sara A. Charney, Karen B. Schloss, and Stephen E. Palmer, a paper included in Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Austin: The Cognitive Science Society, 2015, pp. 1326–1331).
Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention, and for noting that “fishy was comprehensively unpopular, except with the category heavy metal, where it was first on the list.”
In new video media there is a possibility for a profound change in the representation of sex, eroticism, gender, and sexuality. Freud’s concept of primary narcissism provides important insights into digital imagery, not least in the construction of female spectatorship.
For example, David Fincher’s video for Madonna’s Vogue enacts a sense of femininity as masquerade; the act of masquerade allows women to merely play a role rather than actually becoming it, thus simultaneously fulfilling and parodying expectations.
This according to “Rolling and tumbling: Digital erotics and the culture of narcissism” by Sean Cubitt, an essay included in Sexing the groove: Popular music and gender (London: Routledge, 1997, pp. 295–316).
Above and below, the video in question.
An experiment tested the assumption that music plays a role in sexual selection.
Three hundred young women were solicited in the street for their phone number by a young male confederate who held either a guitar case or a sports bag in his hands or had no bag at all.
Results showed that holding a guitar case was associated with greater compliance to the request, thus suggesting that musical practice is associated with sexual selection.
This according to “Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context” by Nicolas Guéguen, Sébastien Meineri, and Jacques Fischer-Lokou (Psychology of music XLII/4 [July 2014] pp. 545–49).
Above, Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, perhaps providing a rule-proving exception; below, a study of men’s reactions to a man with a guitar case.
Related article: Sexual attraction by genre
Bach’s life was shaken by several confrontations and traumatic events that had important repercussions on his personal and professional development.
One of the first documented conflicts with authority occurred when he was just nine years old, following the loss of both of Bach’s parents, when his brother Johann Christoph confiscated a manuscript that Sebastian had copied behind his back. When this event is conceptualized in terms of recent research on coping with trauma and trauma recovery, it reveals Bach’s sense of vulnerability to authorities and the establishment of a lifelong approach to resolving conflict.
Patterns of action throughout Bach’s early career reveal efforts towards autonomy and independence through outward resolutions of conflicts with authority. When he was in Leipzig the authorities’ lack of enthusiasm for music made him consider departing from this prestigious position. His previous conflicts with authorities resulted in just such a departure; however, his decision to stay in Leipzig reflects a different mode of conflict resolution, one that involves inward reflection rather than assertive confrontation.
This according to “From Ohrdruf to Mühlhausen: A subversive reading of Bach’s relationship to authority” by Sara Botwinick (BACH: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute XXXV/2  pp. 1–59).
Above, Bach as he may have appeared in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig; below, the beautifully reflective Ich habe genug, BWV 82, from February 1727, four years into his Leipzig tenure.
Related article: Bach’s youthful indescretions
Routledge inaugurated the series Routledge research in music in July 2011 with Music, science, and the rhythmic brain: Cultural and clinical implications, edited by Jonathan Berger and Gabe Turow.
The collection focuses on the effects of repetitive musical rhythm on the brain and nervous system, integrating diverse fields including ethnomusicology, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, religious studies, music therapy, and human health. The authors present aspects of musical rhythm and biological rhythms, and in particular rhythmic entrainment, in a way that considers cultural context alongside theoretical research and discussions of potential clinical and therapeutic implications.
Considering the effects of drumming and other rhythmic music on mental and bodily functioning, the authors show how rhythmic music can have a dramatic impact on mental states, sometimes catalyzing profound changes in arousal, mood, and emotional states through the stimulation of changes in physiological functions like the electrical activity in the brain.
Included are discussions of experiments using electroencephalography (EEG), galvanic skin response (GSR), and subjective measures to gain insight into how these mental states are evoked and what their relationship is to the music and the context of the experience, demonstrating that these phenomena occur in a consistent and reproducible fashion and suggesting clinical applications.
The eminent British psychologist Charles Samuel Myers, CBE (1873–1946), joined an anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait and Sarawak in 1898, and his studies of musical traditions in those places resulted in several articles. Like many of his contemporaries, he suspected that the study of ethnic traditions could help to tease out universals and illuminate the origins of music.
In “The beginnings of music” (Essays and studies presented to William Ridgeway on his sixtieth birthday [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913, pp. 560–582]) Myers provides detailed descriptions of the musical traditions of the Meriam people of Murray Island, Australia, the Vedda people of Sri Lanka, and the peoples of Sarawak. The Vedda examples suggest an evolution of the scale as a synthesis of steps, the Sarawak examples suggest scalar evolution as a filling-in of larger intervals, and the Meriam examples suggest a synthesis of the two approaches.
Myers concludes that the beginnings of music depend on eight factors: (1) discrimination between tones and noises; (2) awareness of differences in pitch, volume, duration, and quality; (3) awareness of absolute pitch; (4) recognition and use of small, approximately equal intervals; (5) recognition and use of larger consonant intervals, and awareness of their relationships to smaller ones; (6) melodic phrasing; (7) rhythmic phrasing; and (8) musical meaning.
The article was reprinted in Music, words and voice: A reader, edited by Martin Clayton (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008, pp. 21–23). Above, the Murray Island courthouse and community hall in a photograph from the 1898 expedition that Myers joined.
In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.
A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:
- “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
- “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])
- “zingy and refreshing” (Nouvelle Vague’s Just can’t get enough)
- “mellow and soft” (Michael Brook’s Breakdown)
After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.
This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.
For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Placido Domingo shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.
Filed under Food, Science
Charles Samuel Myers, CBE (1873–1946), who coined the term shell shock during World War I, was among the psychologists whose work fed into comparative musicology and, later, ethnomusicology. He joined an anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait and Sarawak in 1898, and his studies of musical traditions in those places resulted in several articles.
“The ethnological study of music” presents a glimpse of how psychologists viewed ethnic music around the turn of the century. In this essay, Myers points out that unfamiliar music may seem as disorderly and meaningless as unfamiliar language, but in both cases sufficient study and habituation reveal inherent order and meaning. All music serves an expressive function, he states, and universal elements such as rhythm, harmony, scale, and tonal center may serve as bases for cross-cultural comparisons.
Myers goes on to argue that the documentation and study of non-Western musics is an urgent matter, as traditions are already becoming polluted by outside sources. Fortunately, he notes, the advent of sound recording has greatly facilitated this enterprise, making it unnecessary for the ethnographer to transcribe performances during fieldwork. Myers ends with step-by-step instructions and procedural recommendations for making field recordings with the Edison-Bell phonograph (above).
This essay appears in Anthropological essays presented to Edward Burnett Tylor in honour of his 75th birthday (Oxford: Clarendon, 1907, pp. 235–253); the book is documented in our most recent printed bibliography, Liber amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.