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School of Music, Theatre & Dance pres.

Carrigan Lecture Series in Music Theory: Jonathan De Souza, Western University

“Musical Form, Emotion, and Institution; or, Why Are Rondos Happy?”

This event has been rescheduled from 1/31

This lecture explores the psychology and phenomenology of musical form. How, it asks, might music’s large-scale form relate to its emotional content? Recent work on musical grammar, drawing on cognitive linguistics, understands musical schemas as constructions that pair form and function (Gjerdingen & Bourne 2015; Zbikowski 2017). In this account, syntax is not neutral; instead, syntax and semantics—the how and why of communication—are interrelated at all levels. This research mainly emphasizes local features, which fit the temporal constraints of working memory. And some scholars argue that schemas are not relevant to extended formal patterns. For example, David Huron (2006, 208) claims that sonata form and rondo form “almost certainly do not evoke different listening schemas.” In the late eighteenth century, however, rondos were often identified with a certain character or mood. Here I will discuss a new empirical project on instrumental rondos, composed between 1770 and 1799. Our corpus analysis and psychological experiments suggest that movements in sonata and rondo form have distinct affective tendencies. The project extends earlier research on acoustic cues for emotion in music and speech, and it raises questions about how listeners categorize sonata and rondo movements. Finally, I will interpret these results—and theories of musical grammar more generally—in phenomenological terms. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s work on “institution” is particularly suggestive here, connecting musical form and emotion with history, sociality, and human embodiment.


  • Free - no tickets required

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