Wrapping up Emotion

Tonight’s post is a lot of listening, so get your headphones, turn up the volume on your speakers, or plug your smart phone into your car stereo because here we go. But don’t read and drive.


As I stated in my thesis regarding emotion in Classical music, I believe Classical music is not just for everyone, but for every occasion. I believe it speaks to every ounce of life experience a person may have. Though its roots are in Western Europe, it has spread throughout the world. And Classical music can have a meaningful, personal significance to each of us if we can learn to use our imagination and learn to hear what the music is saying. I have endeavored to demonstrate how to do that here at wax classical over the past several months.

However, it is time to move on. I believe I’ve made my point. But I can’t move on without sharing with you a small clip of the remaining pieces I had planned in the emotional categories of awe/wonder, loneliness/isolation, and flippant/sarcasm.

Awe/wonder: These two choral clips by Samuel Barber and Eric Whitacre are breath-taking. And Saint-Saens always gives me a sense of wonder in his music, but in no greater movement than Aquarium.

Loneliness/Isolation: Beethoven and Bach have it best when it comes to solitude, having lived much of their careers this way. I’ve always enjoyed Hindemith’s description of solitude as well (see my earlier post on Mathis der Maler).

Flippant/Sarcastic: This music is just fun. A jumbled mess. And yet, sarcasm never sounded so elegant. Perhaps woodwind instruments are the most sarcastic and flippant-sounding, as they seem to have the melodies in each of these clips.

Longing: Massenet

Meditation from “Thais” is a piece for violin and orchestra played in between scenes in the tragic opera, Thais by Jules Massenet (1842-1912). The story is about a monk who travels to Egypt in order to convert a woman, Thais, but falls in love with her in the process. After she converts and comes under the care of the church, the monk renounces his religion in favor of pursuing Thais romantically only to find her on her death bed from illness. I love a good tragedy, don’t you?

This piece is another great example of emotion in Classical music. The sound of the violin could not be sweeter or more passionate. The vibrato (fast wavering of pitch) in the violin is meant to sound like the natural human singing voice, making the violin one of the most personal and human-sounding instruments. I love the way this piece depicts both a romantic love and a heavenly, divine love. The melody in the second clip begins the same way as the first clip, but it then takes a turn toward a higher, more brilliant sentiment than before. As the strings crescendo (get louder) in the background and the key changes, it seems that we’ve arrived somewhere we didn’t expect: a pleasant surprise.

It is clear that romantic love, longing, and passion is one of the emotions that Classical music expresses best. For me, this music both creates longing and fulfills it at the same time. There are hundreds of selections I could have included in this series and I will be writing about many of them in the future. Stay tuned.

Next week: Elation and joy! 🙂

Serene/content: Grieg

Morning Mood is the first movement in a four-movement suite (No. 1) entitled Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The melody to this piece is very well-known, as is the playful and devious one from the fourth movement, In the Hall of the Mountain King. Beginning instrumentalists will know Morning Mood well because they only have to know 5 notes to play the melody. It appears in most beginner method books. Even though this work has been overly-exposed in method books, commercials and for every other frivolous occasion, I still find it to be a masterpiece worth experiencing from time to time because of the great contentment it expresses.

I have always imagined a dramatic sunrise while listening to this piece. At first, the dynamic is calm and soft – a very serene atmosphere. But as the light gets stronger, the tension builds as the listener gets the first glimpse of sunlight. When the light finally breaks fourth, a beautiful and vibrant landscape is revealed. I love how Grieg never leaves a phrase of music to end where it began. This piece is continually modulating to a higher, brighter-sounding key. To me, this signifies the sun rising higher in the sky. Instead of ending a phrase where it began, it moves beyond where we expected, which is thrilling.

There are many comforting aspects of this piece. The morning can often be a beautiful, inspiring time of day. To focus on nature with the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste – can help relieve stress and make life seem to slow down a little. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “stop and smell the roses.” The message of this weeks posts on emotion is that life could be just that much easier and more peaceful by listening to Classical music actively, while not doing anything else but taking in its beauty and listening to its simple messages.

Next week: Anger! Grr!