Or, on human characteristics in music
I read a lot of philosophers’ writing about music, and some of them really know what they’re talking about:
The basic key is F minor, which maintains its sway, more or less, through measure 19, despite a passing flirtation with F major in measures 4-8 and harmonic ambiguity in measures 16-19. At measure 20, A-flat, the relative major of F minor, surfaces firmly and continues to the double bar...overall I would characterize the effect as one of chaste and mildly elegiac wistfulness. ...the main motive possesses a familiar sighing quality, the dominant rhythm an air of hesitancy and reserve, the open texture and soft dynamic level convey a certain delicacy, the alternation of dominant rhythm and faster arpeggiated one an effect of charm, while the basic F minor tonality and harmonic side-glance at F major generate a mild sense of tension or unease.
That is Jerrold Levinson on Prelude 12 from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2. Still it’s never good when philosophers learn only from each other. What do musicians say when they write about music? They will do plenty of “analysis,” sure—we’ll hear about tonic and dominant, and stretto and inversion—but how much will they go in for calling music wistful, hesitant, reserved, delicate, or charming? And: assuming they do find “human characteristics” in music, which ones do they find, and which ones elude them? Sad or joyful music is to be expected, but will music be called grumpy, or introverted, or interested in your stamp collection? I read Charles Rosen’s Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion to find out.
Rosen calls his book “practical,” “meant as a guide for listeners and performers,” which is clearly a joke. Stuff like
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