Ever wonder why a certain classical piece evokes a consistent emotional response?

Scientist and musician Manfred Clynes has done extensive research on the topic and discovered that many of the great composers all had their own unique signature of underlying emotional “pulse” in their music. But he was not the first to explore the music’s secret language.

During the Baroque era, there existed a school of thought called the Doctrine of Affects. Composers, theorists, and musicians during that time opined that certain musical styles and techniques could elicit specific emotional responses from the listener. Werckmeister and Heinichen were steadfast proponents of the Doctrine and subscribed to the idea that different keys evoked different moods. Indeed, in these heady days before equal temperament, the sound difference between key signatures was marked and substantial.

At that time, the use of pure intervals, usually pure fifths, in just temperament was in fashion. As one advanced around the Circle of Fifths, one noticed that the last fifth of the sequence was not the same as the beginning note. Eleven of the perfect fifths that existed between the two notes of the octave would have an exact ratio of 3-to-2. As an example, the frequency of a higher note in a perfect fifth might be 300 hertz (cycles per second) while the lower would be 200 hertz. In order to close the circle, Baroque era tuners would have to increase the size of the last fifth to get to the right place. This was called the wolf fifth because the out of tune beating of the two notes sounded almost like a howling wolf. This would mean that key signatures with more than about three sharps or flats would be unusable. Werckmeister created his own tuning system to “tame the wolf,” so to speak. Werckmeister made some of the fifths in his tuning system smaller, some larger, and some pure. In his system, there are two smaller wolf fifths. This would allow a composer to use more keys, and, by extension, evoke more moods.

The basics of how key affects mood are, as experienced by proponents of the Doctrine, thus: large intervals elicit joy, small intervals elicit sadness, rough harmony elicits fury, and the complicated counterpoint of unchanging lines elicits obstinacy. Composers since then have used music to inspire, infuriate, and ingratiate listeners the world over. Baroque proponents of the Doctrine would have been proud of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” no pun intended. They would have marveled at Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” or Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony.” Before Ludwig sat at the brook composing, however, the Doctrine of Affects reached its early pinnacle in Mannheim.

via Piano Street’s Classical Piano Blog.

The new year is rapidly approaching, so before the end of the Debussy-year 2012 we should take the chance to watch this film by Anthony Tobin, celebrating the genius of Debussy. It was shown by G. Henle Verlag during the Frankfurt Musik Messe, 2012, in connection with their release of three volumes of the complete piano works of Debussy.

“The World will Change in his Sound”

– The Light of Claude Debussy

This film is an exploration of the inspiration, imagination and visual influences behind Claude Debussy’s piano music from 1889-1915. It discusses how light, nature, and the visual stimulation Debussy experienced in Paris influenced his “vision” and the gestures and colors found in his piano works.

Consequently the footage is accompanied by Preludes for piano, Pagodes (filmed in Tokyo), Reflections on the Water, the First Arabesque, Clair de lune, Chansons de Bilitis and La Mer – works that will illustrate how Debussy changed the course of music.

Additionally, the film contains interviews with pianists Stewart Gordon and Daniel Pollack, Debussy scholars James Briscoe, Roy Howat, Marie Rolf, Richard Langham Smith, composer Manfred Bleffert and material with Austin Symphony Conductor Peter Bay, including discussion and demonstration of parts of the symphonic work La Mer.

via The Light of Claude Debussy | Piano Street’s Classical Piano Blog.

The 14th Van Cliburn – Merging High Quality Performance with Hi-End Technology | Piano Street's Classical Piano Blog

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was created after the late Van Cliburn’s victory at the inaugural Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow in 1958 as a means of perpetuating his unique legacy of effecting cultural diplomacy through classical music. The first competition was held in 1962. The Cliburn is now an innovative force in the classical music field and is a recognized leader in bringing live performances to audiences extending far beyond the concert hall.

The mission of the Cliburn is to advance classical piano music throughout the world. Its international competitions, education programs, and concert series embody an enduring commitment to artistic excellence and the discovery of young artists. It seeks to connect with audiences through all available media as well as educate new generations of listeners to help them discover and explore the wonder of classical music.


The Cliburn will host a dynamic multi-camera live webcast at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall (May 24-June 9). The webcast will bring the Competition to life around the world in real time with over 110 hours of live broadcasts of performances, interview segments, and awards ceremonies over the 17-day period. The main focus of the webcast will be to bring to life each of the 30 young and gifted pianists through the live broadcasting of the three thrilling competition performance rounds, interactive live commentary, filmed profiles, as well as live and taped interviews with each competitor.

In 1997, the Cliburn began utilizing sophisticated Internet resources to stream the competition live online, extending its outreach to every corner of the globe. In 2009, web viewers enjoyed free real-time access to competition performances in their entirety, as well as to a fully produced webcast offering hours of educational and cultural content, backstage views of rehearsals, and the International Cultural Diplomacy Symposia.

Competition repertoire

There are significant changes to this year’s Cliburn. The preliminary round (through May 30) will have each pianist play two 45-minute solo recitals, rather than just one.

As in past years, the semifinal round will comprise a 60-minute solo recital and a piano quintet performance, this time with the Brentano String Quartet. A newly commissioned piece by Christopher Theofanidis will be required in the recital portion; in some previous years contestants were given a choice of new pieces.

In 2009, the final round required contestants to play one solo recital and two piano concertos — one from the classical period, one from the 19th or 20th century. This time, the round will comprise only the two piano concertos, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

via The 14th Van Cliburn – Merging High Quality Performance with Hi-End Technology | Piano Street’s Classical Piano Blog.