Reading Guide for Langer, “Feeling and Form” Music, the symbol of feeling According to Langer, “Music is the tonal analogue of emotive life.” In other words, music feels like life. Do you agree? Langer also says that the function of music is not to stimulate feeling, but to express it. Music, the symbol of feeling (continued) Music does not necessarily express the composer’s feelings at the time; rather, it expresses the composer’s knowledge of the inner life, a kind of knowledge that cannot well be expressed in words. It is “a symbolic expression of the forms of sentience as the composer understands them.” Note: if you like, this can be an emotional understanding, one the composer could not well express in any other way than by writing music. Music and language Music is like language. It has discrete parts that can be combined in a variety of ways to make new expressive wholes. Music is unlike language. The discrete parts of language (words) have fixed meanings assigned to them: combining these meanings grammatically makes larger units of meaning. By contrast, the discrete units of music (tones) have no fixed meaning. Only when these units are combined does the result have meaning. Music and language (continued) Because the parts of music have no fixed meaning, we are “free to fill its subtle articulate forms with any meaning that fits them.” So we do “comprehend the processes of life and sentience through [music’s] audible, dynamic pattern,” yet a passage of music has no defined and specific meaning. Langer’s thesis – some test examples Listen to these pieces to see if you think what Langer says is true about them. Do they “feel like life” in any way? Are they structured in the way experience is emotionally structured through time? Is this what makes them work? Ravel: Jeux d’eau Bach: Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major Links to these pieces are at the bottom of the Course Guides page. If you like, just listen to the fugue part of the Bach piece: it starts at 11minutes 10 seconds into the piece and runs to the end. Semblance Langer now develops her theory by elaborating the idea of image or likeness. She suggests that each art form creates a virtual reality of some sort in the images of objects that it produces. Painting, sculpture and architecture create varieties of virtual space. Music creates virtual time. Virtual time and space What is the point of talking about virtual space and virtual time? After all, paintings, sculptures and buildings take up real space, and music takes real time. Virtual time and space (continued) Langer’s answer: the space in a painting is not the real (flat) space of the canvas, but the virtual or imagined space the viewer sees. The time in a piece of music is not the literal time it takes to hear it, but the virtual time into which the listener enters while hearing it. This time is created by rhythm, by harmonic movement, and by many other devices. It is a subjective time, the time of an imagined experience, or rather of what an experience feels like.
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