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How Does Music Make You Feel

Updated on April 14, 2016

What Classical Music Means to Us

Classical music does more than make babies smarter. It can stir emotions within all of us depending on what piece you are listening to.

Some classical music is trivial and academic, but a huge amount of classical music is beautiful and meaningful, whether the composer meant it to be or not. Brahms is a great example of a composer who wrote what his critics called "academic" and "uptight." He openly thought of his music as a throwback to older masters who wrote more studious and simple music instead of the storytelling works of his own time. Even with his own philosophy in mind, his music is absolutely gorgeous and quite emotionally poignant.

Below are several examples of great classical music that tug at the emotions within us. Unless you are a completely soul-less robot, you will probably agree, but as always, opinions vary.

Johannes Brahms

So. we'll start with the aforementioned Herr Brahms.

During his lifetime (1833-1897) he was in direct conflict with another group (followers of Richard Wagner) whose idea of music was that it must tell a story, preferably of mythical creatures and gods, etc.

Brahms wrote a "Piano Trio #1" while the Wagnerites wrote "Journey of the Unicorns to the Hall of the Frost Giants" or whatever. Brahms' works were in a set form with rigid regulations that governed their composition. Even with these rules, his music is beautiful and quite emotional.

The example below is his Piano Trio #1, first movement, which to me evokes a sense skeptical optimism. What I mean is, while the music is positive and warm on the surface, there is an underlying sadness that I can't ignore. This piece (the first movement especially) is a great example of an exception to the rule that "major" keys are happy and "minor" keys are sad.

Staying Sad for the Moment

Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky wrote some of the most popular and beloved music to ever be heard. He also wrote some of the most depressing music ever heard. I like to say that Tchaikovsky's music is perfect for angst-y teenagers since it is so overpowering with sadness.

Some of his critics (Brahms among them) felt that his music was too melodramatic, almost to the point of being phony, but I disagree. Tchaikovsky's own massive depression (he attmeped suicide at least once, and there are theories that he purposely drank contaminated water to cause his life-ending cholera) comes through in a lot of his music, and it is impossible to ignore.

The example below would never be confused with a performance of "Up With People."

Literally the last piece he completed before his death

Poll Time!

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Gustav Mahler

After that last example, I think we all need to feel better, so let's get to work on that.

While Mahler's music is mostly known for being full of conflict and bombast, he occasionally lets it all hang out in an extremely happy way.

The example below musically portrays the resurrection of our soul in heaven after a life of struggle and conflict. This last few minutes of the 2nd symphony fills me with warmth and satisfaction. What does it do to you?

Last One, I Swear!

This last example always makes me think of those little elves that steal your car keys and socks. It is extremely mischievous.

Felix Mendelssohn was a master at writing the scherzo. Scherzo in Italian means joke, and the form was invented by Beethoven (ironic since Herr Beethoven wasn't the happiest guy around) in the late 18th century. Mendelssohn included a scherzo in many of his works, none better than the Octet for strings which he wrote when he was 16.

I like to call the Octet "the perfect" piece of chamber music. Not only did Mendelssohn never again compose anything as complex and complete as the Octet, no other composer ever composed a piece for the same instrumentation successfully since (hardly any even tried).

Start Here for More Great Music

So, That's It.

There are hundreds of other musical examples I could put forth here, but I'll let you find them on your own. Classical music evokes too wide a range of emotions to be completely analyzed in one silly blog article.

So go forth, and listen!

© 2015 Chuck Gunsaullus


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