Emotional Expression in Music
… all nuances of cheerfulness and serenity, the sallies, moods and
jubilations of the soul, the degrees of anxiety, misery, mourning,
lament, sorrow, grief, longing etc., and lastly of awe, worship,
love, etc., become the peculiar sphere of musical expression.
G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art
The modern discussion of the expression of emotion in music really begins with Eduard Hanslick, Richard Wagner's arch-enemy, who in 1854 published his Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (On the Musically Beautiful), a polemical tract which argued that the beautiful in music consists solely in beautiful musical forms, especially melodies, and that we should resist the idea that music is about or represents human feelings. The content of music is 'tönend bewegte Formen' glossed by Payzant as 'forms dynamically related, the relationships being those inherent in the diatonic (i.e. tonal) musical system'.1 The 'content of music, that which musical art presents in its works'2 is not feelings, but music itself.
Hanslick anticipates the judgement theory of emotion, arguing that music cannot express or represent 'definite feelings', because it cannot represent the 'specific representations or concepts' that define particular emotions.
The feeling of hope cannot be separated from the representation of a future
happy state which we compare with the present; melancholy compares past
happiness with the present. These are entirely specific representations or