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Off topic: ARTICLE: Great composers scored on language
Thread poster: Pamela Cruz

Pamela Cruz  Identity Verified
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Nov 21, 2004

Great composers scored on language

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Saturday November 20, 2004

The Guardian

Why is Elgar's music for Land of Hope and Glory so quintessentially English, while Debussy sounds so French? It is all because the music mimics the composer's native language, say scientists.
The researchers studied the question because while many classical scores have a distinctly national feel, no one had put forward a good explanation for why that should be. "You would expect songs to sound like they came from the performer's country, but pure music has no words, so why should it?" said Aniruddh Patel at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California.

Dr Patel and his team suspected the reason might be something to do with the composer's native language. They analysed recordings of sentences spoken in typical French and English, and compared the rhythms and variations in pitch, or melody.

They found that English had more of a swing than French, a rhythm produced by a tendency in English to cut some vowels short while stressing others. The melodies of the two languages also differed, with pitch varying far more in spoken English than French.

The team then did the same kind of analysis on music, comparing the rhythm and melody of English classical music from composers such as Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams, with that of French composers including Debussy, Fauré and Roussel. "The music differs in just the same way as the languages," said Dr Patel. "It is as if the music carries an imprint of the composer's language."

The researchers say that consciously or not, composers may have used the rhythm and melody of their native language to influence their music, especially around the turn of the 20th century, a time of particular musical nationalism.

"Composers, like every other person in their culture, learn the patterns of their language and it's latent in their minds, so when they compose, they have those patterns to draw on," said Dr Patel. The findings may go some way to explaining why Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and circumstance" sounds so English, even without the words the Eton schoolmaster AC Benson later added to make it the country's unofficial national anthem, Land of Hope and Glory.

Dr Patel, who was speaking at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in San Diego yesterday, now hopes to investigate whether pianists from different countries impose elements of their language on pieces they play - the equivalent of playing the piano with an accent. "Pianists do interpret music differently, and language might play a part".,3604,1355486,00.html

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Magda Dziadosz  Identity Verified
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Is it???? Nov 21, 2004

Pamela Cruz wrote:

Why is Elgar's music for Land of Hope and Glory so quintessentially English, while Debussy sounds so French?

Makes me wonder how does the author establish "Frenchness" of Debussy's music and "Englishness" of Elgar's?


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Pamela Cruz  Identity Verified
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The sound of language... Nov 22, 2004

The natural music of a language seems to be distinctive. More on the subject:

"Musicologists and linguists have tried to connect cultures' speech with their music in the past but have only had luck with tonal languages, such as Chinese, which assign meaning to words based on their pitch.

"The new work is the first to connect melody with non-tonal speech. Aniruddh Patel of The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, and his colleagues used advanced computer software to analyse recordings of people saying different sentences in British English and in French. The software measures the pitch of each vowel, then works out the size of the jump in pitch between one syllable and the next.

"For example, in the word "finding", the second vowel typically registers about 4 semitones higher than the first.

"People internalize language patterns and express them in their music.

"The researchers carried out the same analysis on musical notes from pieces by English and French composers such as Edward Elgar and Claude Debussy. The researchers avoided modern composers, because they would probably have been exposed to a range of cultures and languages.

"Whereas previous work has compared the range of different pitches in languages and their associated music, Patel and his colleagues looked at the size of the jumps from note to note.

"We looked at how variable the intervals between pitches were, not just how variable the pitches were," says Patel.

"The intervals in French speech and music turned out to be considerably less variable than their English counterparts. In other words, classical concerts and café chatter may sound rather smoother in Paris than in London.

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invguy  Identity Verified
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I just wonder... Nov 22, 2004

... what they would find out if they started analyzing Mozart and Strauss vs. Bach and Wagner...

Maybe a striking difference between the languages spoken in Austria and Germany?...

Kidding, of course. A relationship between the sounds of one's immediate environment (including language) and the music one is able to write is a reasonable assumption.

It's a different thing that some composers may be so great, they create their music beyond the influence of their native tongue... maybe according to the universal sound environment of the human kind? Or of the universe?

Who knows...

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ARTICLE: Great composers scored on language

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