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Christopher Peacocke is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University.  Click here to listen to our conversation with him.

In this episode, Christopher Peacocke discusses what it is to hear an emotion in a piece of music. Even instrumental music seems to be emotionally charged–minor chords, for example, usually have a melancholy ring to them. But it isn’t entirely clear why this should be. What it is about certain combinations of notes that makes them feel a certain way?

Christopher Peacocke argues that hearing an emotion in a piece of music can be likened to what happens when we think metaphorically. A tree in a painting might strike the viewer as having subtly humanoid features, for example. In this case, the viewer is seeing the depicted tree metaphorically as a person. Similarly, when we hear sadness in a piece of music, we are hearing the music metaphorically as a vocal expression of sadness.

Our guest concludes by noting how this theory of musical emotion can be used to explain the difference between romantic, classical, impressionist, and expressionist music.

Matt Teichman

Further Reading: Peacocke, Christopher. ‘The Perception of Music: Sources of Significance.’ British Journal of Aesthetics 49 (2009): 257-75.