Music’s power to express and arouse feelings has been one of its principal attributes from antiquity. While the topic remains prevalent in contemporary discourse, relatively little attention had been given to specifically melancholic expressions in European music. The article examines various stages in western music history vis-à-vis the changing formulations and receptions of melancholy as a cultural phenomenon, from the time it was perceived as a sign of either a physical or a moral problem to later historical periods, when positive and negative views on melancholy intertwined. In this article, I point at an interesting connection between melancholic representations in music works and music’s unique relationship with time. As I show, prevalent conventions of pre-modern music, which manifest cyclical (or ‘theological’) structures of time, keep the listener’s experience simultaneously rooted in the present and floating in eternity. Alternatively, the linear (or ‘teleological’) sense of temporality found in early-modern and modern music works allows for the possibility of ‘looking back’ and experiencing longings. Various diachronic and synchronic temporal sensitivities, which manifest explicit (via titles or texts) or implicit melancholic feelings, are explored. Music’s linearity is shown to provide it a lost past to mourn.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The research was supported by The Open University of Israel?s Research Fund [grant no. 31911].
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- C. P. E. Bach
- Guillaume de Machaut
- John Dowland
- Robert Schumann
- Temporality in Western music
- melancholic representations