Musical Expression: A Comparative Study on the Emotional Experience of Music

Pereira, Niharika
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Music pervades our world like no other art form. Among the subtle powers of music is its connection to the emotions. The question of how music is able to express emotions has fascinated thinkers for centuries. Susanne Langer and Stephen Davies are two prominent philosophers who have intently pursued this question. Among her key insights, Langer argues that music is symbolic of the “forms" of feeling and gives us insight into what may be called “the life of feeling.” In contrast, Davies reaches the conclusion that expressive properties are literally possessed by music, and that music expresses emotion through the “appearances of emotion characteristics.” After critical evaluation of these two thinkers, I conclude that Davies’ theory succeeds as the more compelling account. Moreover, I appropriate Davies’ insights by using them in an examination of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a twentieth-century work that in five movements takes its audience through a dynamic, emotional experience.

Music, Expression, Emotion, Symbol, Susanne Langer, Stephen Davies