Theoretical Proposals on How Vertical Harmony May Convey Nostalgia and Longing in Music

Imre Lahdelma, Tuomas Eerola


Music is often associated with the emotions of nostalgia and longing. According to previous survey studies both nostalgia and longing are among the most commonly evoked emotions by music (Juslin, 2011). Despite nostalgia’s significance as a musical emotion, research on the specific properties of music that might contribute to this particular emotion has been scarce. A recent empirical experiment by Lahdelma and Eerola (2014) sought to explore whether single chords could be effective at conveying musical emotions to listeners, which spanned complex emotions such as nostalgia. According to the results single chords such as the minor triad, the minor seventh and the major seventh communicate the emotion of nostalgia effectively. The aim of the current paper is to raise several possible explanations that might account for single chords’ ability to convey the emotion of nostalgia. In these explanations we consider cultural, music-theoretical and psychoacoustic issues, as well as their possible interactions. The three proposed candidate explanations are (1) learning, (2) intrinsic emotional connotations arising from tonal relations, and (3) clashing conventions arising from concurrent yet separate affective associations, stemming from certain triad and interval combinations. Finally, we propose experimental designs for future research to empirically test these explanations.


chord; vertical harmony; emotion; nostalgia; longing

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