I am quite moved just reading your post. No, really.
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I think you are exactly right. I have had similar thoughts for some time. It is amazing to me how music can convey a sense of emotion, or even a message, without words. I tested this on my wife a couple of years ago by playing various Joe Satriani(thats right, I play guitar) songs and having her try to guess the name. On well over a dozen songs she was able to guess out of the clear blue a title that nearly matched what the song was called. Maybe I should have her pick some lottery numbers too, but I think that music can speak to you if you take the time to listen.
Maybe I am misreading your post. I have had similar thoughts into the power of the minor keys. When you look even further, the actual key itself was often chosen for a specific mood. For example, D major is often used for "triumphant" music.
Some minor keys are troubling others are downright depressing.
Anyway, I think it has to do somewhat with how we process experience. Good times, like major keys, are enjoyed, sung along with, danced to. Sour times are scrutinized for lessons and for some relished in as they are often when one feels the most real, thrown upon themselves and their own isolation and individuality. I think that's why music written in minor keys are remembered more deeply and often felt more deeply.
I always return to minor keys and am amazed how often the beauty can bring a tear. Can one feel elated by angst...
or am I just a sicko?
Everybody who's every lived has had some hellhounds on their trail at some time. Expressing that musically is about about the tension between the major and the minor.
As an aside, last night I saw a very fine performance by Sanderling/Toledo Symphony of Mahler's 9th. The fourth movement, which I believe was in a major key, was unbelievably emotional. Check out this man's reaction.
You are hearing exactly what composers want you to hear. :-) The very nature of minor keys allows the composer so many more - musical choices - if you will - simply by the inclusion of alterations within the scalar structure. Major is very restrictive by comparison from a basic structural standpoint.
Congratulations! You really are getting it. :-)
I think such tension as Onhwy61 mentions can also be expressed via chord and key changes which are entirely major. Im not sure if that's what you meant by your Mahler example or not. Many times the emotional release felt can be a result of returning (at the end of the piece) to the tonic key from some remote key which is not necessarily a minor one.
Thanks for all the feedback. I do not have perfect pitch (as I understand it) and struggle to "get" how a piece of music written in D Major could sound triumphant and if it were transposed into C Major or E Major, it would sound any less triumphant. I have heard this type of statement before, but never understood why - I have transposed a number of songs on my keyboard and can't tell any difference ot her than it makes some tunes easier to sing :o)
I too have used my keyboard to transpose Bach pieces just for fun and they never sound the same. I think there is something to the actual key itself lending information to the character of the piece.
There's an interesting book by Aaron Copland called "What to Listen for in Music." (I will double check the title)
It discusses much of these things.
Dominant chords actually contain more of an edge as it contains the devil's triad. Anyways, I disagree with the notion that minor keys are only to be enjoyed by adults. It's like arguing that children should not be exposed to any feelings of loss, death or sadness (for example fairy tales). Minor keys give a different mood and does trigger a different feeling in us I think.
I also think that his notion is more or less reflective of the cultural biases we grew up with. Most of us growing up in Western civilizations are simply not "used" to hearing dissonance that's all. Once you're used to it, you'll hear it as correct, cool, beautiful, or whatever your thoughts may be. Minor sounds, afterall, are natural in this world. We can hear it everywhere.