Why is it that no matter what language is spoken or what culture you come from, the Moonlight Sonata is perceived as a sad song (an assumption of mine of course)? What does that suggest about the nature of music, and its correlation to humans that seems to transcend national barriers? Do animals or non sentient creatures recognize these emotions, or would an alien sentience? Jon

I'm not sure the Moonlight Sonata is perceived as sad by every person in every culture. This is an empirical question: our perception of music's expressive features has some dependence on the musical culture(s) with which we're familiar, though I gather there's greater cross-cultural uniformity than one might think. The question of how animals or aliens might hear music is also empirical, though I gather there's little evidence that animals respond to music in the ways we do.

The philosphical question is why we perceive music as having expressive featues like sadness in the first place. This is puzzling because there's no comfortable place to situate the sadness: listeners don't always or even typically feel sad when perceiving sad music, and music isn't a phenomenon that seems capable of emotions.

I wish I had a good account to offer you. One possibility is that we hear music as having an expressive feature when it resembles in some way the vocal quality, body-language or other behavior in which humans typically express a given emotion. This might go some way towards exaplning why a slow rhythm or drooping melody can express lament or reflection. But it doesn't, in my view, go very far towards explaining the emotive properties we percieve in a minor tonality.

Read another response by Joseph G. Moore
Read another response about Music