|I have to correct a major error that I made, because I assumed Fred Seddon knew what he was talking about. :-(|
In responding to remarks I made about the "William Tell Overture" (the overture to the opera written by Rossini about 180 years ago), Fred wrote: "Whoa! Your kids are confusing the Long Ranger with an opera--which by the way is NOT absolute music--we have a text, and as far as I know, its not about horsies."
Unfortunately for Fred's claim about the young listeners my band played for, Rossini's music ~was~ "about horsies." :-) Since I have never seen or studied the opera, I assumed that Fred's opinion about the opera and the overture was correct, that Rossini's overture was not attempting to re-create the galloping of horses. Thus, I wrote: "It doesn't matter that the music isn't 'about' horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting."
Pete challenged me, saying: "It doesn't? The fact that the relative duration of the "da-da-DUM" rhythm is similar to the rhythm of a galloping horse is purely happenstance. If art is a selective recreation of reality, and Rossini did not selectively recreate the concept of horses when he composed the overture to William Tell, then doesn't that negate your argument about the childrens' response to that music? I am curious as to why you suggest that artist intent has no bearing on the situation."
There are two important points I want to make in reply:
1. Mea culpa: Rossini ~was~ re-creating horses galloping in the closing section of his overture and also in a section of the opera itself. (The former, the overture, qualifies as absolute music, even though it is later realized to be foreshadowing the use of the same music to accompany staged actions of horses. It is widely recognized that the overture "tells" the whole story of the opera in music) Just as the use of that section of the overture was used in the theme song of "The Lone Ranger" to conjure up the image of the white horse Silver galloping onto the screen, Rossini used it to signify the approaching Swiss army. The rousing rhythm Rossini uses (da-da-DUM) is that of a popular dance of the time called the galop. What better dance rhythm to conjure up an image of galloping horses!
2. Even if Rossini did ~not~ intend to portray the galloping of horses with those rhythms, however, people ~hear~ them as the galloping of horses. That is why I said that "it doesn't matter that the music isn't 'about' horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting." (I should have said that "it doesn't matter ~whether~ the music is 'about' horses galloping in its opera setting." Composers and other artists sometimes ~do~ unintentionally portray certain things in their art. (That's not the case in the "William Tell Overture." Rossini ~meant~ to portray horses galloping.)
Pete also said: "Furthermore, your example entails only one piece of music. Can you name any other piece of absolute music that might register a similar type of universal reaction among 99.9% of the listeners?"
No, because horse gallops are very concrete and very hard to confuse with any other phenomenon on the concrete level. So, horse gallops are more like the dots in abstract cartoons. It's not likely that anyone would mistakenly identify either the semblance of horse galloping or the semblance of agents pursuing goals and contenting with or cooperating with one another. (The experiments did not result in people interpreting the cartoon dots as being a knight or a soldier &c -- just a person trying to get somewhere, with aid from another dot, and interference from still another dot.)
On the other hand, for instance, something like the "struggle" of a melody to "assert" itself and "reach its goals" is very abstract, and it doesn't sound like some concrete struggle as much as it does the abstracted essence of a struggle. People listening to this musical process often attach specific imagery that is drawn up from their own subconscious, and these specifics can differ from person to person. What they all have in common, though, is the element of struggle, which is the "universal" element. Children, in particular, would have trouble identifying the abstraction of "struggle," while adults would be more likely to identify the universal involved, especially if asked to set aside specific imagery and state the meaning of what they hear in most general terms.