Emotional Appraisal and Agential Analysis of Musical Expression

Bree Guerra, University of Texas

Music and emotion studies have had considerable success identifying the common musical features associated with emotions expressed in music, often finding parallels between these characteristics and vocal expression, physical responses, and other embodied aspects of emotion. However, in addition to bodily actions, most psychological emotion theories also include an appraisal component, which accounts for how emotions emerge out of the affectively-weighted perception of the environment as filtered through an individual's needs, goals, and desires. In particular, appraisal theories of emotion seek to characterize the dynamic influence of information by positing common situational factors, called appraisal dimensions, that differentiate emotional responses. This situational perspective, which connects emotion to the perceived relationship between individual and stimulus rather than to the stimulus itself, could thus form a bridge between psychological theories of emotion and the dynamic expression foregrounded in expressive agential analysis and musical narrative with potential empirical applications. While this appraisal information could be consciously inferred, the suggestion here is that, like the innate simulation of sound as gesture, it may also arise out of the nonconscious, embodied sense-making processes involved in affective music perception.

Following Robert Hatten's theory of virtual agency, this presentation will explore these possibilities through an analysis of Brahms's E-flat minor Intermezzo, Op. 118/6). My discussion will explore how appraisal can not only capture musically implied situational changes that shape a listener's experience of emotional coherence, but can also account for how a listener's alternate perception of musical agents could lead to contrasting evaluations of the music's expression.