By Daniela and Bernd Willimek (2011)

Self Published, Germany

Laura Russell’ translation of Willimek, B & D (2011) “Music and Emotions Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration’ looks at the correlation between  musical harmony and emotional response. It begins with an analysis of the original theory of Ernst Kurth, but does not have enough depth in my view. It continues on to site known qualities of chords and their psychological effect, giving examples of music’ for reference. It then proceeds on with two test designs The Basic Test and The Rocky Test, goals, inspirations and models to test theory.

They claim their study is the “first to create a psychological paradigm which explains the emotional effect of music (p,1),  but  do not source any ancient ethno musicological data and limits reference sources to  20th century German sources.

The harmonic nature of chords and chord progression relationships are analysed, with their effect on emotions. Score analysis is used of certain harmonic progressions and their effects in combinations. It explores consonant and dissonant tension using  aspects of score from classical, pop and film. Listener associations and identifications in film is mentioned. Theorizing on why we feel certain emotional responses to passages of music, the authors’ state-

“Musical harmonies serve as a means of conveying emotional messages” (p,40) & “ different harmonic functions can have different emotional effects” (p, 37).

The testing methods are context led studies. The ‘Basic test’s is  a “preference test which captures the correlation between harmonies and emotions” (p,28). The ‘Rocky Test’s presents musical passages and a fairy tale adaptation of Sleeping Beauty with a two column and  an eight scene selection;  of which the children  and young adults (9-19), would chose  which best conveyed-  a) theme and b) context of the story. In my view it reduced the arena of choice by presenting only two musical choices and by giving a set theme. If the themes were not specified and the listener could tell what it was for them, it may have yielded different but surprising results. Statistically the results are overwhelmingly in favour of the theory and it has great merit. Age and cultural conditioning were ruled out as variables.  Over 2000 people were tested, in many countries. However the design  set out to prove the theory, reducing any possible other explanations or variations in outcome.

The ‘Children’ Descriptions of Musical Harmonies’ on page 69 was most informative and one of the highlights of the study, detailing answers to questions from their point of view. I would of liked more depth of research for the study to explore any ancient views of harmony. The ‘Noteworthy examples of music harmonies’, on page 71 is useful. I did not receive the accompanying musical cd, which had the score passages cited in the study for listening reference; this severely limited my appreciation, making the study very dry. The translator also failed to fully translate the bibliography for those who may like to research further. There is no mention of non academic sources who explore the effects of harmony. Implications of the study are suggested for areas like music psychology, film composition, and music therapy. Overall I found it a great study, and look forward to further research and findings  the field.

Catherine Meeson


About Author

Catherine Meeson is a solo self produced ambient electro / progressive folk rock songwriter/ composer from Melbourne, fascinated by the wealth of brilliance in the musical world. She is also a member of a new experimental genre defying band called Symbols IN soundS. She loves making music videos and sharing content from the independent artists community.