Thursday, June 4, 2009

The "Musical Chill"

Interesting article touching on Mahler in the current issue of the New Yorker. Money quote:
His appeal is at once visceral and intellectual. On one level, he is the supreme magician of orchestral spectacle, the master of the oh-my-God moment. Neuroscientists have analyzed the phenomenon of the “musical chill”—the ambiguous tremor of otherness that runs through the body when, for whatever reason, a particular sound overwhelms the reasoning mind. Mahler generated chills by the dozen: the pianissimo, misterioso entry of the chorus in the “Resurrection”; the huge orchestral chord that blazes forth in the spacious slow movement of the Fourth; the “hammer-blow” percussion in the finale of the Sixth, which crushes hopes for a major-key resolution. Mahler’s chills often arise from collisions between music and noise, music and silence. They imitate the sublimity of nature—eruptions, thunderclaps, the roar of waterfalls—and thereby trigger an instinctive shiver of awe and fear.

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