Newsletter Autumn 2010

2. World Ballads

Anniversaries such as this one are often an occasion for reviews and forecasts. Network’s 30th anniversary motivated us to take a look at our programme once again. The edition marking our 25th anniversary, the 3-CD Set “Emociones”, aimed to document the scope and depth of our programme and present as many cultures and musical styles as possible. With the double CD “World Ballads” the focus is on the quieter side of our programme.


The ballads chosen for this come from different cultural circles, but what they often have in common is their thematic focus – love, longing, mental pain, lament or deep sadness. Yet this is never sadness per se, never just the expression of helpless desolation or tearful world weariness, but instead the public manifestation of sadness as a possibility of regaining vital energy.

In the accompanying text Christian wrote:

“Ballads are oases in our noisy world. We are surrounded by the sounds of engines, the limited vocabulary of excited television dialogues, the command tone of advertising, sometimes loud, sometimes more subtle, the same old centrally adjusted hits on radio, and a constant background noise level, the absence of which only strikes us when we are on a peaceful island or in the desert.
Ballads are invitations to dream, to cuddle up, to dose, to fantasise, to relax, to contemplate, to sail through landscapes, and sometimes to indulge in a small fiesta of idleness.”

This journey to the world of ballads ends with the words;

“I was lucky enough – thanks to Apollo and all the Gods of Heaven – to be there personally at the recording of almost all the ballads presented here. Often I sat directly opposite the musicians, sometimes the very first performance had only me as an audience. I freely admit that often I was so moved that I cried while subsequently embracing the musicians and all the other people involved. Our wish, especially that of the musicians, is that the deep emotions we experienced in those situations reach and move the listeners, even if the ballads unleash different feelings in each individual.”

bruno girard bratsch

"Bruno Girard (Bratsch)"

In his essay “Music and Emotion” (in Bruhn, Kopiez, Lehmann, Musikpsychologie, Reinbek 2008), Gunter Kreutz assesses the different research approaches and findings and reaches the astounding conclusion that presumably:

“Music has its greatest impact when it serves to bind people together in peaceful communities and with compassionate intent.”

Of course some researchers have also begun to ask whether kinds of music exist that are universally valid, that waken deep emotions in all people, irrespective of their culture. The search is on for the ultimate goose-pimple effect!

Given that a linear dynamism cannot be observed and measured in isolation due to the complexity of the processes in both brain and body, what remains is introspection: the test person’s description, assessment, scaling.
What are mostly used for such research purposes are clichés from European classical music, which are regarded as highly emotional, are oriented around the educated middle-class, and are also Eurocentric in conception. Yet the test persons do not all react in the same or a similar way. The results would perhaps be totally different if the music examples chosen were enduring ballads from the history of jazz, pop music. But that’s another story.

Recently the group Bratsch gave a concert in our hometown of Frankfurt. As usual when we meet up with them on such occasions, the evening ends in a great reunion party. The famous neuroscientist Wolf Singer was at that particular concert and afterwards joined our merry gathering, still enthusiastic about what he had just heard. Somewhat provocatively Christian asked him, “Can the particular Bratsch feeling we have just experienced this evening be quantified, reliably measured?"

The reply: "Definitely not!".

So what was it Plato claimed?: “Music and rhythm find their way to the soul’s most secret places.”

Those secret places and the paths leading to them are sure to continue to evade being dissected by scientists. And a good thing that is too.


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