Perception of large musical structures

"The most important question: To the extent that a relationship exists between the details of a work and its large-scale structure, what are the means by which this relationship is made audible? It is not enough to discover the score, when indeed it exists. We must be able to claim that we have always heard it--perhaps without being conscious of it, but in sensing its effect on our perception of the work"

Rosen (1971, p. 49).

"Que serait une oeuvre dont chaque partie, loin de concourir à former un tout cohérent pourrait être supprimée, remplacée, transplantée ?"

Hodeir, 1951


The large-scale organization of tonal works is defined by the unfolding of melodic and harmonic structures. The researchers task is to show that these structures , which are first perceived locally, are subsequently integrated into a larger organizational unit. In other words, we must determine if listeners perceive musical works as a series of locally structured groups, or it they succeed in joining them into something larger.

Pièce A
Pièce B

Many musicologists emphasize the importance of large structures in music. A musical phrase, however beautiful it may be in itself, only reaches its expressive summum when it is in perfect harmony with all that surrounds it. What would we say of a work whose separate parts, instead of working together to form a coherent whole, could be removed, replaced or re-positioned? To what extent does piece A strike you as less expressive than piece B?


Bibiliographical References

Tillmann, B., Bigand, E., & Madurell, F. (1998). Local versus global processing of harmonic cadences in the solution of musical puzzles. Psychological Research, 61(3), 157-174. Détails ›

Tillmann, B., & Bigand, E. (1998). Influence of global structure on musical target detection and recognition. International Journal of Psychology, 33(2), 107-122. Détails ›

Tillmann, B., & Bigand, E. (1996). Does formal musical structure affect perception of musical expressiveness?. Psychology of Music, 24, 3-17. Détails ›