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I'm a complete novice to composing and music theory, but part of what I'd like to do is acquire the vocabulary to describe subtle changes in sound, especially ones that evoke a distinct emotion. For instance, this is an orchestration of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" : video here, and the main melody at 1:41 goes from a more proud and triumphant sound down into a much more mournful tone at around 1:51. The corresponding lyrics would be "All through my wild days, my mad existence..." The lowest notes especially just sink right into my gut (to wax poetic). What causes this sensation? What kind of harmonics are at work here? What would you call this bittersweet sound, like someone proudly standing to meet their end?

[I know this goes directly against the "please don't ask about X" rules, but I want to at least try, rather than giving up completely. If anyone knows of a more relevant website where I can get these kinds of questions answered without cluttering up this one, I'd appreciate any tips. Thank you for your time.]

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  • Hi ScherzoCapriccioso. Welcome to the site. IMO, this is a perfectly fine question for us, though I did remove the part of your title that asked for additional resources. That part is considered "off-topic".
    – Aaron
    Aug 29 at 20:42
  • Good to know! Thank you for clearing that up for me! Aug 31 at 22:19
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Actually, I'd challenge the idea that harmony doesn't have much to do with it. When I read the question before watching the video, I assumed the emotive contrast you described would come with a big change in register, orchestration, or dynamics, but all those are pretty consistent between the time points you mentioned. What does change is: "Don't cry for me Argentina / The truth is I never left you" is all just the "tonic" chord, the "I." This is the "home" chord, the tonality that is most grounded and at rest. Then "All through my wild days" is the dominant (V)—leaving home, as it were, and bringing a degree of unsettledness—followed by the vi for "my mad existence." The dominant is the second most "settled" chord after the tonic, a "home away from home" if you will, and ultimately sets up a desire to get back to the tonic. But instead of "home"—our comfortable major-key major chord—the dominant is followed by vi, a minor chord. If this happened at the end of a phrase, where "I" was even more expected, it would be called a deceptive cadence—we think we're going home and are tricked, wandering into greater tonal instability.

Now, this is reading a lot into three chords, especially within one phrase. (It's interesting to look ahead to the ultimate end of the phrase, "Don't keep your distance," which will still never get back home, but end on IV!) The fact that a little deceptive motion within the phrase strikes you so viscerally suggests that you're sensitive to harmonic motion, in a good way.

It's also true that the things I mentioned at first can have even more emotive impact—a sudden reduction in volume after a sweeping crescendo, or a large change in register. (The final line of the verse, "Don't keep your distance," drops an octave from the previous note.)

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  • Outstanding association between the functional meaning of the chords and the literal meaning of the lyrics.
    – Aaron
    Aug 30 at 15:24
  • I think what you are describing most closely relates to what I'm attempting to understand here. If you have the time could you tell me a little more about harmonic motion? Thank you. Aug 31 at 22:31
  • @ScherzoCapriccioso There's so much to tell, and this isn't the easiest place for it! I highly recommend starting at the ground level with some tonal theory. If you don't already know the full implications of words like "tonic," "dominant," or "cadence," or the significance of roman numerals I and V compared to, say, IV or vii, then I suggest jumping into a basic theory course. musictheory.net is very thorough (if a bit dry); there are probably also some great youtube resources. Just make sure to start at the beginning, as every concept builds on another (notes -> chords -> keys) Sep 1 at 12:25
  • @Andy Bonner This is excellent! Thank you! Sep 2 at 16:27
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There's no particular name for what you're hearing, but here are what I interpret as the main contributors:

Melody

In the part corresponding to the lyrics "Don't cry for me, Argentina" (1:41 – 1:51), the notes move primarily upward. An illustration might look like this:

Picture showing upward trajectory of melody

However, in the "All through my wild days" part, the melody moves prominently downward, giving a sense of sinking emotionally.

Picture showing downward trajectory of melody

Rhythm

In the first, "Don't cry for me" part, the lyrics are accompanied by a tango rhythm. There's rhythmic movement, some syncopation ("unexpected" placement of notes) ... a dance-like feel.

In the "All through my wild days" part, the tango goes away and is replaced by long, held notes. This shifts the mood from lighter to darker.

Lyrics

"Don't cry for me, Argentina. The truth is I never left you." The focus here is on Argentina. She's speaking to the whole country.

"All through my wild days, my mad existence, ...." This shifts the focus to Evita and her feelings. It's more inward.

Harmony

I don't find the harmony an especially large contributor here. There is an initial shift lower ("all through my wild days"), which does give a "sinking" feeling, and then to a minor harmony ("my mad existence"), which typically connotes sadness, but I think the harmony here plays primarily a supporting role rather than a driving one.

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  • Thank you for making the charts! This is fascinating, and I appreciate the reminder of how prominently tango rhythms feature in Evita. The progression in rhythm tells an auditory story. Aug 31 at 22:26
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how about catharsis?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis

In addition to Aaron's answer I'd like to focus on three elements:

  • Text and form: Verse-Verse-Refrain: I'd assume that we know the tune of the refrain, and we are longing to hear it finally. The lyrics are touching: don't cry ... and the mother/father-country! (This is a myth in everybodys heart.) As we know the tune of the refrain, this is a dejavu or better a déjà-entendu). That's why we prefere places we have already been, smiling faces ... we have know from old days. Recognation=feeling at home. The art is to write a tune, that evokes this feeling.

  • Harmony: the parent chord of the tonality (tonic) is very rarely appeared until the refrain. (Relative key, secondary dominants ..) When it finally arises, the melody is circling around it and we feel at home!

  • The instrumentation: In the refrain the melody is played also in unison by the violoncellis, that gives the impression of a chorus (choir): the whole nation will sing along now.

I know this technique very well from gospel services:

Make the people suffering for the chorus :), speaking longer than needed, the piano or organ is preluding with chords, the preacher is going on preaching, and finally the chorus enters. I think this formal aspect roots back to the plain chant, with introitus, responsorial, credo, halleluja etc. and cantatas with sinfonias, rezitatives, solo aria and the final choral.

Similar experiences we make when listen to a solo concerto or symphony, and after the climax ... the cadenza ... the original theme enters again. Coming home!

So, you must be a manipulator or a great pretender: create an ear worm as a refrain, then write long verses that contain elements and motifs that keep the musicians and the auditory on the tenterhooks and play with their feelings and longings until you will release and relaxe them by the resolution, like the in the drama the crisis is the point of the climax. (Drama, Rhetoric, Fascism, ...)

Looking for a name I would say this is a kind of katharsis

https://www.linguee.com/german-english/translation/katharsis.html

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  • This is a good psychological explanation for why this works so well. Catharsis in music provides emotional relief, a kind of "soul healing," to my mind. Aug 31 at 22:25

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