I don't know much about music but I am trying to find out what the following songs have in common. I have labelled this common feature as "nostalgia", "melancholy" and "longing" but I am still not completely satisfied.

The song at the start of this track:

The flute part:

The first 10 seconds:

Most of this:

I have even tried classifying songs into hot and cold and the songs above seem to lack any "hot element" except for a distant one which stops them from being completely sad and adds an element of happiness. They still however seem to be dominated by a nostalgic "longing" element, as if the happy ending is far away in the distance.

closed as too broad by David Bowling, Carl Witthoft, Dom Oct 15 '18 at 14:42

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Music Theory doesn't have a definition of nostalgia, for it is an effect achieved in various different techniques. Nostalgia is a psychological sensation that operates independently of music but can often be onset by it. The best answer that this site can really provide would be to break down every component of nostalgia individually, then talk about the ways to achieve these effects. For a very simple example, nostalgia can be sad, and one way to make music sad is to write in the minor mode. Other things that can bring out the longing feeling are sad words, lower range, and maybe direct quotes of older music. This is not even close to a good list of the individual factors, but really the point is that you have to know what factor causes what to understand the subtler emotions in music.

  • These songs have identifiable melodies, mostly major in tonality, and have regular, consistent melodies with very few gaps/pauses, which are quite evocative of many traditional folk songs. Some of the melodies also seem quite traditional in that they go on a melodic 'journey' through the course of the verse, which seems more in line with storytelling ballads than (say) a lot of modern pop melodies and songs.

  • Particularly in the Ring theme and the waltz, the harmony and melody are quite tightly coupled, with the phrasing of the melody leading strongly into the chord changes. This reinforces the feeling of the 'songs' being simple, traditional songs. Arguably, coupling the chords and melody together in this way could subjectively increase the sentimental feeling a listener gets from the track.

  • Many of the chords are the 'strong' chords in the keys - I, IV, V, iv, giving the songs 'power' that comes from the harmony.

Someone might be able to pick out some better 'theory' terms for some of the things I've mentioned, but IMO you're quite right to spot that there are elements in common in these pieces. The reason they make you feel the way they do may be partly just association - you may have heard this kind of melody in films at 'nostalgic' points and learned to associate the emotion, or you'll have perhaps versions of songs with these kind of characteristics that have lyrics that are 'nostalgic' in nature.

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