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a. You have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.
b. It's all about image.
c. In What to Listen for in Music (1957), Aaron Copland claims that we listen to music on three planes:
a. the sensuous plane
As Copland points out, the appeal of music at this level is self-evident. The sound element in music is a powerful as well as a mysterious agent. The surprising thing (he adds) is that many people who consider themselves qualified music lovers listen at this level only; they go to concerts in order to lose themselves; they use music as a consolation or as an escape.
However, there is such a thing as becoming sensitive to the different kinds of "sound stuff" as used by composers, for different composers use sound stuff in different ways. We realize that a composer's use of the sound elements forms an integral part of his or her style and that in listening we have to take this matter into consideration.
b. the expressive plane
Copland argues that all music conveys meaning behind the notes and that the meaning behind the notes constitutes what the piece says, what the piece is about. Of course, we cannot put this meaning into so many words. At different moments, he observes, music expresses serenity or exuberance, regret or triumph, fury or delight. Music expresses these moods, and many others, in a variety of subtle shadings and differences. It may even express a state of meaning for which there exists no adequate phrase in any language. In any case, musicians like to say that it has only a purely musical meaning.
For this reason, it can be argued that it is easier to "understand" Tchaikovsky (say) than Beethoven. It is easier to pin a meaning-word on a Tchaikovsky piece than on a Beethoven piece. Often, it is quite difficult to put your finger on just what Beethoven is saying. Any musician will tell you that this is why Beethoven is a great composer.
c. the sheerly musical plane
At this level, the listener attends to matters of form and structure. In order to follow the line of a composer's thought, the listener attends to such matters as melody, rhythm, harmony, and tone color in a conscious fashion.
An analogy might help here. Think about what happens when we go to the theater. In the theater, we are aware of the players, the setting, the costumes, the movements, and so on. All these elements give one a sense that the theater is a pleasant place to be. They constitute the sensuous plane in our theatrical reactions.
We would experience the expressive plane in terms of the feelings we get from what is happening on the stage. We are moved to pity, excitement, and so on.
Experiencing the plot, following its development say, would be equivalent to experiencing music at the sheerly musical level. The playwright develops a character in just the same way a composer creates and develops a theme. As we become more and more aware of the way the artist handles his or her materials, the more we become intelligent listeners.