Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Cry Melodies

We've long know about the cultural divide between French and German music. It's one of the great aesthetic confrontations of music history, and the conflict continues today.

Now, researchers at the University of Würzburg in Germany have made an interesting discovery - and it involves (of all things) screaming babies.

What they found is that French babies had a tendency to cry "with a rising melody contour." In direct contrast, German babies cried with falling melodic contours in their vocalizations. These differences in pitch inflection mirror the pitch characteristics of the native language, which presumably was learned by the newborn prenatally.

Does this new scientific evidence lend support to our perception of stylistic differences between say Schoenberg and Debussy? I can think of numerous melodic phrases in Schoenberg that end in a descending stepwise motion. Likewise, Debussy's melodic lines often soar in a decisively upward direction.

The differences between Arnold's schrei-melodie, and Claude's mélodie de cri go well beyond an adult preference for Wiener Schnitzel or Quiche Lorraine. It's potentially something that we mastered in the womb.

The bottom line? Your musical preferences may have been set in place months before you were born.

Now, that's something to cry out about.