Keyboards and Key Words
Find a friend and a piano.
Using the photographs below, play two chords. Depress the right foot pedal for a sustained tone to connect the two.
Did those chords spark an emotion? Is that emotion shared? Can you describe it in words?
It's possible that the emotion elicited is the same one that Eric Satie wanted you to feel when he inserted them into his piece, Gymnopédie No. 1. (at 1:37)
Describing the emotion to another is next to meaningless, it's more than empathy can bear. It is possible to have words elicit melancholy, but they would almost surely take the form of a story; a litany of symptoms would not suffice. Much simpler is to use a tool to get under the intellectual abstract of melancholy; omit the indirect words and plug right into the emotion through the music.
Years ago I saw an exhibition at the Phillips Museum in Washington, DC, entitled "The Impressionists in Winter". The chosen pieces were a cross section of snow scenes in and around fin-de-siècle Paris. Included in the exhibition was a painting entitled, "Vue de Toits (Effet de Neige)" or "Rooftops, Snow Effect"by Gustave Caillebotte, currently displayed at the Orsay Museum in Paris.
This was the painting that sparked my interest in art appreciation. For me, the emotional effect of this painting is strongly similar to Satie's piece. It seems to me that French culture at the end of the 19th century seemed to have a vein of studied melancholy.
In a strict sense, music is unnecessary; it isn't required to survive. But music, and the other arts, allow us to share meaning within a culture, and explain ourselves to others outside the culture. The human component is integral to such shared meaning; it is Satie injecting something subliminal, through music, that we and a friend can hear and share over a century later.