We tested three theses on the construction of extramusical meaning in program music: (1) that some excerpts contain an “inherent” musical structure that facilitates the interpretation aligned with the composer’s intentions; (2) that “onomatopoeia” — musical imitation of natural sounds — is a frequent subclass of this “inherence”; and (3) that providing the title of the piece further facilitates the “proper” interpretation of intended meaning. Two hundred and one students were given six musical stimuli (three based on “inherent” and three on “arbitrary” association) and asked to write a one-sentence description of extramusical meaning associated with the examples. In the first trial, all participants provided descriptions without a suggestion. In the second, they were randomly assigned to three groups, receiving suggestions that were neutral, aligned with the composer’s program, or deliberately worded to contradict this program. Three raters then coded the responses on the basis of conformity with the composer’s intentions and presence of onomatopoeia. The result was (a) no difference in the numbers of conformant descriptions to “inherent” as opposed to “arbitrary” examples; (b) a negligible number of onomatopoeic descriptions; (c) a strong influence of “false” — but not “true” — suggestions. We discuss some implications for further studies of extramusical meaning.
- Received June 17, 2015.
- Accepted February 2, 2016.
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