On a basic level, does this type of music simply help stimulate some sort of dopamine function in my brain? Or perhaps it is more to do with a thought process that allows the experience of sad emotions but in a 'safe' unthreatening way with no actual bad consequences occuring, such as when watching a good film that you know in the end is just 'pretend'. On the other hand I suppose it could be nothing more than the fact that I enjoy the music regardless of whatever feelings it is portraying; the fact that it is sad or tragic is unimportant.
Hmmm - I think I'm probably getting a bit too analytical but that, in a way, is the point I want to make. Great music can be analysed to see how it is constructed etc. but actually you don't have to undersatand it to enjoy it. These days, most music is only heard in a half-hearted way as background to something shown on TV or the radio playing at work. However, I do find that the more I concentrate on it and engage my brain with it (often helped by closing my eyes) the more ejoyment I can get out of it.
I could have attached so many pieces to this post but I think this short masterpiece by Thomas Tomkins is certainly one that deserves the full 'eyes closed' treatment. Tomkins was born in 1572 and died in 1656 and is polyphonic music from the Renaissance era. Polyphonic means that each part is as important as any other and this I think, helps to add to the intensity and beauty, with phrases weaving in and out - even more so as it is in five, rather than four parts. It clearly expresses so movingly David's grief at the loss of his son Absalom but the music remains tender and I think, also shows his deep love for his son.
To start with, Tomkins sets the scene and establishes the C minor key. Then the music begins to 'turn the screw' (from bar 23) with David pouring out his grief. Remarkably, E flats are often replaced by E naturals which should create a 'happier', major key feel but somehow it still feels fully minor key. From around bar 40 the expressiveness is notched-up even more as the music becomes more and more chromatic and pleading and David wishes that he had died instead. Strangely, the final bars do settle fully into C major, perhaps as if David is exhausted from expressing so much sorrow and has nothing more to give.