Musical expression is the art of playing or singing music with emotional communication. The elements of music that comprise expression include dynamic indications, such as forte or piano, phrasing, differing qualities of timbre and articulation, color, intensity, energy and excitement. All of these devices are at the service of the composer's intention and they can best be interpreted by the performer.
A performer aims to elicit responses of sympathetic feeling in the audience, and to excite, calm or otherwise sway the audience's physical and emotional responses. In a great artist, one can feel that it is the soul that is speaking to the audience. In more modest performances, one can sometimes sense the soul of the composer in the absence of a heightened interpretation.
Expression can be closely related to breath, and the voice's natural ability to express feelings, sentiment, deep emotions. Whether these can somehow be categorized is perhaps the realm of academics, who view expression as an element of musical performance which embodies a consistently recognizable emotion, ideally causing a sympathetic emotional response in its listeners. The emotional content of musical expression is distinct from the emotional content of specific sounds (e.g., a startlingly loud 'bang') and of learned associations (e.g., a national anthem), but can rarely be completely separated from its context.
- Justin London, Musical Expression and Musical Meaning in Context Self-published website (accessed 20 February 2016).
- Erich Sorantin, The Problem of Musical Expression: A Philosophical and Psychological Study ([Sl.l.]: Marshall & Bruce Company, 1932):