Aaron Copland discusses three levels of listening to music: sensuous, expressive, and sheerly musical. The sensuous level, or plane, is the most basic, but pleasurable level of enjoyment. This level of listening requires the least amount of brain power; therefore we usually engage this level when we use music as background music-to fill the silence in the room. The expressive level requires some concentration, for we can feel some sort of emotion from the music. Copland stresses that we may not be able to specify what we feel, but we know it is there. Then there is the third level, the sheerly musical level. Most people do not reach this level, which consists of "the notes themselves and their manipulation" Inquiry Westminster College
Active Listening vs. Passive Listening:
· Remember Copland notes: most listeners engage on the Sensuous Plane, and he stresses that there is nothing wrong with this. Listening on the Sensuous Plane is passive listening. However, to fully understand/appreciate serious music you must engage the music actively.
· The Expressive Plane features music that is programmatic in nature. It uses music to tell a story, to create a picture if you will. The celebrated “Totentanz” of Franz Liszt is a good example. In this work he uses the Giotto frescos of Campo Santo in Pisa, Italy to tell the story of the Black Plague—The Dance of Death, as portrayed on the Church walls by the celebrated visual artist Giotto. In his “Symphonie Fantastique” Hector Berlioz uses his music to tell a story of unrequited love. The program is quite detailed.
· The Sheerly Musical Plane is considered the highest level of musical expression, and it is music in its absolute or abstract form. It is music with no reference to any visual or literary story—it is simply: music for music’s sake.