Marco Costa, Pio Enrico Ricci Bitti and Luisa Bonfiglioli (2000), Psychological Connotations of Harmonic Music Intervals, in Psychology of Music, 28, pp. 4-22, April 2000.
The article is available online here at ResearchGate. In this article the authors (from the University of Bologna) are showing their investigations into the perception of musical intervals by listeners. While their own results are indeed very interesting, their paper shows also some other treasure of knowledge which I would like to share here. Apparently there have been earlier investigations into this matter on how to perceive musical intervals, a here are some of those results in a summary table.
Here is a table which summarizes some of the generally known "properties" of intervals:
Table 1: Musical intervals and their expressiveness
|Interval name||Sample notes||Theoretical status||Expressive function (Cooke, 1959)||Expressive function (others)|
|minor second||C-C#||dissonance||Semitonal tension down to the tonic, in a minor context; spiritless anguish, context of finality||Dissonant, painful, uptight, afflicted, discouraged, humiliated|
|major second||C-D||dissonance||As a passing note, emotionally neutral. As a whole-tone tension down to the tonic in a major context, pleasurable longing, context of finality.||Dissonant, in suspense, tormented, sad, uptight, eager, pleasant|
|minor third||C-E♭||imperfect consonance||Concord, but a "depression" of natural third: stoic, acceptance, tragedy.||Painful, severe, languid, sweet, melancholy, frank, still, submitted|
|major third||C-E||imperfect consonance||Concord, natural third: joy.||Sonorous, Joyous, furious, strong, cheerful, pleasant, happy, right, pure, quiet, stable, shining|
|perfect fourth||C-F||perfect consonance||As a passing note emotionally neutral. As a semitonal tension down to the minor third pathos.||Lugubrious, active, tense|
|augmented fourth (tritonus)||C-F#||dissonance||As a modulating note to the dominant key active aspiration. As "augmented fourth" pure and simple devilish and inimical forces.||Hostile, averse, destructive, misterious|
|perfect fifth||C-G||perfect consonance||Emotionally neutral, contrxt of flux, intermediacy.||Consonant, pleasurable, stimulating, gentle, acrimonious, healthy, agreeable|
|minor sixth||C-G#||imperfect consonance||Semitonal tension down to the dominant, in a minor context: active anguish in a context of flux.||Pleasant, consonant, painful, discontended, strained, distressing, active, unstable|
|major sixth||C-A||imperfect consonance||As a passing note: emotionally neutral. As a whole tone tension down to the dominant, in a major context: pleasurable longing in a context of flux.||Pleasant, consonant, unstable, sweet, desirous, bright, tense|
|minor seventh||C-B♭||dissonance||Semitonal tension down to major sixth, or whole-tone tension down to minor sixth, both unsatisfactory, resolvign again down to the dominant: "lost" note, mournfulness||Dissonant, sad, painful, empty, melancholy, severe, strained, bewildered, lugubrious, unsatistied|
|major seventh||C-B||dissonance||As a passing note emotionally neutral. As a semitonal tension up to the tonic, violent longing, aspiration in a context of finality||Dissonant, tense, bitter, disagreeable, gloomy, optimistic|
|octave||C-c||perfect consonance||Consonant, easy, solemn, majestic, strong, severe, full, stable, energetic|
Here are the relevant literature references, as given by Costa et al.:
D. Cooke (1959). The language of music. New York: Oxford University Press.
N. Castiglioni (1959). Il linguaggio musicale dal Rinascimento ad oggi. Milano: Ricordi
G. Galilei (1638). Dialoghi intorno a due nuove scienze. In G. Galilei Opera Omnia (vol VIII), 1966, Firenze: Biblioteca Nazionale
C. Gervasoni (1800). La scuola della musica in tre parti divisa. Piacenza: Niccolo Orcessi.
P. Gianelli (1801). Grammatica ragionata della musica, ossia nuovo metodo facile di apprendere a ben suonare e cantare. Venezia: A.Santini
J.J. Rousseau (1782). Dictionnaire de musique. Aux Deux-Ponts: Chez Sanson et Compagnie.
R. Steiner (1975). Wesen des Musikalischen und das Tonerlebnis im Menschen. Dornoch: Rudolf Steiner Verlag
G. Tartini (1754). Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienzia dell' armonia. Padova: Giovanni Manfre Editore.
In 1940 Edgar Willems has investigated this perception a bit more - here are his results:
Table 2: Expressive values of musical intervals according to Willems (1940)
|unisonous||fusion, smoothness||will, peace||insistence, serenity|
|minor second||derangement, roughness||fear, anger||shyness, illness|
|major second||movement, friction||wish, vulgarity||request, displeasure|
|minor third||heaviness, shadow||sadness, pain||lament, discouragement|
|major third||clearness, limpid||joy, happiness||hope, balance|
|perfect fourth||hardness, cold||firmness, indifference||achievement, simplicity|
|augmented fourth (tritonus, 45:32)||fracture, heat||disdain, excitement||pretension, surprise|
|diminished Fifth (tritonus, 64:45)||excitement, instability||restlessness, anxiety||doubt, uncertainty|
|perfect fifth||balance, emptiness||love, calm||certainty, mastery|
|minor sixth||upsetting, penumbra||suffer, melancholy||worry, pity|
|major sixth||radiant, light||effusiveness, kindness||satisfaction, gratification|
|minor seventh||dynamic, warmth||exaltation, love||lyricism, romanticism|
|major seventh||limitation, wound||wickedness, hate||pride, rebellion|
|octave||solid, stable||courage, exaltation||heroism, liberation|
Edgar Willems (1940). L'Oreille musicale. T. I. La préparation auditive de l'enfant. Avant-propos de E. Jaques Dalcroze. II. La culture auditive. Les intervalles et les accords. Avant-propos de H. Gagnebin Reliure inconnue – 1940 available at Amazon France
These are very interesting attributes, which seem to correlate with my own perception of musical intervals. It would now be interesting if these attributes are dependent on the absolute pitch. I have not found any investigation which looked at this aspect.