Given the extensive instrumental resources afforded by an orchestra, why would a composer elect to feature a single solo instrument? In this study we explore one possible use of solos—that of conveying or enhancing a sad affect. Orchestral passages were identified from an existing collection and categorized as solos or non-solos. Independently, the passages were characterized on seven other features previously linked to sad affect, including mode, tempo, dynamics, articulation, rhythmic smoothness, relative pitch height, and pitch range. Using the first four factors, passages were classified into nine previously defined expressive categories. Passages containing acoustic features associated with the “sad/relaxed” expressive category were twice as likely to employ solo texture. Moreover, a regression model incorporating all factors significantly predicted solo status. However, only two factors (legato articulation, quiet dynamics) were significant individual predictors. Finally, with the notable exception of string instruments, we found a strong correlation ( ρ = .88) between the likelihood that a solo is assigned to a given instrument and an independent scale of the capacity of that instrument for expressing sadness. Although solo instrumentation undoubtedly serves many other functions, these results are consistent with a significant though moderate association between sadness-related acoustic features and solo textures.
Research has used the normalized pairwise variability index (nPVI) to examine relationships between musical rhythm and durational contrast in composers’ native languages. Applying this methodology, linearly increasing nPVI in Austro-German, but not Italian music has recently been ascribed to waning Italian and increasing German influence on Austro-German music after the Baroque Era. The inapplicability of controlled experimental methods to historical data necessitates further replication with more sensitive methods and new repertoire. Using novel polynomial modelling procedures, we demonstrate an initial increase and a subsequent decrease in nPVI in music by 34 French composers. Moreover, previous findings for 21 Austro-German (linear increase) and 15 Italian composers (no change) are replicated. Our results provide promissory quantitative support for accounts from historical musicology of an Italian-dominated Baroque (1600-1750), a Classical Era (1750-1820) with Austro-German centres of gravity (e.g., Mannheim, Vienna), and a Romantic Era (1820-1900) with greater national independence. Future studies should aim to replicate these findings with larger corpora with greater historical representability.