What we said is not the traditional meaning of music colour–timbre. According to a new study, emotion can be wired to make connections between classical music and vision colours. In three experiments at UC Berkeley, participants listened to 18 pieces by Bach , Mozart and Brahms , in both major and minor keys, and in a variety of speeds. When asked to pair the music with a choice of 37 different colours, they consistently associated bright colours with upbeat music, and darker colours with more sombre pieces. For example, Mozart’s lively Flute Concerto No. 1, is most often associated with bright yellow and orange, whereas his Requiem is more likely to be linked to dark, bluish grey. “The results were remarkably strong and consistent across individuals and cultures and clearly pointed to the powerful role that emotions play in how the human brain maps from hearing music to seeing colours,” said Stephen Palmer, a scientist from UC Berkeley, in a study published this week.
The link between music, colour and emotion could also be measured, with participants rating each piece on a scale of happy to sad, strong to weak, lively to dreary and angry to calm. The emotion behind the music was often responsible for the colour association. Beethoven described the key of B minor as a ‘black’ key, Scriabin linked E flat major with a purple-red colour, and Rimsky-Korsakov described D major as golden brown.