A delicate melody flows from a flute. One by one, the oboe, then strings, echo this melody until the orchestra swells with the soft, yet intensely resonating melody. Eventually, every section of the orchestra sings this song of peaceful resolve, as the audience awakens to Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite Number 1, Opus 46. Grieg introduces the gentlest instruments of the orchestra and gradually blends in the strength of the entire string and brass sections with a calm resonance a listening audience could associate with morning sunrise. Grieg’s opus illustrates iconic realism as each member of the audience attends to this aural depiction of the dawn of something within its consciousness, interpreting possibility in variation with a theme.
Iconic structures in music include those resonating mechanisms that represent a specific sound source recognized by a community. These aural sources could include human made instruments, the human voice or natural sounds common within a specific environment. For example, the oboe is a wind instrument that produces sounds very close in frequency and intensity to the human voice. In many baroque pieces of music, which were composed during the enlightenment of human culture, the oboe is a featured instrument, which establishes the iconic nature of the oboe within a musical piece constructed of other wind instruments.
Since the human voice would not naturally be situated in a musical ensemble, the placement of this icon for the human voice provides the listener an opportunity to attend to this iconic realism within the musical genre of artistic expression and feel the dissonant harmonics that naturally resolve to consonance when the oboe blends with the instrumentation. This aural exercise incorporates resonating sound waves with the listener’s memory, which leads to an interpretation of the sound and thus, the association of meaning to the specific sound.
(from my book, The Theory of Iconic Realism: Understanding the Arts through Cultural Context)