One of Verdi’s last two operas is a tragedy, the other a comedy. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a tragicomedy. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragicomedies, and tragedies, including the incredibly dark King Lear. These works were all written to captivate an audience in the theater.
All these works were shaped, as Kenneth Burke has written, with the psychology of the audience in mind. In his essays Burke details various ways that Shakespeare shaped his plays to create an appetite in the mind of his auditors—an appetite to experience how this play will progress—and then proceeded to ingeniously satisfy that appetite.
In that same spirit, I strive to shape expressive results that depend on creating listener expectations. I work within hierarchical frameworks and familiar contexts that encourage anticipations, and then work to satisfy those anticipations in unexpected ways.
For example, in one situation I might use pitch and rhythmic patterns that suggest tango music. Then, having triggered expectations based on tango-like frameworks, I can use unanticipated swerves and changes of tone to open up a full spectrum of expression—from playful to tragic. For my purposes, whatever a passage of music needs to do at any given moment—whether to whisper, roar, rage, sing, charge, hesitate, or dance seductively—it needs to do so fervently.