https://music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic no more than states:

music theory, notation, history, or composition

But this doesn't distinguish between on- and off-topic questions. So what are the criteria? I haven't found a straightforward exposition, e.g. on https://music.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask.

I'm assuming some of the following questions as on-topic; none are closed as of 2017 Dec. 24.

Some music history questions apparently are judged off-topic (like my 3 on Xenakis); but others like the following (none mine) aren't.

  1. Prokofiev's style,
  2. Training and Influences of J. S. Bach,
  3. Why was Brahms's music considered 'too academic'?,
  4. What's so off about the intro to Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights?,
  5. Why did composers write atonally?
  6. What is the history of considering Rock 'n' Roll to be "the Devil's music"?
  7. Is Beethoven's title "Sonata quasi una Fantasia" an oxymoron, and does the title instruct how to perform it?
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    As pointed out in the chat we had yesterday history questions are on topic, but not every question about a historic composer makes sense on this site. Listing other questions does not help solve the issues with yours.
    – Dom Mod
    Dec 24 '17 at 5:03
  • @Dom See music.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2869/…
    – user26407
    Dec 24 '17 at 5:26
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    Voted to reopen. It's hard to see how this question, in itself, is unclear. The user is right that music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic provides little guidance on what are off-topic lines exist within the area of music history, and this question could be reasonably answered with some useful clarifications.
    – topo morto
    Dec 24 '17 at 12:38
  • 1
    @topomorto follow the linked chat. We've explained history question are on topic and only 1 of his questions was closed as off topic and that's due to it belonging on the fan site.
    – Dom Mod
    Dec 24 '17 at 15:43
  • 3
    @Dom I'm not saying I'd disagree with you about the reasons for closure for the user's questions on the main site - I'm just saying that I think meta as a forum for making any necessary clarifications serves the wider user base better than chat, and I don't think it's entirely justifiable to close a meta question just because a topic has been spoken about in chat.
    – topo morto
    Dec 24 '17 at 19:14

The current explanation for the 'history' tag is:

The study of how music has developed and changed over time.

So that's the centre of gravity for what this site regards as a history question.

Some examples of what I think that includes are:

  • Technical developments in instrument building
  • Well-documented stylistic developments, and their (documented) motivations and influences
  • The function of music in society, and the influence of that function on musical form
  • Developments in notation
  • Scientific discoveries relevant to music theory
  • Origins of musical terms and conventions
  • Biographical facts about prominent composers where those facts are relevant to their music.

Looking more specifically at your questions:

Why did Xenakis compose music that 'hurt' listeners?

This has been closed as off-topic, and I can understand why that might be confusing, as we already have other questions relating to composers' motivation and critical analysis of their music (as shown in your list - though it's been stated a number of times that not all existing open questions should be taken as 'good examples'.). I think the reason why the question might be difficult is that it seems to be based around one opinion given by one author; It may therefore be hard to give a good answer without venturing deep into opinion. However, if it really was well-documented that Xenakis did want to cause pain, and this was a significant point in development of music, then this question could well be on-topic, because people could give more factually-based answers.

Is Xenakis's dissonant music intended to express his personal sufferings and torments?

Again this question is based around only one 'citable' critical opinion (the others you mention are from redditors), and again I think it comes down to depth of documentary evidence - if there were interviews and other primary sources that could allow an answer to the question, then it could well be on-topic here.

Of course there's a logical difficulty here in that it might be hard to know when asking a question what the depth of documentary evidence is. One possible solution to this is simply to leave a question open and unanswered, but Stack Exchange does encourage that sites ensure their open questions are answerable.

How does ignoring the math behind Xenakis's cacophonously dissonant music, affect your reaction to it?

This is a little bit like your question on hearing the perfect fourth as dissonant, in that it seems to be primarily about using listening techniques in order to perceive music differently. This is an interesting area of question, but I think you might be ahead of the curve of human knowledge here - I'm not aware of a large body of accepted techniques for allowing one to hear or feel music differently, and hence it is probably true that at the current point in time 'answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions', even if it's a reasonable question in itself.

  • 1
    I think this is an outstanding answer. As a small follow-up, science may eventually tell us that there is no answer to the final question. It could be the case that our perceptions become hard wired at some early age during initial brain development.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 27 '17 at 16:16
  • @jdjazz yes, I find that quite thought provoking - I've always been a bit mystified as to where my harmony preferences come from. I think they've developed more slowly as I've aged but given that I have (at some level at least) been conscious of them developing over time it's hard to imagine that my perceptions froze after early years.
    – topo morto
    Dec 27 '17 at 16:52
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    I also feel that questions about the mindset while listening and its effects on how pieces are heard are borderline subjective, at best. Aug 15 '19 at 19:23

History questions are on topic, however they still need to make sense on the site. They can't be opinion based, too broad, or off-topic in another way.

The questions you asked about Xenakis while being about a historic composer, are more about interpretation, finding examples, and knowing what he was thinking which aren't really good topics for the site in general whether it is historic or not. They don't get exempt because you are dealing with a historic composer.

The above was all from this chat.

  • 2
    As Dom explains in the chat, the question has to be about music history. Having music history as the topic is not sufficient. I might ask: "who was better, Mozart or Chopin?" The fact that my question involves historical figures is insufficient. My Q is soliciting opinions, not facts from music history. Hence, in this case, my question is about opinions. But even if we imagine a question that is both (a) about music history and (b) opinion-based--and even in that case, the question wouldn't be on topic. The site doesn't prohibit opinion-based questions except in the case of music history.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 27 '17 at 3:17
  • It simply prohibits all opinion-based questions.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 27 '17 at 3:18

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