Meyerfest: Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Publication of Leonard B. Meyer's "Emotion and Meaning in Music"
Evanston, Illinois, 2006 October 20
Leonard B. Meyer's Emotion and Meaning in Music was a landmark work in modern music scholarship. Meyer's 1956 book is important for at least three reasons. First, Meyer salvaged the topic of music and emotion from the dustbin of music scholarship. For much of the previous century, music scholars had worked to distance themselves from the unsubstantiated and effusive emotional claims of the music-lover/scholar. Emotion and Meaning in Music made talking about emotion respectable again. Second, Meyer embraced the science of psychology as an important wellspring for ideas related to musical experience. Although Meyer retained a formalist-analytic disposition, he was explicit in his use of psychological principles to account for specific musical devices and experiences. Third, Meyer was right to draw attention to the importance of expectation. When accounting for musically-evoked emotions, previous scholars had relied almost exclusively on associationist arguments and/or appeals to innate responses. Meyer recognized that neither of these approaches alone could account for the core dynamic experiences involved in music listening. With the hindsight of history, we can also identify some of the short-comings of Emotion and Meaning in Music. In light of recent research, I will offer an addendum and corrigenda to Meyer.