Explorations in Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Essays in Honor of Leonard B. Meyer

Explorations in Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Essays in Honor of Leonard B. Meyer

Explorations in Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Essays in Honor of Leonard B. Meyer

Explorations in Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Essays in Honor of Leonard B. Meyer

Excerpt

In the humanities great scholars tend to be either epistemologists or metaphysicians, realists or idealists, codifiers or innovators. Leonard B. Meyer stands as an anomaly in this company, for within the realm of musicology his work is at once pragmatic and imaginative. An astonishing blend of intellectual depth and breadth, his five books and numerous lengthy essays have covered all the major fields of the discipline—not only theory, analysis, criticism, and aesthetics, but also twentieth-century culture, psychology, the nature of science versus the study of the humanities, and, most recently, a refined historical theory explaining style change in the music of the nineteenth century.

It is hard to imagine a career launched more auspiciously than with Emotion and Meaning in Music in 1956—which served as Meyer’s Ph.D. dissertation! One of the earliest and most innovative attempts to discuss in concrete terms the relevance of the Gestalt laws for music analysis and perception, the work explores as well how these laws might be used to construct a theory of perceptual aesthetics. (One finds parallels in Gombrich’s Art and Illusion, Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception, and Smith’s Poetic Closure—which latter, as its author acknowledged in 1968, owes a good deal to Meyer’s influence.) Indeed, since its publication Emotion and Meaning has sold some 40,000 copies to date (surely a record of some sort for a music book with this type of intellectual content) and has remained a standard, seminal reference for all studies in musical aesthetics, musical ambiguity (as opposed to indeterminacy), psychology of music, and communications theory. Its reigning status is perhaps best summed up in a recent book on music cognition, which ranks it as one of the three most important books ever written in the psychology of music, along with Helmholtz’s On the Sensations of Tone and Francès’s La Perception de la musique.

In 1960, together with Grosvenor Cooper, Meyer published a second book, The Rhythmic Structure of Music, a theoretical study which continued to explore the relevance of the Gestalt laws to musical analysis and perception, but here specifically applied to rhythm as a summarized phenomenon. Ostensibly, the codificatory aspect of this book was concerned with the analytical application of the poetic-feet symbols to various . . .

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