Music and dance

Thormählen, W. (2019) Music and dance. In: A Cultural History of the Emotions in the Modern and Post-Modern Age (1920-2000+). A Cultural History of the Emotions, 6 . Bloomsbury, London, pp. 53-72. ISBN 9781472515063


This essay critiques the major transitions in twentieth-century thinking about music’s relationship to emotions, from discourses on composition and music analysis through to (neuro-)psychological investigations of music’s effects on the emotions of listeners. The author explores how the construction of emotional meaning via narrative in music permitted certain social groups to be distinguished and subjugated, and how the continued stratification of musical aesthetics along an axis of good versus bad—the legacy of German idealist notions of ‘serious’ music—dictated the appropriate ways one should enact their emotional engagement with music. This legacy was greatly problematized by twentieth-century developments such as Jazz, which disrupted modernist notions of stability and continuity in musical text and emotional meaning. The resulting conceptual breakdowns called into question the very meaning of music, and the source of its emotional power, which in turn encouraged numerous strands of research on these questions in music psychology and related fields.

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