24 Nov 2006 - 25 Nov 2006All dayKing s College


   Listening: Interdisciplinary Perspectives24-25 November 2006Keynes Hall, King's College, Cambridge

There are some fields in historical musicology that have never really taken off. Perhaps the most conspicuous one is listening, a subject that has eluded historical description persistently and deeply frustrated generations of music historians. Ever since Herrmann von Helmholtz's seminal research in the nineteenth century, research about listening has tended to take the form of a search for universal cognitive laws. The underlying assumption, counter-intuitive for most historical-minded thinkers, is that aural perception of music does not change in the course of history. The first serious challenges to this assumption were mounted by Heinrich Besseler in the twenties and fifties of the last century, but in both instances interest in the history of listening soon ebbed away. We have recently experienced a third wave of historical research on listening: several publications on the subject appeared almost at the same time in the mid 1990s, but all of them revolve around old and seemingly insurmountable problems, especially that of evidence. Methodologies that are currently considered 'safe' enough are therefore extremely narrow. As a result, research on the history of listening seems to be stuck in a dead end again, much like in the 1920s and 1950s.

In this situation, musicologists might want to lend an ear to scholars from other disciplines. To provide a forum for such exchange forms the premise and motivation of this conference. Premier scientists, art historians, classicists, theologians and musicologists will deliver keynote addresses, followed by brief responses. Plenary debates will open out discussion to the widest possible disciplinary scope.

Dr Nikolaus Bacht (University of Cambridge)


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