Helmholtz and the Modern Listener

Helmholtz and the Modern Listener

by Benjamin Steege


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The musical writings of scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) have long been considered epoch-making in the histories of both science and aesthetics. Widely regarded as having promised an authoritative scientific foundation for harmonic practice, Helmholtz can also be read as posing a series of persistent challenges to our understanding of the musical listener. Helmholtz was at the forefront of sweeping changes in discourse about human perception. His interrogation of the physiology of hearing threw notions of the self-possessed listener into doubt and conjured a sense of vulnerability to mechanistic forces and fragmentary experience. Yet this new image of the listener was simultaneously caught up in wider projects of discipline, education, and liberal reform. Reading Helmholtz in conjunction with a range of his intellectual sources and heirs, from Goethe to Weber to George Bernard Shaw, Steege explores the significance of Helmholtz's listener as an emblem of a broader cultural modernity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781107504332
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 03/05/2015
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.69(w) x 9.61(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Benjamin Steege is Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University. He specializes in the history of music theory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with particular emphasis on musical and scientific modernisms, the history of psychology and the history of listening. His work has appeared in publications including Current Musicology, the Journal of the American Musicological Society and the Journal of Music Theory.

Table of Contents

Chronology; Introduction; 1. Popular sensations; 2. Refunctioning the ear; 3. The problem of attention; 4. Tonal theory as liberal progressive history; 5. Voices of reform; Epilogue: Helmholtz and modernism; Bibliography.

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