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Few topics have elicited as much fevered interest and fervent research in recent years as the interrogation of the relationship between music and emotion. And few are so complex.

Drawing on a theoretical smorgasbord of disciplines that include musicology and music education, sociology, psychology, philosophy, behavioural neurology and a diverse array of affective sciences, this book is an admirable attempt to offer a précis of recent and current research and an accessible introduction to the subject for both the novice and those familiar with the nuances of one area but ignorant of others.

Prompted by earlier conferences in Geneva and Santé and intended to complement findings presented in two landmark studies published in 2010 – the second edition of Juslin and Sloboda’s Handbook of Music and Emotion and a triple issue of Musical Analysis edited by Michael Spitzer – the present collection of essays benefits greatly from interviews with composers and performers and focused analysis of specific musical works.

especially acute contributions from composers Brian Ferneyhough and Carter Burwell, tenor Christoph Prégardien and soprano Gillian Keith usefully throw the assumptions of theory into sharp relief against the coalface exigencies of performance.

A concluding section exploring social and political traditions of managing and manipulating music from ancient Greece to present-day copyright law adds historical ballast and includes an all too short essay by Jean Starobinski on the role of nostalgia in shaping emotional responses to music. It throws up intriguing lines of inquiry deserving greater exploration.

There’s much here to challenge, provoke, stimulate and reward in a book that filters its subject through multidisciplinary perspectives to probe the emotional power of music with intelligence and insight.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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