The Influence of Scientific Research on Nineteenth-Century Musical Thought: The Work of Richard Wallaschek

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The scientific study of music blossomed in the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly in Germany and Austria. Researchers such as Hermann von Helmholtz and Carl Stumpf investigated the physiological and psychological bases of music but did not focus on higher-level musical topics. It was not until the early twentieth century that scientific methods were applied to the study of large-scale musical issues, such as musical style or compositional techniques. However, one late nineteenth-century scholar, Richard Wallaschek, addressed musical issues from a scientific perspective. Wallaschek used empirical methods to develop two theories, one of music perception and one of music expression. He used his theory of music perception to characterize musical style, an issue of importance to the new discipline of musicology. He argued that Classical style music requires a process of mental representation that focuses on individual musical elements while Romantic style music requires a mental representation that focuses on the holistic, global structure of music. Wallaschek’s theory of music expression helped formulate his criticisms of programme music. He argued that music is an expression of emotion while a programme is an expression of intellectual thought. In Wallaschek’s view, emotional and intellectual expression are separate brain processes that cannot be combined; therefore, it is impossible to perceive both music and programme at the same time. Wallaschek’s focus on higher-level musical issues made him unique among scholars who used scientific methods to study music in the late nineteenth century.


This article was originally published in International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music in 2006.

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Croatian Musicological Society