14. November 2022

The Sadness in Callas’ Voice

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Klaus Scherer during his lecture "Aesthetic Emotions Evoked by Musical Performance" (Image: MPI for Empirical Aesthetics / F. Bernoully)

Music and feelings—that there is a connection between them is something most of us have probably experienced. But how does their interaction actually work? This subject was addressed by Klaus Scherer, emotion psychologist and emeritus professor at the University of Geneva, in the MPIEA’s third annural Fechner Lecture, which took place on November 9 before nearly 100 audience members both in-person and online. 

Prof. Scherer received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1970. After teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Kiel, he was appointed Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Giessen. Later, at the University of Geneva, he founded and directed the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences. Today, his diverse research in the field of aesthetic emotions focuses on the expression of emotion in the voice and the effect of strong emotional gestures in singing for the theater and opera.  

Scherer began his lecture by outlining different facets of emotion before engaging in depth with the mechanisms underlying the strong emotional impact of singing. Alongside the theories of Charles Darwin and Hermann Helmholtz, Scherer attended to Johann Gottfried Herder’s ideas about language. With a number of audio tracks and videos of opera songs included in his interactive presentation, Scherer’s own excitement for the topic was visceral.

That the field of aesthetic emotions is rife with questions to be answered became clear during Prof. Scherer’s Q&A with the audience. Among other things, he explained in response to follow-up questions, there is an urgent need to empirically explore both the place of the emotions in non-Western musical traditions and the emotional reactions of animals to music. 

Every year, the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics invites a leading international scientist to Frankfurt am Main to deliver its Fechner Lecture and present exciting topics from their own work in the field of aesthetics research to a broader public. After two years of the pandemic, the Institute was extremely pleased to be able to invite audience members to attend this year’s lecture in person and to simultaneously livestream it to an online audience as well.

We cannot wait for next year’s Fechner Lecture—and for more exciting insights from the world of empirical aesthetics!