Department of Music


The focus of the Music Department is on developing multi-methodical research designs with a pronouncedly interdisciplinary orientation. Located at the juncture of the humanities and natural sciences, these designs are aimed at finding new answers to old questions: What is music? Why do people make music? And what do they experience through it? In the framework of an empirical aesthetics, the thematic areas of production and reception are especially foregrounded—hence making, perceiving, experiencing, understanding, and assessing music. Forms of musical expression in their cultural, social, and historical specificity here play an important role, as do the recipients themselves.


In this framework, the problems posed and solutions found within the historical-aesthetic, theoretical, pedagogic, sociological, ethnological, psychological, and neuroscientific areas of research on music—areas in part operating at great mutual distance—are meant to be placed in systematic relationship to each other. In this way a dialog will be established concerning the possibilities, scope, and limits of the different methods and models.


The systematic empirical approach has a long tradition in musical research, especially in the field of musicology, with a significance that is nothing short of identity-founding. In fact, the foundational myth of musical research itself involves an act of empirical aesthetics. Pythagoras is supposed to have recognized consonances – regarded even then as having aesthetic value – in the harmony of some hammers in a smithy and wondered what had brought them about. On the basis of measurements made in the smithy itself and further calculations at home he discovered that musical intervals were based on the simple relations of natural numbers, and that the degree of harmony was directly correlated with the simplicity of the numbers: an aesthetics of production and aesthetics of reception at one and the same time. ###

Since then speculation on music’s aesthetics and the laws that govern it have been inseparable from mathematics or indeed – from the Early Modern period onwards – from physics. The “natural law” of musical beauty gave rise to many aesthetic theories up to and including Fechner’s basic criteria for aesthetic pleasure.
It was the growing familiarity with non-European sound systems, the extension of music’s historical horizon, and the assaults on existing taboos by the New Music, though, that finally undermined the belief that there was no alternative to the Western system of major/minor tonality. New findings concerning the primarily socio-cultural conditions in which taste is formed also changed the emphasis from a search for biologically grounded patterns to an identification of differences and mutabilities. Over the course of this transition, sight was almost lost of the degree to which this multiplicity of phenomena could be covered by the – admittedly Eurocentric – term “music”.


In its founding phase the Music Division will pay special attention to the fields of “experiencing” and “evaluating.” In the framework of basic research on aesthetics, existing models and methods will here be examined, and developed, together with new concepts and tools. Projects prepared individually by single members of the departmen will be structurally and substantively supplemented by projects prepared in interdisciplinary groups within the research areas described below.


The team is constituted along interdisciplinary lines, with collaboration between sociologists of music, experimental psychologists, neuro-scientists, and sound editors, as well as a linguist and a music therapist—all working together with representatives of historical and systematic musicology as well as ethnomusicology. In addition, there are ongoing contacts between the department and musical educators, theorists, alongside Frankfurt’s music-centered institutes such as the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, the Ensemble Modern / Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie, the Museumsgesellschaft, and the Alte Oper.

In order to formulate integrative approaches, foundational theoretical work leading to the development of methods and tools will be carried out in this research area’s framework. Discipline-specific requirements will here be accompanied by a claim to broad accessibility. [more]

Different people like different things. Such inter-individual differences in musical likes and dislikes are determined by musical taste in an essential way. The sources of such tastes, its broad conceptualization, and its influences on music-related experience stand at the center of this research area. [more]

Appearing in three volumes, the lexicon will offer access to, describe, and comment on a body of texts written from antiquity onwards, that are related to music theory and aesthetics. A special feature of the project is that here types of text will be included that expand the boundaries of the usual canon represented in lexicons and encyclopedias, in so far as such works address problems relevant to the aesthetics of music. [more]

At the center of this research area stands the question of the extent to which the evident diversity of musical-cultural and socio-musical environments—the interplay of musical objects, processes, practices, and institutions—also influences variation in the musical-aesthetic formation of categories and judgments. One major point of focus is non-European musical cultures. [more]

This research area investigates the nature of the concert, focusing on the contemporary practice of the classical concert. Three questions guide our work: how does the concert situation alter the musical experience of musicians and the audience? How does the communication work between those present in the concert hall? And what role does the audience’s “musicking” play here? [more]

We are planning a comprehensive assessment of the history of institutionalized German-language musicology at universities and research institutions, with a focus on individuals, institutions, media, themes, and methods.

New Publications

Seibert, C. (2016) Musik und Affektivität: Systemtheoretische Perspektiven für eine transdisziplinäre Musikforschung. Weilerswist-Metternich: Velbrück Wissenschaft.

Dyck-Hemming, A. van & Wald-Fuhrmann, M. (2016). Vom Datum zum historischen Zusammenhang. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen einer fachgeschichtlichen Datenbank. In S. Bolz, M. Kelber, I. Knoth & A. Langenbruch (Hrsg.), Wissenskulturen der Musikwissenschaft. Generationen – Netzwerke – Denkstrukturen (S. 261-278), Bielefeld: transcript.

Merrill, J. (2016). Die Sprechstimme in der Musik – Komposition, Notation, Transkription. Systematische Musikwissenschaft. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Elvers, P. (2016). Songs for the Ego: Theorizing Musical Self-Enhancement. Front Psychol, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00002 

Greb, F., Elvers, P., & Fischinger, T. (2016). Trends in Empirical Aesthetics: A Review of the Journal »Empirical Studies of the Arts« from 1983 to 2014. Empirical Studies of the Arts. doi:10.1177/0276237415625258