The pleasure of contemporary classical music

This project explores the mechanisms that drive the appreciation of new and contemporary classical music (i.e. Western art music from the 20th and 21st century). Since this style of music often contains a high degree of dissonance, is often atonal and not based on a regular meter, it is challenging  especially for inexperienced listeners. The relatively unpredictable musical structure can hinder enjoyment of this music in a way similar to people’s enjoyment of earlier classical music. This is no surprise, as it is diametrically opposed to the aesthetics of classical-tonal music and, at least in its origins, was vehemently opposed to the traditional compositional aesthetics of late Romanticism. The artistic scene of contemporary classical music still presents itself as highly innovative, creative and is usually linked to an avant-garde claim. In the process of perception, therefore, the listener is often confronted with the unexpected, such as surprising musical events.

The research project focuses on exactly this aspect and investigates the mechanisms of how such a high degree of unpredictability can be positively valued in the context of a music-aesthetic experience.

In this project, a multi-method approach is used with the aim of investigating music-aesthetic experience and the cognitive processing of contemporary classical music in contrast to classical-romantic music. Methods from empirical social research, psychology and neuroscience are employed to help to obtain the clearest possible picture of this phenomenon.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) of the University of Aarhus (Denmark).



Mencke, I., Omigie, D., Quiroga-Martinez, D. R., & Brattico, E. (2022). Atonal Music as a Model for Investigating Exploratory Behavior. Frontiers in Neuroscience 16. doi:10.3389/fnins.2022.793163

Mencke I, Seibert C, Brattico E, Wald-Fuhrmann M. (2022). Comparing the aesthetic experience of classic–romantic and contemporary classical music: An interview study. Psychology of Music. June 2022. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/03057356221091312

Mencke, I., Quiroga-Martinez, D. R., Omigie, D., Michalareas, G., Schwarzacher, F., Trusbak Haumann, N., Vuust, P., & Brattico, E. (2021). Prediction under uncertainty: Dissociating sensory from cognitive expectations in highly uncertain musical contexts. Brain Research,1773: 147664. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2021.147664.

Mencke, I., Omigie, D., Wald-Fuhrmann, M., & Brattico, E. (2019). Atonal Music: Can Uncertainty Lead to Pleasure? Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 979.





Project Sections

Exploring the aesthetic experience of classic-romantic and contemporary classical music - An interview study

This subproject is a phenomenological and exploratory analysis of the complex perceptual processes that occur when listening to contemporary classical music.



Prediction under uncertainty: Neural correlates of New music

This subproject investigates the neural mechanisms that contribute to the appreciation of contemporary classical music (CCM).