Music Theory in the Scottish Enlightenment

John Holden (1729-1772), an English merchant potter based in Glasgow, seems to have been the first music theorist to theorize the perception of music as dependent on mental acts, and to propose a detailed account of how exactly the human mind perceives, grasps, and enjoys music. Hearing with the Mind: John Holden and Proto-Cognitive Music Theory in the Scottish Enlightenment  explores the emergence and the nature of Holden’s proto-cognitivist music theory and its relation to Scottish philosophy of mind as well as to socio-political changes in Britain at the time. It also turns to the afterlife of Holden's ideas in the music-theoretical productions of a remarkable pair of Scottish siblings, Walter (1745-1814) and Anne Young (1756-1811), the latter of whom invented and patented a remarkable music-theoretical game set in 1801. By embedding their biographies and writings within the broader social, musical, and philosophical contexts of the Scottish Enlightenment, I hope to answer two questions: First, what changing social and economic circumstances enabled people such as merchants and women, who were not traditionally represented in the discipline of music theory, to engage with it so successfully in late eighteenth-century Scotland? And second, what intellectual influence(s) enabled the creation of this unique tradition of musical thought, with its strikingly original anticipations of recent and contemporary ideas in the modern field of music cognition? 

Related publications:

Carmel Raz, “‘To ‘Fill Up, Completely, the Whole Capacity of the Mind’: Listening with Attention in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland.” Music Theory Spectrum 44.1 (2022): 141-154.      Link

Carmel Raz, “Music of the Squares: David Ramsay Hay and the Reinvention of Pythagorean Aesthetics,” Public Domain Review, May 16, 2019.   Link

Carmel Raz, “An Eighteenth-Century Theory of Musical Cognition? John Holden’s Essay Toward a Rational System of Music (1770),” Journal of Music Theory 62.2 (October, 2018): 205–248.        Link

Carmel Raz, “Anne Young’s Introduction to Music (1803): Pedagogical, Speculative, and Ludic Music Theory,” SMT-V: Videocast Journal of the Society for Music Theory 4.3 (October, 2018).       Link

Carmel Raz, “Anne Young’s Musical Games (1801): Music Theory, Gender, and Game Design,” SMT-V: Videocast Journal of the Society for Music Theory 4.2 (September, 2018).      Link



Listen to a BBC Radio 3 feature about the project here (the segment starts about 11 minutes in).