Dr. David E. Cohen

Main research areas

  • Concepts of harmony, consonance and dissonance, and polyphony
  • Pre-modern theories of the power of music to alter emotional states
  • Descartes’ Cogito in the context of speculative music theory
  • The concept of the note as the “element” of music
  • Pythagoreanism and its vicissitudes


Academic Education

1983-1993Ph.D., Musicology (Music Theory), Brandeis University
1982B.A., Music (Summa cum Laude), State University of New York at Stony Brook


Since 2018Senior Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics
2017-2018Visiting Scholar, The Center for Science and Society at Columbia University
2013-2016Adjunct Associate Professor of Music, Columbia University
2012-2013Visiting Professor of Music, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
2002-2011Associate Professor of Music, Columbia University
Fall 2009Visiting Professor of Music, Yale University
1995-2002Assistant Professor of Music, Harvard University
1993-1994Visiting Assistant Professor of Music, Harvard University
1992-1995Assistant Professor of Music, Tufts University
1990-1992Instructor in Music, Tufts University
1989-1990Lecturer in Music, Brandeis University
1986-1987Lecturer in Music, State University of New York at Stony Brook


Selected Publications

David E. Cohen, “Rousseau as Music Theorist: Harmony, Mode, and (L’Unité de) Mélodie.” Journal of the American Musicological Society Vol. 66, No. 1 (Spring 2013): pp. 75-80.

David E. Cohen, “Notes, Scales, and Modes in the Middle Ages.” In The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Thomas Christensen (Cambridge University Press, 2002): pp. 307-63.

David E. Cohen, “‘The Imperfect Seeks Its Perfection’: Harmonic Progression, Directed Motion, and Aristotelian Physics.” Music Theory Spectrum 23.2 (Fall, 2001): pp. 139-69. *Awarded the Society for Music Theory's 2003 Outstanding Publication Award

David E. Cohen, “The ‘Gift of Nature’: Musical ‘Instinct’ and Musical Cognition in Rameau.” In Music Theory and Natural Order, ed. Suzannah Clark and Alexander Rehding. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

David E. Cohen, Review of Raymond Erickson, ed. and trans., Music enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis. In Speculum, vol. 74 (1999): pp. 1056-57.

David E. Cohen, “Metaphysics, Ideology, Discipline: The Concept of Organum and the Tradition of Western Polyphony,” Theoria 7 (1993): pp. 1-85. (Appeared 1995.)