Learning to Listen: Musical Hearing and the Construction of Musicality in the Nineteenth Century


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project explores the changing construction of skilled musical listening within the Western art music tradition of the nineteenth century. Considering evidence from musical aesthetics, pedagogy, and scientific inquiry, it shows that during this period the ability to hear music in detailed and analytical ways superseded skills of performance as a central hallmark of musicality. This contradicted earlier models of musicianship that centered on the production of musical sound, revising eighteenth-century beliefs that a “musical ear” was a fixed characteristic that a person either had or did not. These new ideals of listening emanated in part from mid-century conservative musical aesthetics, but they also were enabled by scientific advances in the study of sensation and perception, and translated into practice through the emerging pedagogical discipline of ear training. In this way, the silent, internal act of listening became synonymous with musicality itself, serving as a powerful gatekeeper of musical identity.