Max Planck Research Group “Felt Communities? Emotions in European Music Performances”

Teamfoto | MPFG "Gefuehlte Gemeinschaften? Emotionen im Musikleben Europas"
© MPI fuer Bildungsforschung

back row from left to right: Iris Törmer, Tim Biermann, Lena van der Hoven, Marie Louise Herzfeld-Schild, Henning Wellmann, Sarah Zalfen, Laura Weber

front row from left to right: Sven Oliver Müller, Luis-Manuel Garcia, Anabelle Spallek

Does music create “felt communities” — and if so, how? We analyze the historical development of emotions in the musical life of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our aim is to discover what role music has played for the cohesion of social and cultural groups in a variety of historical contexts. We are pursuing a change of perspective, moving away from the study of individual musical works and towards an investigation of the discourses and social practices of participants in musical life.

Our research projects complement and extend the findings of psychological and neurobiological studies, according to which individual sounds, chords and melodies can cause detectable vegetative, cognitive, and emotional reactions. Our historical and aesthetic reception perspective is based on the presumption that music in its entire complexity can only be fully understood when taking its emotional impact as well as its specific context into account. This context consists of performance spaces and artifacts stemming from concert halls to MP3 players, of physicality such as movement and performance by virtuoso musicians as well as from dancing club visitors, of learned musical and extra-musical familiarities and individual tastes, and finally it mostly consists of the joint hearing experience. Naturally, laboratory conditions cannot offer such complex textures. Therefore, we need to interpret and reconstruct them from a variety of sources including audio and video documents, music reviews and fan magazines, diaries and letters, memorabilia and merchandising products.

From our perspective, the relationship between music and feeling is not universal, but dependent on historical and socio-cultural factors. Our studies show that, over the course of time, the emotional imprint of music production and reception has changed as much as the music and its performance. Context changes the meaning of music alongside the feelings of identification or rejection, which – supposedly – originate in or are triggered by the music.

Research Report


Leiter Forschungsgruppe
omueller [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de


July 2019



Workshop 'Emotionsgeschichte und Musik. Forschungsperspektiven und Methoden'

18./19. September 2015, MPIB Berlin

Emotionsgeschichte und Musik | Programmcover