Gestalt Theory and Musicology
Introductory Note
by Jaana Utriainen, organizer of the "Gestalt Theory and Musicology" page

Work in Progress - Your comments and suggestions are welcome - Please contact
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Latest update: September 12, 2006

Welcome to our Gestalt theory and Musicology Pages!

Since von Ehrenfels' essay 1890 "On Gestalt Qualities" [Über Gestaltqualitäten] musicology has been an important issue for theory and research in Gestalt theoretical movements and developments. In the beginning the movement was philosophical in nature. Ehrenfels' essay enjoyed a powerful position in the philosophy and psychology of the first half of the twentieth century, and does so again more recently in the area of modern cognitive science.

In philosophy, the early Gestalt movement is identified with the Austrian School (Ehrenfels), which focused on Gestalt quality. The Austrian Gestalt school is related to the work on formal ontology of early Husserl, according to which our experience is structured by "Gestalt qualities" of complexes of data given in experience. Each such quality is determined by, and is existentially dependent on, the constituent elements of the complex with which it is associated. The later Berlin school of Gestalt theory (Wertheimer, Köhler, Koffka) focused on Gestalt as a dynamic whole and modified the assumptions of the early Gestalt school: Interrelated data constituing a whole do not have a Gestalt but rather are a Gestalt, "a whole whose parts are themselves determined as being such that they can exist only as parts of a whole of this given kind".

In cognitive musicology, Gestalt ideas were re-discovered and used for the study of auditory phenomena. These approaches focus, for example, on the perception of rhythm and pitch, melody, consonance, timbre, structural organization of musical space as well as directional hearing. Modern cognitive musicology encompasses various branches of research, from data analysis, sound synthesis, simulation of processes of perception, to the production of music for which computers have became an important tool. Gestalt concepts have often been lauded for their ability to describe things in terms of intuitive human experience and closeness to the real world. Gestalt concepts play a central role also in aesthetic theories that focus on the interplay between ratio and affect.

The purpose of our "Gestalt Theory and Musicology" pages is manifold: To provide useful resources, to connect people active in this field, to advance discussion and research in Gestalt theory application in musicology. You are invited to join this endeavour and to contribute to our pages.

Jaana Utriainen

Organizer of the "Gestalt Theory and Musicology" pages

[Author of "Gestalt music analysis Philosophical theory, method, and analysis of Iegor Reznikoff's compositions"]


Jaana Utriainen

Ph.D. Musicology

Organizer of the "Gestalt Theory and Musicology" pages

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