In response to one of my previous questions (on deciding when to continue or break broken chord patterns), someone recommended that I read Leonard B. Meyer's Emotion and Meaning in Music. I'm currently doing so, and I have to say that it is a fascinating if somewhat difficult and technical read.

I was wondering whether there are any composers who are known to consciously apply Meyer's theories on patterns and expectations (as laid down in the book I'm reading and possibly other works as well) to their compositions.

As an aside, it would be interesting to see a course on musical composition (either in book or in lecture form) that explicitly incorporates Meyer's insights.


1 Answer 1


I haven’t heard about Meyer’s theories before. But it seems obvious to me that all composers of Renaissance and the common practice era (if not since Josquin or earlier) - have been “playing” with these patterns and expectations.

Also in composers of today do so, maybe one has heard or read about Meyer’s theory. But this might just have been a coincidence. I can’t imagine there is any musician that is referring to this formal theory or needed it as a recipe for his writing.

The practice goes ahead of theory. You can be aware of a theory without explicitly build your practice on it.

Leonard Meyer proposes a theory of style and style change that relates the choices made by composers to the constraints of psychology, cultural context, and musical traditions. He explores why, out of the abundance of compositional possibilities, composers choose to replicate some patterns and neglect others.

Meyer devotes the latter part of his book to a sketch-history of nineteenth-century music. He shows explicitly how the beliefs and attitudes of Romanticism influenced the choices of composers from Beethoven to Mahler and into our own time.

Source of quotation above: THEORY, HISTORY, AND IDEOLOGY

So it seems obvious to me that a contemporary composer is influenced by all the works he has played but certainly not by the theory that analysis and explains the praxis of those composers.

You will hardly find someone who said: “I’ve played Bach, Beethoven and Bartok. But when I read Meyer’s theory I knew how I will compose.”

Leonard Meyer's Emotion and Meaning in Music is the classic text in music expectation. Meyer's starting point is the belief that the experience of music (as a listener) is derived from one's emotions and feelings about the music, which themselves are a function of relationships within the music itself. Meyer writes that listeners bring with them a vast body of musical experiences that, as one listens to a piece, conditions one's response to that piece as it unfolds. Meyer argued that music's evocative power derives from its capacity to generate, suspend, prolongate, or violate these expectations.

melodic expectations (Wikipedia) Meyer

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