Informationsgehalt und emotionale Wirkung von Musik by Hans Werbik



This book offers a chapter on music in relation to information theory; an examination of the relevant doctrines of applied psychology; an account of three group experiments and their tabulated results, with a commentary; and a detailed bibliography.

     Of the 200 densely-packed pages, 190 will be of interest only to technical specialists in the mathe­matical analysis of psychological reaction to music: and even their appetites may he blunted by the massive spread of plates and tables. The intended consumers are those who share the author's taste for formulae. Words, he explains, may well lack specific information. He certainly makes out a powerful case for this view, in about 100000 words. His own choice of example is August Halm, who once incautiously observed that Hugo Wolf's preluding chords in Das verlassene Mägdlein convey the feeling of early dawn. This was written some 50 years ago; but Herr Werbik is not disposed to let bygones be bygones. The unhappy Halm is taken sharply to task for “mere playing with words”, which must now he replaced by serious scientific work. But, to our stupefaction, the experiments themselves rely heavily on words. For example (p.95), 35 people were asked to assess a melody in terms of 20 undefined epithets ranging from “anmutig” to “zart”, in a sort of A-Z guide to nowhere. The responses are then tabulated in scores of mind-bending ways. But how can verbal vagueness ever amount to mathematical precision?

     The whole book consists of what purport to be meaningful quantifications. But if one asks what precisely is being quantified, there is a resounding silence. I finished by believing that Halm on Wolf was not only more readable hut more objective. Even if words are mumbo-jambo, why prefer number-jumbo? And even on the merely numerate level there are minus quantities, e.g. in the biblio­graphy. Where are Sherman and Hill on the aural and visual perception of music; where is Seashore on what the sound waves are saying — not to mention about 180 other relevant items such as those listed by Herbert Wing?1 Again, if we are to have an opening fanfare on Fechner, it is unfair not to mention the many later counterblasts.2 His golden sections, though they look so neat, have tarnished in the changing atmosphere of the last 100 years.

     Nor will it do to quote, from an English-language source, epithets supposedly appropriate to music and get several of them wrong – though it would have been a pity to miss “ewe-inspiring”, which at least suggests further fields for research, including the pens of Bach and Handel.

     But in general the material offered, though both partial and partisan, is thorough, detailed, pains­taking and accurate. Its authors modest claim is that his work “demonstrates the necessity and possi­bility of considering musical psychology and experimental aesthetics with the help of general psychological concepts” (p.163). I expect we’d all buy that; but not at £14.40.


1 Tests of Musical Ability and Appreciation (2/1968)

2 see Osborne, Theory of Beauty (1952), pp. 180ff



The Musical Times, Sept. 1972 (p. 871) © the estate of eric sams