Observing the Listener

Observing the Listener: Journalists and the Construction of Typologies in the Concert Hall

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“Concerttypen. Eine Humoreske,” drawing by A. Palm, Illustrirte Zeitung, June 6, 1874, no. 1614.

Since the establishment of the modern symphony concert around 1800, the musical experience has been mediated through journalistic observation. Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, journalists were in a unique position to report on listening, bringing together observations that reflected on the music, the listening space, and the concert hall visitors. Their reports were attempts to think about and convey how listeners approach music, including their physical gestures, their modes of self-representation, the collective mood, and so on. In doing so, these journalists constructed types of listeners, through which they hoped to better understand social practices. For the journalists, the concert audience was a microcosm of society that, when observed, would yield insights into more general truths about society at large.

The aim of this project is to study journalistic observation techniques and the ways they were used as cognitive tools to create and establish social knowledge about order and hierarchy in society. The project shows how journalistic methods and discourse regarding listening and the listener, established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, provided the basis for the development of the new academic disciplines of music education and music sociology in the mid-twentieth century. Both the journalists themselves and their methods, techniques, and insights contributed to the creation of a “scientific” approach to explaining and theorizing the role of listeners and the meaning of listening, an approach that characterized early sociological studies within the new academic, as opposed to journalistic, context. “Observing the Listener” analyzes journalistic discourses on and methods of listener observation in print and drawings, from Friedrich Rochlitz’s early depiction of listening in 1799 to Adorno’s sociological typology of the listener in the 1930s, the high point of feuilletonistic interpretation of the listening experience.