Meyer's Anvil: Revisiting the schema concept

Vasili Byros*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This article re-examines the concept of a 'schema' in light of a new body of empirical evidence regarding the culture and cognition of key in the eighteenth century. The schema concept in music, which originated in the work of Leonard B. Meyer, holds that social and historical experience gives rise to knowledge structures that engender a situated psychology of hearing and a context-contingent understanding of music. In previous studies by Meyer and Robert O. Gjerdingen, evidence for the schema concept has been advanced largely by interpreting a musical corpus as a metaphor for experience. That is, arguments for the existence of schemata as mental categories that configure a situated psychology of hearing have been presented primarily in the form of music analysis - historically situated patterns detected in musical scores. For this reason, the schema concept has remained, in Meyer's and Gjerdingen's words, a 'hypothesis' and 'assum[ption]' respectively. The evidence I advance here derives from a case study on Beethoven's Eroica Symphony and what I call the le-sol-fi-sol schema. The study was conducted in the spirit of the psychologically orientated, humanistic music theory that characterised Meyer's lifelong research program. By establishing a correlation between real listeners' responses in the Symphony's reception history and the details of my own corpus study of music from the long eighteenth century (1720-1840), my Eroica case study brings a novel perspective to the idea that schemata engender a historical mode of listening. The case study bears out several hypotheses that are basic to Meyer's writings and perpetuated in Gjerdingen's galant style project: (1) that replicated patternings in eighteenth-century works are commensurate with listeners' knowledge structures; (2) that these knowledge structures are historically contingent and therefore engender a situated psychology of hearing; (3) that these situated psychologies are affected by style change; and (4) that schemata provide access to historical modes of listening today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-346
Number of pages74
JournalMusic Analysis
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


Dive into the research topics of 'Meyer's Anvil: Revisiting the schema concept'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this