Dr. Meyer, Music

Dr. Leonard B. Meyer, Emeritus Benjamin Franklin Professor of Music and the Humanities, died December 30, 2007, at age 89. Dr. Meyer published six books and numerous essays over a long career. These dealt with such diverse areas as musical emotion, the psychology of music, musical analysis and theory, aesthetics, information theory, contemporary music, criticism, anthropology of art, twentieth-century cultural history, style change, and the nature of science versus the study of the humanities.

Dr. Meyer received his BA from Columbia University in 1942, majoring in philosophy but also studying music. In his senior year he began taking private composition lessons with Stefan Wolpe. Following his graduation, he enlisted in the US Army and participated in a number of major engagements. After the War he returned to Columbia to earn an MA in composition under Otto Luening. Subsequently, he worked with Aaron Copland, who in 1946 helped him secure a position at the University of Chicago where his interests shifted toward scholarship in the humanities, and he enrolled (while a faculty member) in the PhD program administered by the committee on the history of culture. His published dissertation, Emotion and Meaning in Music (1956), was a landmark because of its invocation of gestalt principles in the analysis of musical affect. Praised by Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker, the book remains in print and is widely referenced in studies of emotion.

Two more books followed in close succession—The Rhythmic Structure of Music (1960, with Grosvenor Cooper) and Music, the Arts, and Ideas (1967). The latter predicted that no dominant style would emerge in modern music and that contemporary culture would come to be characterized by a stasis of diverse multiplicity, a prognosis borne out by developments up to the present. Shortly before his fourth book in 1973 (Explaining Music), he was named Phyllis Fay Horton Professor at the University of Chicago.

In 1975 Dr. Meyer accepted an appointment as Benjamin Franklin Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a devoted mentor to students and younger faculty, collaborated on experiments with psychologists, was a founding member of the journal Music Perception, and edited a series of books on music theory and criticism published by the Penn Press. He remained on the Penn faculty until his retirement (1988), after which he produced two more books: Style and Music: Theory, History and Ideology (1989), a major tome on style; and Spheres of Music: A Gathering of Essays (2000). He was also a fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies of Music at Wesleyan University, received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1970 and was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He is survived by three daughters, Muffie, Carlin and Erica and two granddaughters, Emma and Molly.

Donations may be made to the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, http://nygasp.org/ or the American Musicological Society, www.ams-net.org.