Moved by Music Alone

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In this paper, I present an explanation of musical arousal that takes into account key demands of formalist philosophers such as Peter Kivy and Nick Zangwill. Formalists prioritize our understanding and appreciation of the music itself. As a result, they demand that any feelings we have in response to music must be directed at the music alone, without being distracted by non-musical associations. To accommodate these requirements, I appeal to a mechanism of contagion that I synthesize with the expectation-based arousal mechanism proposed by Leonard Meyer. This account connects musical expressivity and arousal in a way that formalists have rejected, but I argue that it provides the best explanation of our observations of listener responses while also focusing on the music itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-470
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Aesthetics
Issue number4
Early online date21 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • music
  • emotion
  • arousal
  • formalism
  • expressivity
  • Kivy
  • Meyer
  • feelings
  • chills
  • expectations


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