Leonard B. Meyer, who transformed the study of music during and beyond his time at the University of Chicago, died December 30 at his Manhattan home three weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 89.
The publication of Meyer’s 1956 book Emotion and Meaning in Music propelled him to the forefront of the music world. The book explored the relationship between music and psychology and was a testament to his belief that music informs understanding of phenomena not traditionally associated with musicology.
Meyer spent 29 years teaching in the University’s music department until he moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked until his retirement. While at the U of C, Meyer attracted influential faculty members who contributed to his work in the department.
“It was Leonard Meyer who brought me to Chicago in 1968. He was already a legend at that time.... For a decade we were colleagues. I remember sitting in on his seminars, trying to learn whatever I could from him,” said Philip Gossett, a professor in the music department and a specialist in 19th-century Italian opera.
In addition to his musical genius, his former secretary Kathy Holmes remembered Meyer’s sense of humor and his hardworking dedication. “He gave a lot of himself to the department,” Holmes said.
Meyer brought a fresh perspective to the world of music, reminding those who read his works and whom he taught that ways of understanding music can be used to explain aspects of psychology and society. One of his most prominent contributions dealt with emotional response and expectations, and how the fulfillment of expectations contributed to or detracted from the ultimate satisfaction of listening to a piece of music.
Gossett considers Meyer an indispensable member of the U of C’s history of liberal education.
“[The] sense of belonging to a series of scholarly generations, all of which learn from one another—without demanding adherence to earlier paradigms—is an important part of what has made the U of C the extraordinary institution it remains. For me, Leonard Meyer will always be at the heart of [the University’s] history,” Gossett said.